An Interview with Ann Clwyd

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September 13, 2007 An Interview with Ann Clwyd

Kurdishaspect.com 

First of all, we want to thank you for offering to answer Kurdish Aspect’s questions. We also wish to apologize for reminding you of the current, depressing reality of Iraq. 

What are your most difficult tasks as a representative of Tony Blair on human rights issues in Iraq? 

Re-building Iraq after thirty years or more of Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship was never going to be easy – estimates vary but up to two million people died in Saddam’s wars of aggression and internal repression, including genocide. 

This left a brutalised, divided country with no culture of human rights, democracy and free speech. Some progress has been made in all three areas since 2003 – for example, there is a Minister for Human Rights who I know and work with, and there have been two elections and referendum, and newspapers and media have proliferated. But it is apparent, especially with regard to human rights, that there is still a long way to go. I am particularly concerned about the rights of detainees and conditions in prisons as well as the rights of women and minorities. Trying to make sure these issues are heard and acted upon in the midst of the security crisis in Iraq is in many ways one of the most difficult aspects of my role. 

How far do you personally participate in shaping the future of Iraq? What do you do in practical terms? 

I participate in Iraq as a long standing friend of the people of Iraq. I have worked with Iraqis on human rights issues for three decades – next year is the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Campaign Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq (CARDRI) which I chaired from 1984 onwards. 

Practically, I travel to Iraq on a regular basis to report back to our Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on human rights issues. For example, while I am in Iraq I visit prisons, meet with {spell out NGO} NGO representatives and lobby Iraqi politicians on key human rights issues. When I am in the UK, I meet with different groups and individuals to discuss their ideas and concerns about human rights. My office has worked closely with civil society organisations, and a number of human rights NGOs were funded through a small grants fund scheme. Not a day goes by when I am not dealing with issues concerning Iraq in one form or another. 

Perhaps the experiences of the Palestinians, Algerians and Iranians, who at some points in their histories voted in anti-democratic regimes, underline that democracy without liberalism might be both dangerous and unviable and, given the difficulty in accepting liberalism experienced by Islamic groups (maybe even communities) how much chance is there that democracy in Iraq will survive? 

The transition to a democratic Iraqi state got off to a good start with the elections in 2005 – I witnessed the first election in Basra – and the referendum on the constitution. But there is a long way to go, and the violence and sectarianism is inevitably undermining all aspects of Iraqi society and politics. However, I believe that respect for human rights is a universal principle of good government and that if we can build up a culture of human rights then democracy in Iraq will have a good chance.

There was an impression that the Kurdish political establishment played an important role in the drafting of an Iraqi constitution that provides for a degree of human rights and secularism and ensures a level of democracy, albeit incomplete. How did the allied forces reward the Kurds and how democratic are the major components of the Kurdish political establishment themselves? 

I don’t believe there are ‘rewards’ handed out by members of the Coalition in Iraq to different political and religious groupings in Iraq. I think this would be counterproductive and I know that the UK is very supportive of reconciliation efforts inside and out the Iraqi Government. 

Democracy in Kurdistan is very much like democracy elsewhere in Iraq – fledgling. 

Isn’t it necessary to start a campaign of secularisation in Iraq and perhaps even in Europe to save democracy? 

I do not think a campaign of secularisation is the right way forward. The different faiths and sects of Iraq are entitled to the free expression and practice of their religion, just as all Iraqis are entitled to the practice and expression of their human rights. There must be the proper accommodation between rights, religion and the state as a component of a flourishing democracy – but as I said above, I don’t think a campaign of secularisation is necessarily the right approach. What is important is a government that represents all of Iraq and is opposed to any violation of the rule of law, bringing to an end the culture of impunity that has ruled Iraq for so long.

We definitely appreciate the honourable role that is being played by the USA and Britain in supporting the Iraqi government which is vital if the country is not to plunge into all out civil war and carnage. We also know how vital is the role of the allied forces in Iraq in controlling terrorism worldwide. However, how difficult is it to make people in Iraq and beyond, even in fact Europe and the USA, appreciate this role? If it is, indeed, difficult, why is it so? 

The removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime was controversial and continues to be so. I myself in 2003, after nearly thirty years of campaigning against repression in Iraq – including campaigning for the indictment of leading members of the regime as an alternative to war – reluctantly concluded that military intervention had become the only option. 

Events in Iraq since the fall of the regime have left some people feeling vindicated in their opposition to the removal of Saddam Hussein. But I think this is short-sighted. While the violence and bloodshed in Iraq today is tragic, I remain hopeful that the people of Iraq will be able to move beyond the sectarianism and brutality and continue the process of rehabilitating their nation. But for this to happen political leaders must move beyond narrow sectional interests and govern on behalf of every Iraqi – Shia, Kurd, Sunni, Assyrian, Yezidi, Turkoman, Mandean and any other grouping. 

There is currently a strong campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan being carried out mainly by women’s groups, notable among them is the British based political activist Houzan Mahmoud, and many men have thankfully joined this movement. Their aim is to persuade the Kurdish Parliament to drop Article 7 in the proposed Kurdish constitution which states:  “This constitution stresses the identification of the majority of Kurdish people as Muslims” thus the Islamic sharia law will be considered as one of the major sources for legislation making. We know the contribution and value of free women to a free society so what kind of help can you provide in order to help this campaign succeed? 

People in Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq who are fighting for equal rights for women have my full support. This is an issue I raise whenever I can with Iraqi politicians from all parties – whether it is women being compelled to wear the hijab, domestic violence or legislation that could threaten the equality of women under the law. Aside from this political pressure, I work closely with the UK Government which has funded various projects working on women’s issues, including a recent study visit by KRG officials and civil society activists looking at awareness raising campaigns on honour killings. 

Finally, we want to express our gratitude to you for the role you play, and to Britain and all other nations and governments who support democracy in Iraq. That democracy is a necessary condition for peace and prosperity in the future.

Thank you to Dr. Showan Khurshid for conducting this interview and Peter Stitt for arranging it.

This interview was conducted while Prime Mister Tony Blair was still in office. 

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