Iraq: Candidate Ban Jeopardizes Election

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Iraq: Candidate Ban Jeopardizes Election

Authorities Should Suspend Commission that Arbitrarily Disqualified More than 500 Candidates

Abu Dhabi - Iraq's process of excluding candidates from the country's national
parliamentary elections on vague, arbitrary, and secret grounds
violates the principles of a free and fair election, Human Rights Watch
said today. The government should immediately suspend the election body
responsible, allow the candidates to participate in the election, and
revise the law that allows for unfair and arbitrary exclusion of
candidates, Human Rights Watch said.

Earlier this month, the Supreme National Commission for
Accountability and Justice disqualified more than 500 candidates for
the planned March parliamentary elections, apparently including several
prominent Sunni politicians, causing a political crisis.

"The commission has undermined faith in the electoral process at a
time when there is already tremendous sectarian tension and a serious
risk of a renewed Sunni election boycott," said Sarah Leah Whitson,
Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Excluding candidates in a
secretive process based on unclear criteria ensures that the election
will be neither fair nor free."

The Commission revealed that it had disqualified 511 candidates but
did not provide even a minimal level of transparency about its
decision-making process, most significantly the evidence on which it
has disqualified candidates for their alleged Ba'athist connections.
The Commission also did not list all the barred candidates or set out
the exact criteria it has used to bar them.

"We documented atrocities under Ba'ath Party rule, and support
Iraq's efforts to hold those responsible for these crimes accountable
and to bar them from public service," Whitson said, "But we do not
support the use of vague and secret powers to keep the government's
political opponents from participating in an election."

While the Commission has not published an official list of the
barred candidates, it reportedly includes Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni
lawmaker who took part in drafting Iraq's Constitution, and Abdul-Kader
al-Obeidi, the defense minister. It has also reportedly disqualified
large numbers of candidates from secular groups expected to fare well
in the election against Shi'ite-led parties that have governed Iraq
since 2005. The Commission apparently targeted candidates from the two
largest secular coalitions, barring 72 from Iraqiya and 67 from Iraq
Unity. Barred candidates have only three days to appeal the decision.

"The government's next steps will be crucial to salvaging the
credibility of these elections," Whitson said. "It needs to reinstate
the candidates and suspend the Commission immediately and then revamp
the law, establishing clear standards for disqualifying candidates and
requiring the Commission to produce evidence against those it seeks to
ban, so they can challenge its decisions."

The legal authority under which the Commission has the right to
disqualify candidates is opaque; in January 2008, the Iraqi parliament
passed a new law establishing the commission as the successor to the
de-Baathification committee created after the fall of Saddam Hussein's
government in 2003. The 2008 law requires that Parliament approve
commissioners, which it has yet to do.

On January 22, 2010, President Jalal Talabani questioned the
legality of the Commission's disqualifications, asking the Supreme
Court for a ruling. Even if the Supreme Court overturns the
Commission's decision, though, this episode highlights the significant
and fundamental problems with the Commission's enabling legislation,
Human Rights Watch said. Furthermore, the Supreme Court is unlikely to
rule in time for the candidates to campaign in advance of the elections
and for their names to appear on the ballots.

As with previous de-Ba'athification procedures, the 2008 law
effectively maintains the principle of punishment on the basis of group
affiliation, rather than individual actions or qualifications. It fails
to provide those dismissed the right to see and challenge the evidence
against them. Furthermore, the risk of more politically motivated mass
dismissals remains great because the law does not establish the
commission as an independent body made up of individuals chosen on the
basis of competence and integrity.

As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights (ICCPR), Iraq is obligated to allow its citizens equal
opportunity to compete as candidates in an election, without being
subject to "unreasonable restrictions." The Covenant requires elections
to guarantee the "free expression of the will of the electors."

 

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