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Protecting the rights of minorities in Iraq

For minorities to be able to enjoy equal rights and participate in decision-making, an important place to start is providing education in their mother toungue. Inclusion through education was the topic of a workshop held in Erbil by NPA and partners.

The humanitarian crisis and instability in Iraq have disproportionately affected Iraqs most vulnerable people, in particular subjecting minorities more than other ethnic and religious groups in the country. Minorities have been exposed to several influxes of displacement and were targeted especially after the collapse of Saddam regime in 2003.

The mass majority of minorities have left their homes, they have been either displaced to safe zones within the country or decided to leave the country and immigrate.

On April 8th-9th, 2019, a two-day workshop entitled, “Inclusive education and rights of linguistic minorities” took place at the Erbil International hotel in Erbil, Iraq. The workshop was coordinated by the Norwegian Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies (HL-senteret) – in cooperation with Norweigan Peoples Aid (NPA) and our partner organisation Alliance of Iraqi Minorities (AIM).

The purpose of the workshop was to bring together a variety of Civil Society organizations, international scholars, local experts, representatives of linguistic minorities, and from Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Ministry of education to learn about and identify opportunities for supporting the minorities on that issue.

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Panel from Left to right: Hoger Chato, AIM Executive Manager, Kawa Omer Hamd, Director of Curriculum in the Ministry of Education KRG, Fernand de Varennes, UN special rapporteur on Minority Issues, and Hussam Abdulla, Chairman of the Board AIM. Photograph: Sara Hamdy/NPA

AIM is focusing on changing the legislation and policy to respect minorities and provide legal protection. In addition to working on the capacity building of government and stakeholders to actively involve key actors in the protection of minorities, and raise public awareness on minority rights.

“For minorities to enjoy equal human rights they have to be active participants in the decision-making process, especially where their rights are concerned with education in their mother tongue.” Hoger Chato explained, AIM Executive Manager, emphasising on the rights of linguistic minorities.

AIM is an Iraqi civil society organization that seeks to protect and promote the rights of Iraqi minorities in a way that respects the rights and interests of all Iraqi people.

UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Fernand de Varennes also attended the workshop, as part of his mandate to raise awareness of minorities rights.

The message shared by most educational experts is that children should first be taught in their own language. This will allow them to be more efficient in learning subjects in general, but also other languages.

Prof. John Packer, an expert on minority rights and diversity in education at the University of Ottawa, emphasized: “Article 4 of the Iraqi constitution has significant subsidiary provisions which create an unlimited opportunity for the use of other languages which community on a local level or the majority have chosen to use”, he added.

Public education not presented in a childs language could be deemed to be discrimination. In 1992, the United Nations issued the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, which includes articles on minorities from earlier international pacts, with additional details and guarantees. The Declaration contains a list of rights in favor of persons belonging to an ethnic, national, religious or linguistic minority, and obliges state parties “to protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities.

“Minority children who are not taught in their own language encounter negative effects. If children are taught well especially in the early years of their education, they will be equipped to learn other subjects better”, said UN Special Rapporteur Fernand de Varennes.

The UN gathered a lot of evidence underlining that the best way to have peaceful inclusive societies where minorities are fully engaged and participate is to have their language used in a reasonable proportion in the regions they live so that they feel more equal.


Kawa Omer Hamd, Director of Curriculum in the Ministry of Education in the KRG. Photo: Sara Hamdy/NPA