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WikiLeaks: 2009-03-31: 09BAGHDAD883: The Growth of Iraq's Human Rights Minister and her Ministry

by WikiLeaks. 09BAGHDAD883: March 31, 2009.

Posted: Monday, December 30, 2013 at 07:14 PM UT


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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
09BAGHDAD883 2009-03-31 11:22 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
DE RUEHGB #0883/01 0901122
P 311122Z MAR 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BAGHDAD 000883 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/31/2019 
Classified By: PMIN Robert S. Ford for reasons 1.4 (d). 
1.  (U)  Summary:  The Ministry of Human Rights has grown 
into a stronger and more independent ministry under the 
leadership of Minister Wijdan Salim, particularly during the 
last year.  In her almost three years as minister, Salim has 
increased the capacity of her staff, giving them the 
resources and training necessary to more effectively address 
human rights issues.  Her ministry is now involved in a 
variety of human rights issues involving other ministries, 
including detention operations, women's issue, rights of 
minorities, mass graves, Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK) issues, and 
torture and abuse cases.  Through recent public reports and 
an active media campaign, Salim has raised the public profile 
of the ministry and Iraq's awareness of human rights issues. 
However, Salim fears that the GOI may seek to abolish the 
ministry after the parliamentary elections in order to 
silence its public and often critical of the GOI human rights 
advocacy.  In addition, a human rights commission may be 
established, which could lead to other pressure to eliminate 
the ministry.  End Summary. 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
2.  (U)  When Minister of Human Rights Wijdan Salim began her 
tenure in May 2006, two years after the ministry's creation 
by CPA Order 60, the Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR) was seen 
as an unimportant ministry that was only useful for 
publicity.  Salim came in eager to shake up the status quo. 
She restructured the ministry by eliminating ineffective 
departments and removing troublesome staffers and made 
training her inexperienced staff a priority.  Due to a low 
budget and little ministerial experience of effectively 
spending a budget, Salim turned to foreign missions for 
assistance.  The U.S. (Embassy and military), UN, Denmark, 
Australia, Canada, Italy, and Germany all provided critical 
training in general human rights issues and in specific areas 
like prison monitoring and mass grave investigations. 
According to Salim, these programs were essential to 
increasing the capacity and work of the ministry. 
3.  (C)  When Ayad Allawi's Iraqiyya list left the Maliki 
government in August 2007, Salim decided to leave the party 
and opted to stay with the government.  She told Poloff that 
this demonstration of loyalty made the Prime Minister an 
ally, and that Maliki subsequently supported her as she moved 
to assert herself in the cabinet.  She used his backing and 
support from foreign missions and organizations to raise her 
profile within the GOI, and she steadily won the respect of 
other ministers.  Salim said that the visible support from 
the Embassy and MNF-I was critical in creating a powerful and 
strong reputation.  Salim noted however that since Maliki has 
become stronger and is more assertively centralizing his 
power, he is less willing to support the MoHR, whose work 
often criticizes governmental policies or actions. 
4.  (U)  The MoHR noticeably increased its public profile in 
2008 by ramping up reporting and media outreach.  Salim told 
PolOff early in 2008 that she was willing to confront the 
opposition of other ministers who did not want the MoHR to 
publicly report on problems within the GOI, particularly with 
regards to the security ministries.  For example, the cabinet 
discouraged Salim from publishing the ministry's first annual 
report on detention facilities, which was completed early in 
Qreport on detention facilities, which was completed early in 
the year, because they did not want to make public its strong 
criticisms of the detention system.  Salim abided by this 
decision for a few months but quietly lobbied her colleagues, 
eventually convincing them that the MoHR had a duty to 
publicly publish such reports.  The report was put on the 
ministry's website in the summer. 
5.  (U)  The MoHR published several other first-ever reports 
in 2008 on victims of terrorism, minorities, and mass graves. 
 It also tackled politically sensitive issues such as 
investigating and reporting on the abuse by the PM's forces 
during the arrest of the "shoe-thrower" Muntather al-Zadi. 
The ministry continues to push the GOI to address issues of 
concern relating to the country's detention system.  For 
example, there are currently 277 detainees who are being held 
in three detention facilities in Ninewa despite having 
release orders.  Salim sent letters to the PM, Minister of 
Defense, and Minister of Justice raising this problem and 
demanding that the release orders be executed.  (Comment: 
the Ministry of Justice does not control the specific 
detention facilities involved in Ninewa.  End Comment.) 
BAGHDAD 00000883  002 OF 003 
6.  (U)  The MoHR has taken active roles in drawing attention 
to or taking corrective action on a variety of  issues, 
