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Women organization helped bring down trafficking chain in Iraq

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Street view in Baghdad. Photo: Jeff Werner.

Security forces in Iraq have arrested Eman ”Dakhiliya”, who run one of the worse trafficking chains in Baghdad. Her criminal network, involved in sexual slavery, has also been dispersed. This is a huge victory for the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, OWFI, who has campained against her for a long time.

Eman’s nick name”Dakhiliya” means internal and refers to the Ministry of interior. She got it because of her connections with officers inside the Ministry as well as with the police in the area, which have kept her safe for a long time.

Eman’s accomplices kidnapped girls and women to work in her brothels. Women who came in her depth, like those who developed a drug addiction, were forced to sell their organs.

Exposed in report

As early as in 2010, OWFI pointed out Eman in a report on trafficking.

- Her arrest means a lot, even if she isn’t the only trafficker in Baghdad. Her business grew becuase she worked the poorest areas, where many homeless young women live. They were easy prey for Eman, says Yanar Mohammed, president of OWFI.

OFWI has received many threats, especially since the organization’s publication of the 2010 report, in which several traffickers and brothels were exposed.

- Eman and her pimps have threatened to take us to court or to kill us. But we have also, for several years, been criticized by government agents and many of the other women’s NGO’s (Non Governmental Organizations) distanced themselves from us in order to be on the good side of the conservative officials and the population at large, says Yanar Mohammed.

Women organizations important

- The example of Eman ”Dakhiliya” shows what crucial part women organizations like OWFI play, not only for the individual victims, but for the fight against corruption and organized crime. Few have the strength to challenge these criminal gangs, because of the risks it entails. These organizations need support and recognition, says Lena Ag, secretary general of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, a Swedish women’s rights and peace organization working together with OWFI.

Problem since the US invasion

Trafficking in connection with sexual slavery has been a continously growing problem in Iraq, since the US invasion in 2003. The deteriorating safety situation, increased powerty and deficient border inspections have been good growing grounds for traffickers. According to UNHCR more than 1,5 million people are internally displaced, refugees or stateless without safe living conditions.

Women organizations report that young women are being kidnapped, sold by poor families or duped to join the traffickers voluntarily, by promises of a better future. Sexual violence is tabu in Iraq and women don’t dare to speak openly about what they have been subjected to, of fear of becoming outcasts or even get killed. Therefore it is difficult to get any relaible numbers on how many women that are being used for sexual slavery.

New law lacks implementation

A small step towards a change was the signing of an Iraqi anti-trafficking law this spring. The law came into place after several years of lobbying by the Iraqi women’s movement.

- The current law finally treats the trafficked women as victims and not perpetrators, and gives general guidelines onto the state’s responsibility in helping the them to a good life after their painful ordeal. But we are still worried about the implementation since thousands of trafficked women still don’t have any way to seek refuge. They definitely can’t go home as honour killing awaits them, and yet no governmental shelters or group-homes or programs are planned for them, says Yanar Mohammed.

Annika Flensburg/Malin Ekerstedt

Iraq passes anti-trafficking law

Tags: , , , Categories: The Middle East

On February 23rd the Iraqi Council of Representatives passed a law to combat trafficking in human beings. It includes the establishment of coordination mechanisms for civil society, support to different ministries on victim of trafficking assistence and support to a proposed Higher Committee to Combat Human Trafficking.

- This legislation is crucial and has been long anticipated in its coming. In order to assist the vast number of displaced and vulnerable populations in Iraq, as well as the thousands of labour migrants in the country, who are all at risk of being trafficked, the legal grounds for protection from abuse is absolutely necessary, says Michael Pillinger, Chief of the IOM Iraq mission.

Processed by international working group

IOM’s (International Organization for Migration) mission in Iraq has been working with the law since 2008, and in 2011 they founded a Trafficking in Persons Working Group together with the US Embassy in Baghdad. The Working Group gathers representatives from the UN Country Team, NGO’s, universities, interested embassies and Iraqi ministries, to promote the legislative process and, at the next level, assist with its implementation.

Difficult to prosecute

Before this law the legal instrument to use was the Iraqi Penal Code No. 111 from 1969 that included trafficking in women and children as well as so called white slave trade. But without a specialized law it has been difficult for prosecutors to define crimes as trafficking in persons and therefore pepetrators have been able to escape punishment. The absence of a clear legal framework has also made it hard for civil society to support the victims and for the state to work with prevention and protection.

With the passage of the law Iraq became the 13th Middle Eastern country to institute counter-trafficking in persons legislation, thereby joining Syria, the UAE, Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Lebanon.

Visit the Protection Project to read different international anti-trafficking legislation.