GENEVA - The office of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights has harshly criticized Iraq's deadly crackdown on people protesting against corruption, lack of jobs and basic services, including electricity and clean water.
At least 42 people reportedly have been killed in a series of demonstrations in Iraq this week. Hundreds have been injured and dozens detained.
The U.N. human rights agency says it considers Iraq's response to the peaceful demonstrations excessive and unjustified. It urges Iraqi authorities to talk with protestors, who it says have legitimate grievances that need to be heard.
Spontaneous demonstrations have been taking place across the country this past week. U.N. human rights spokeswoman, Marta Hurtado, said most of the protestors are young and unemployed. She said they are demanding the government provide them with jobs and basic services and respect their economic and social rights.
Hurtado said Iraqis have a right to express their grievances in a peaceful way and without interference.
"We are worried by reports that security forces have used live ammunition and rubber bullets in some areas and have also fired tear gas canisters directly at protesters,” Hurtado said. “We call on the Iraqi government to allow people to freely exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The use of force should be exceptional, and assemblies should ordinarily be managed without resort to force."
She said international law prohibits the use of firearms, except as a last resort to protect against an imminent threat of death or serious injury. She said the peaceful demonstrations do not appear to meet that high bar.
The U.N. human rights office is calling for a prompt, independent and transparent investigation into the deadly actions of Iraqi security forces.
After several days of protests, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Badul-Mahdi said he was willing to meet with demonstrators' representatives to consider their demands.
In a conciliatory speech Friday, he agreed the government needed to do more to combat corruption, and called protesters' demands for jobs and comprehensive reforms “righteous.”