including detention operations, rule of law developments, 
women's issues, rights of minorities, mass graves and missing 
persons, Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK) issues, and torture and 
abuse cases.  Due to the increased work taken on by the 
ministry, Salim said her ministry is now invited to be on 
interministerial committees and included in almost all 
politically important meetings. 
7.  (C)  Salim believes that as a political independent and a 
religious minority (Chaldean Catholic), she has more freedom 
to be critical of the government.  Although she has received 
several offers to join political parties since she left 
Iraqiyya in 2007, such as Minister of Interior Bulani's 
Constitutional party, she thinks she and the ministry are 
stronger if they remain independent.  However, Salim 
recognizes that without any political party backing, her 
tenure as a Minister, and her ministry's influence, is 
uncertain.  There were several cabinet meetings in 2008 where 
ministers questioned the necessity of a MoHR and threatened 
to eliminate it. 
8.  (U)  Salim (and all other ministers) will resign when a 
new government is formed following the parliamentary 
elections in late 2009/early 2010.  She does not expect to be 
asked to continue as Minister.  In the next nine months 
before, Salim is determined to build her Ministry's capacity 
and strengthen its intergovernmental influence.  She told her 
staff they need to increase the quality of their work for the 
rest of the year and ensure that the ministry's reports are 
widely publicized.  She will work hard to increase the 
ministry's public profile in order to try to create a 
sustainable human rights culture within the government and 
the country.  One of her projects related to this goal is the 
completion of a national human rights strategy.  (Comment: 
DRL is funding a program to assist her staff with the 
drafting of this plan, and Australia is providing training to 
the interministerial drafting team.  End Comment.) 
9.  (C)  Salim fears that some might seek to abolish the MoHR 
after the national elections.  Since the MoHR was created by 
a CPA order and does not have its own law, Salim thinks it 
will be seen as expendable by the GOI.  She told PolOff on 
March 29 that most ministers, and even the general 
population, do not have an appreciation or respect for human 
rights.  Although she has been trying to spread a culture of 
human rights awareness throughout Iraq, mainly in schools, 
she does not think it is widespread yet.  Salim believes the 
population is still receiving the message of violence and 
abuse, generally from Iraqi Security Forces. 
10.  (U)  The constitutionally mandated High Commission on 
Human Rights law was passed by the Parliament in December but 
the Commission has yet to be established.  The Parliament did 
not provide an allocation for it in the recent budget, and 
the international community does not have the funds or 
willingness to completely fund the new body.  UNAMI will 
assist the Parliament to select commissioners, but this 
process will likely take several months.  Due to these 
delays, the commission will not be fully established for 
quite some time. 
11.  (C)  Salim has always been apprehensive about the 
establishment of the commission because it could lead to the 
Qestablishment of the commission because it could lead to the 
dissolution of the MoHR.  Several Parliamentarians and 
ministers have questioned whether it is necessary to have two 
human rights bodies and advocated for abolishing the 
ministry.  Salim believes there is a role for two bodies if 
their roles are clearly differentiated.  For example, she 
sees her ministry as being the lead on shaping human rights 
policy or ensuring that GOI policies protect human rights, 
continuing to investigate mass graves, playing a role in 
improving detention policies, interacting with foreign 
governments and international organizations, and providing 
training for NGOs.  She sees the role of the commission as 
monitoring human rights issues, reporting on violations, and 
opening investigations.  However, she suspects that once the 
commission is active and effective, the MoHR could be 
BAGHDAD 00000883  003 OF 003 
12.  (C)  When Minister Salim first came into office in 2006, 
she told us that she would focus on issues like child abuse 
and spousal abuse.  We gently reminded her that Iraq faced 
huge problems with extrajudicial killings, persons imprisoned 
for years without trial, torture in detention facilities and 
persons who simply disappeared after being detained.  Over 
time she came to focus much more - but not exclusively - on 
torture and prisons.  Her engagement on such issues has 
helped but it will take years to really change mentalities 
here.  Our training programs with the Iraqi Corrections 
Service are one element in the efforts to change those 
mentalities.  The Human Rights Ministry is another.  The 
Human Rights Commission has finally been established, but by 
UNAMI's estimates, it will take at least two years before it 
is a fully independent body that effectively addresses the 
problems, investigates human rights violations, and publicly 
reports on its findings.  At least until this time, the MoHR 
likely will be the GOI's lead advocate for human rights. 
There is no other reasonable alternative.  We should, 
therefore, be prepared to speak out in favor of maintaining 
the ministry, at least until the commission is functioning. 


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