The USAID Iraq Access to Justice Program undertook a perception survey to assess the existing knowledge levels and quality of services afforded to vulnerable populations in Iraq. The survey questions themselves focus on demographics, legal services, lack of office identification/documentation, rights knowledge, access to government services, and advocacy issues for vulnerable populations. The survey was designed to help shape the focus of the Access to Justice Program as a whole, and to support plans for future advocacy and outreach activities. Over 9,528 interviews were conducted throughout the country; 60% of the participants were female and 40% were males. I was asked to write a brief policy paper based on the perception survey’s results. The paper will be sent to USAID to inform our donors of the progress in Iraq and inform them of what still needs to be done. For this week’s blog, I’ve decided to include some of the highlights of the paper I drafted. I think it is interesting to see how the general public perceives their rights and the legal system in Iraq. Enjoy!
WHO ARE IRAQ’S MOST VULNERABLE?
Research focused on collecting data from four target groups:
- Vulnerable women: This segment included: victims of GBV, FHH, divorced women, women with missing husbands, abandoned women and women with barred access to education, victims of harmful traditional practices and victims of forced or early marriages. Vulnerable women made up 44% of the target population.
- Persons with Disabilities (PWDs): PWDs were defined as individuals who are visually impaired, hearing impaired, speech/communication impaired, mobility/physical disability, mental psychiatric health disability, cognitive/developmental disability, short stature/little person, health condition, learning disability. PWDs composed 20% of the participants surveyed.
- Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs): IDPs, unlike refugees, have not crossed an international border but have fled their homes for different locations in Iraq due to armed conflict, human rights violations, and threats against security. As citizens, they retain all of their rights and protection under both national and international humanitarian law. IDPs were a total 14% of the sample size.
- Minorities: Research focused on seven religious and ethnic minority groups in Iraq: Mandaean-Sabean, Shabak, Yezidi, Christian (Chaldean, Assyrian, Armenian), Turkmen, Ka’kai and Black Iraqi. Minorities made up 22% of the overall population surveyed. The chosen groups represent some of the largest ethnic and religious groups in Iraq.
- In terms of the effectiveness of the formal justice system, 35% of respondents agree the formal justice system effectively controls the abuses of power, whereas 32% of respondents agree the executive system effectively controls the abuses of power. This compares to just 9% of respondents in Year1 who reported that the justice system effectively controls the abuses of power.
- A large proportion of respondents (71%) believe that the use of media and print materials (TV, radio, newspaper and other print materials such as brochures and billboards) can help increase knowledge of rights
- Individuals were most interested in the following legal services: registering marriages or divorces (23%); monthly government benefits for widows or divorcees (22%); obtaining identification (11%); guardianship (8%); alimony (8%); inheritance (7%); and divorce (4%).
- Half of the vulnerable populations sampled did not believe that there are enough laws to protect and ensure their rights (50%), compared to 81% of respondents in Year I.
WHY DO VULNERABLE IRAQIS NEED ACCESS TO JUSTICE?
Forty-six percent of respondents do not believe that the government departments ensure their rights. More than half of respondents (51%) believed that more laws should be created to protect and ensure their rights, and of the vulnerable populations sampled, 35% said it is not easy to access governmental departments. Additionally, many individuals (65%) believed the government does not cover all their needed services; 33% of respondents also had little faith that the court system could ensure their rights. Overall, 28% said it is not easy to access the court system compared.
Obstacles Vulnerable Women Face: The majority of women, 88%, reported facing difficulties in obtaining rights and benefits. The kinds of difficulties vulnerable women faced were criticism from the community (40%), control from family members (33%), illiteracy (32%), dependency on others (32%), futility of seeking their rights (26%), inability to afford legal representation (17%), fear of physical abuse (17%), fear of verbal abuse (7%), and fear of losing their job (7%).
Difficulties facing Persons with Disabilities: Overall, 32% of PWDs reported on their inability to participate in politics; 11% claimed social protection was not available to them, 13% reported a lack of access to education, 24% claimed a lack of access to employment, 8% do not have access to salary, and 6% lacked access to health care. Access to education differed greatly in Dohuk compared to the national average, where 62% of PWDs felt they were denied access. The same was true for employment, with 64% of PWDs in Dohuk reporting inability to access employment. Salary, health, and social protection differences were all the greatest in Kirkuk; PWDs reported 51%, 38%, and 54% lack of services, respectively. The highest number of PWDs reporting inability to participate in politics was in Mosul (74%), followed closely behind by Maysan (68%).
Minorities’ Rights: Two of the difficulties that were more frequently reported by minorities than other vulnerable groups when trying to obtain documents were being located too far away from the offices (40%) and administrative corruption (37%). With regards to difficulty in obtaining rights, Diyala minorities reported the most difficulty in their right to own property (67%); the most difficulty in the right to run for public office was reported in Erbil (40%); and the most difficulty in the right to practice your own religion was in Sulaymaniyah (38%). When asked about the cultural and traditional barriers that prevent respondents from reporting acts of abuse against them, the largest amount of respondents was in Erbil (85%), while the same amount of respondents in Erbil (85%) reported those barriers prevented them from seeking legal action against the abuse.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?
Nearly all of the respondents (95%) believed that more effort should be made to promote legislation on the rights and benefits of vulnerable populations. Further advocacy efforts should be initiated to ensure the laws and policies in Iraq protect the country’s most vulnerable populations.
Internally Displaced Persons face difficulties in receiving their entitlements when they do not register, The USAID Iraq Access to Justice Program should work to make this process easier for displaced persons. 26% of the IDPs surveyed had not registered with the Ministry of Migration and Displacement. Registration is the first step in receiving government benefits available to individuals are displaced. Efforts should be made to improve IDPs’ understanding of the registration process through public awareness campaigns and trainings. USAID Iraq Access to Justice should make efforts to advocate for the streamlining of the IDP registration system in coordination with the MODM. Education and awareness with both IDPs and civil servants on the registration system should be developed to improve registration among the IDP community.
Public awareness campaigns on women’s rights issues should be initiated. The major obstacles women face based on the surveys come from community, religious, and familial pressures. 40% of the women surveyed indicated they did not access their rights because of community pressure. Through public awareness campaigns, communities can be educated on women’s access to justice issues, allowing for women to feel more comfortable seeking their rights and entitlements.