Anti-government protesters set fires and close streets during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq, Nov. 9, 2019.
Anti-government protesters set fires and close streets during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq, Nov. 9, 2019.

GENEVA - A U.N. agency is urging the Iraqi government to address the grievances of its people or risk that the ongoing deadly protests across the country could spiral even further out of control.

Since anti-government protests began Oct. 1, the U.N. Human Rights Office has documented 269 deaths and at least 8,000 injuries, including among members of the Iraqi security forces.  The agency blames the majority of these casualties on the use of live ammunition by security forces and private armed militia groups.

U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville says his agency also is following up on reports of multiple arrests of demonstrators and activists.  He says protesters and volunteers providing assistance during the demonstrations reportedly have been abducted by unknown perpetrators.  

“We are also disturbed by the statement by the High Judicial Council in Iraq that the Federal Anti-terrorism Law would be applicable against those resorting to violence, sabotaging public property and using firearms against security forces.  Our concern is centered on the fact that these are acts of terrorism, which may be punishable by death,” Colville said.

The agency is calling on the government to investigate the whereabouts of the people who have gone missing, to promptly investigate the killings and to prosecute all those responsible for these crimes.

Colville says tensions are running very high. He says the relatives and friends of people who have been killed, abducted and otherwise abused are angry.  Unless their grievances are resolved, he told VOA. He said the protests and violence in the country could spiral out of control.

“The way the security forces are reacting because they are not abiding by the kind of guidelines set down internationally, which are very much designed not only to save life and stop injuries, but exactly this—to stop tension [from] getting extreme because of deaths.  It is a sort of vicious circle of people getting killed and injured.  That's leading to more anger and more demonstrations, more deaths, more injuries and so on.  And we are in that cycle in Iraq,” Colville said.  

To get out of this deteriorating cycle, Colville said the Iraqi authorities must control the security forces and engage in a meaningful dialogue with the public.  He said the government must listen and take stock of its many grievances and work with civil society to reach a sustainable resolution.

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