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Iraqi Authorities Must Protect Women, Change Discriminatory Legislation, Amnesty International Urges

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(New York) - Iraqi authorities must take effective measures to protect women and change discriminatory legislation that encourages violence against women, Amnesty International said today in a new report, Iraq: Decades of Suffering. The report focuses on the disproportionate effect of government repression and armed conflict on women and girls in Iraq, documenting how women in Iraq have been targets of violence because of gender discrimination in society and the lawlessness that followed the U.S.-led invasion, which has resulted in the restriction of their freedom of movement. This report is part of Amnesty International's Stop Violence Against Women campaign.

"Iraqi authorities must introduce concrete measures to protect women,"said Abdel Salam Sidahmed, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International. "They must send a clear message that violence against women will not be tolerated. This can be done by investigating all allegations of abuse against women and by bringingthose responsible to justice, no matter what their affiliation."

According to the report, members of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq allegedly have received threats related to their advocacy for women's rights. Chairperson Yanar Mohammed reported that in January and February 2004 she received several death threats by e-mail from an Islamist group known as the Army of Sahaba. She asked US officials for protection, but reportedly was told they had more urgent matters to address.

The current lack of security has restricted severely the participation of women in civil society, particularly in education, employment and political decision-making and constitutes a major obstacle to the advancement of their rights. Since the 2003 war, armed groups have targeted and killed several female political leaders and women's rights activists.

The report also demonstrates how gender discrimination in Iraqi laws contributes to the persistence of violence against women. Women remain at risk of death or injury from male relatives if they are accused of behavior determined to have brought dishonor on the family.

"Iraqi authorities must review discriminatory legislation against women and bring it into line with international human rights standards. Mostimportantly, they must ensure that the new constitution and all Iraqi legislation contain prohibitions to redress all forms of discrimination and gender-based violence against women," said Abdel Salam Sidahmed.

Amnesty International has repeatedly called on armed groups to immediately end the violence against women, including harassment, death threats, violent attacks, kidnapping and killing. Amnesty International equally calls on the U.S.-led multinational forces to investigate promptly all allegations of violence against women, including sexual attacks by their forces or other agents and improve safeguards for women in detention.

"Women must be at the heart of the political decision-making process in Iraq, particularly when dealing with issues directly pertaining to women," concluded Sheila Dauer, Director of Amnesty International USA's Women's Human Rights Program. "Women should be represented at all levels to protect women's interests. Women in the next government must take the lead in ensuring that Iraqi legislation is in line with international standards that protect women against violence and discrimination." To read the report, click here: