In the southern Iraqi city of Basra, from October 20 to 22 2012, more than 200 Iraqi activists, trade unionists and human rights defenders met to discuss a democratic future for their country within the Second Iraqi Nonviolence Forum. About twenty international members of NGOs and journalists attended the event to express solidarity and build campaigns that will be carried forward by the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI).
The ICSSI has gathered its members for four consecutive years, and since 2009 changed gradually from a space to understand challenges and priorities of the Iraqi civil society, to a platform for collective action in defense of human rights and social justice in Iraq. After two annual meetings in Europe, ICSSI conferences have been organized last year in Erbil and this year in Basra, empowering local civil society through the management of international events and attracting interest and respect by local authorities towards independent civil society.
Workshops dedicated to specific campaigns produced very interesting results. The Campaign to Save the Tigris, an initiative to halt the building of the Ilisu Dam in Turkey that dramatically limits the amount of water that Iraq receives raised awareness to the Iraqi people as well as to the international community. Its main purpose was to advocate at the national and international level to stop the construction of the dam, arguing that this is a political – not an economical – project of the Turkish government. The Austrian company involved in the construction of the dam, Andritz, will also be targeted.
In the workshop on labor rights, after discussion, all Iraqi union representatives who were present agreed that the lack of a just labour law, consistent with internationally recognized workers’ rights, was the most important obstacle that their movement faces. Those present agreed to issue a joint statement, pledging to work together to pressure the Iraqi parliament to pass a new labour law with the modifications to the draft law that have been previously agreed upon by labour leaders. ICSSI members from the United States, France, Italy and Spain agreed to work with labour and worker solidarity organizations in their countries to increase international support for the Iraqi workers’ campaign.
Another workshop discussed the need to stop human rights violations by Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs), that make business out of war. Such companies accompanied the US and UK armies in Iraq during the 2003 war, they consolidated the occupation and are still widely used in Iraq today. Nowadays even United Nations agencies and the Iraqi government are contracting such companies; states are outsourcing the use of force and no international law regulates this field. Killings of civilians in Iraq, torture and abuses in prisons, prove that PMSCs act in total impunity, with no accountability and no mechanism to compensate victims. International members present at the workshop have been the ones leading the campaign; since the issue is highly sensitive and Iraqi researchers who contributed until now are anonymous. Iraqi NGOs present at the workshop agreed to organize a public information campaign and joint advocacy actions to promote the regulation of PMSCs through national and international law. Their slogan will be: Never Again!
A workshop was also dedicated to practicing Sports for Peace. Running and walking, in particular, are practices that require no expenses for equipment and can be practiced by almost anybody who is physically capable. This is a very effective way even for NGOs to re-claim the streets and involve high numbers of common people in their initiatives. The first international marathon in Iraq was organized last year by civil society organizations in Erbil, associated to the ICSSI Conference, and it was repeated this year with about five thousand participants. A run for peace took place in Basra on October 19, the day before this Nonviolence Forum started, with about two hundred runners and many young enthusiastic participants. Another run is taking place today within Baghdad University campus, organized by ICSSI member organizations and student groups. Participants in the workshop decided to organize a marathon in Baghdad in 2013, associated to the Iraqi Social Forum. NGOs will also work to promote the involvement of women in such events, and to bring sports education for all in primary schools.
A plenary session and a specific meeting have been used to discuss about the Iraqi Social Forum, a political and social space for coordination and exchange of information among Iraqi civil society organizations who share a progressive agenda. Such initiative follows the principles of the World Social Forum charter, uniting people who struggle for human rights, peace and social justice, against neoliberal policies and militarism. Several Iraqi NGOs and unions are already working under the slogan “Another Iraq is possible”, they will participate in the next World Social Forum in Tunis in March 2013 and they are determined to organize the first Iraqi Social Forum event in Baghdad at the end of 2013.
At the conclusion of the Nonviolence Forum, the Iraqi nonviolence group, La’Onf, which has been working to promote nonviolence throughout Iraq for more than seven years from its headquarters in Erbil, met to discuss future activities and strategies. Forty-two members of La’Onf, from the various governorates of Iraq attended the meeting. Participants discussed a course of action for the group and new ideas for action, which will be published later in a special report. Members also agreed to expand the Board of Directors to a group of seven people. Their final task was to hold elections to choose a new president and members of the board of directors. Mr. Abbas Kadhim Rabat received thirty-seven votes to become the next president. Two women, Mrs. Salama Sakban of Diwaniyah, and Ms. Abrar Abid Ali of Basra, won seats on the board and Khaled al-Jubouri, Hossam Abdallah and Hussein Sudanese were also elected to serve on the board. The seventh member is to be elected by the Kurdish NGOs in the coming days.
After the end of the forum, local organizers and the international delegation have been received by Chairman of Basrah Governorate Coucil, Mr. Sabah Hasan Al-Bazoni, who congratulated everybody for the successful initiative. Local authorities will support, among others, the implementation of a proposal advanced by Save the Tigris campaign: an international Water Forum to be organized in Basra for the promotion of “Blue Peace” among people in Middle East. This will be probably the next occasion for ICSSI to visit our friends in Basra again, and enjoy their fabulous hospitality.