VOA’s Susan Yackee speaks with Samer Muscati, a researcher for the Middle East Division of Human Rights Watch, focusing specifically on Iraq.
Q: What is the current human rights situation in Iraq?
A: I think the situation is quite grim. The security situation has improved and on some fronts there definitely is improvement but overall the situation for human rights is problematic. In fact, we were there and looked at a number of issues.
In Baghdad in April, we uncovered sites where detainees had been tortured. It was quite horrific, actually. There were a number of detainees who were subjected to abuse. They were previously held at a secret facility. This is just one example of some of the things we have been researching.
Women’s issues, minority issues, disability issues, internally displaced persons, and freedom of expression are other issues that are of grave concern to us.
Q: What can be done about it?
A: I think in terms of what Americans can do is to make sure Iraq goes forward and not to turn away and say the job is complete. Police training, for instance, and providing services to NGOs that support women and deal with domestic violence and trafficking, plus pushing the government of Iraq to protect minority rights, are issues Americans need to stay engaged with.
Q: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden noted in his speech this week before returning troops from Iraq that things are moving toward a civilian-led government in Iraq. Does that bother you?
A: No. The issues in Iraq will not be solved militarily. You do need a civilian-led effort, so it is just a sense that Iraq is not forgotten as the American government focuses more on Afghanistan and other hot spots. We still need to make sure Iraq becomes a success story.
Q: You met the people while you were in Iraq. Do they have any optimism?
A: It is difficult to say. Iraq still does not have a government even though they held elections in April. I think when we were there the people were frustrated. It had been a few months and there was no clear leadership in the country. But people are hopeful in the sense that sectarian violence has lessened compared to 2006 and 2007, but the prospects for more violence are still there. We are still seeing terrorist attacks, no electricity or basic government services. In some ways they are hopeful and in some ways they are realistic. It has been seven years since the U.S.-led invasion and the country is still struggling.