interview with UNAMI spokesperson: iraq ‘desperately needs’ human rights commission

niqash | Khaled Waleed | Baghdad | 31.01.2012 Since US troops left, there’s no doubt that the United Nations mission to Iraq has become more important in its role as an advisor to the government. UNAMI spokesperson Radhia Achouri spoke to NIQASH about the organisations’ current priorities.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq has been working in Iraq since 2003; its role is to advise and support Iraq’s government and to coordinate the UN’s humanitarian and human rights efforts in the country.

Since the US withdrawal, the UN’s presence has become more important because the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (or UNAMI) is seen as a potential mediator, one that could help resolve some of the country’s most troubling issues.

UNAMI has been active in areas such as ethnic and sectarian conflicts, border areas of disputed governance and the tricky issue of Camp Ashraf, home to several thousand Iranian dissidents. NIQASH met with Radhia Achouri, UNAMI’s spokesperson in Iraq.

NIQASH: What sort of changes might there be in UNAMI’s mission now that US troops have withdrawn?

Radhia Achouri: The withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq will not affect UNAMI’s work. We will do the same things we were doing before. Our mission is mainly to provide advice and assistance to the government and people of Iraq. But UNAMI does not implement any humanitarian or developmental programmes alone. We believe in the importance of partnerships and cooperation.

NIQASH: What is UNAMI’s role when it comes to the around 3,000 residents of Camp Ashraf, a small, controversial settlement north of Baghdad that is home to the dissident People’s Mujahedin of Iran?

Achouri: UNAMI’s involvement in Ashraf Camp is purely humanitarian. As a neutral party, the UN is doing its best to find a peaceful and permanent solution. In December 2011, the UN and the Iraqi government signed a Memorandum of Understanding to reach a humanitarian solution which would include a voluntary transfer of the camp’s residents.

People in the camp will be transferred to a new, temporary location until the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees can determine their status. The UN is obligated to monitor this situation. Since Jan 3, UNAMI has been making regular visits to Camp Liberty [the suggested resettlement location] to follow up on the Iraqi government’s preparations there.

NIQASH: Where do you think the people of Camp Ashraf will eventually settle?

Achouri: As part of UNAMI’s role, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler, has made contact with a number of countries about resettlement. He is now following up on this to see which countries would take them.

NIQASH: One of the big issues that UNAMI has been involved in has been that of Iraq’s “disputed areas” – that is, areas whose governance is disputed by regional or federal authorities. What sort of action has UNAMI taken there?

Achouri: The UN’s main activities in this regard has been in aspects such as the return of stolen properties, the release of detainees held by both Arab and Kurdish authorities and the promotion of cultural rights.

UNAMI has started a dialogue between Arabs and Kurds in the Ninawa province and has also held meetings aimed at ending Kurdish politicians’ boycotting of the local government there.

A more permanent body for the resolution of issues around the disputed territories has also been established; it is composed of representatives from the major political blocs.

NIQASH: In what concrete ways does UNAMI support democracy in Iraq?

Achouri: Since the beginning of the mission, it has been working with all parties to try and help Iraq achieve its democratic ideals. One example would be the provision of support to electoral institutions.

We also very much support other relevant UN bodies that are in the process of establishing an independent commission for human rights in Iraq, something the country desperately needs.

NIQASH: How much money does UNAMI have to do all this?

Achouri: The current year’s budget is US$172 million – and this is enough to finance the mission’s work this year.