NGO Calls On Baghdad To Approve Tough Domestic Violence Laws

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Human Rights Watch today publishes its recommendations to the Iraqi parliament, as it considers passing a 2015 draft Anti-Domestic Violence Law after lengthy review.

While HRW highlights the strengths of the bill – the introduction of restraining orders and penalties for their breach and the establishment of shelters for the survivors of domestic abuse – it has a longer list of what it considers missing from the draft.

Chief among its criticisms is the emphasis on familial reconciliation in resolving cases of domestic violence, pointing out the pressure a woman will be placed under to reach an agreement by members of her own and her abuser’s families.

Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “By promoting family reconciliation as an alternative to justice, the draft law undermines protection for domestic violence survivors.

“The government should send a message that beating up your wife won’t be treated leniently through mediation sessions, but instead be regarded as a crime.”

And where mediation is in the draft, and not yet law, sections of the Penal Code of Iraq actually condone domestic violence. Husbands have a right to punish their wives, physical discipline of children in permitted, and ‘honourable motives’ – finding a female relative committing adultery or having sex outside marriage – are considered mitigating circumstances in cases of ‘honour’ violence or murder.

HRW recommends that these provisions are repealed as part of the draft law, and that penalties are set for those found guilty of domestic violence. The organisation also suggests clarifying the role of police, and the training of specialised officers, defining types of abuse and distinguishing between short term emergency restraining orders (which can be issued on the basis of victim testimony) and longer-term orders which would allow for a full hearing and review of evidence.

Within the draft is a provision for the establishment of government shelters. HRW recommends partnering with local women’s organisations, often the subjects of physical attacks and threats from offenders, for the purposes of administration, training and operations of shelters.

In its current iteration, the bill does not reach the standards of other Muslim majority countries outside the Middle East. Begum calls upon lawmakers in Baghdad to aim higher: “Iraq should ensure that its legislation on domestic violence is in line with international standards, as a model for the region.”

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