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American Today


Grant to AU Center Aids Passage of Human Rights Law

By Sally Acharya

AU’s work with the Iraqi government has born fruit with the passage in Iraq of a law on Nov. 16 establishing a human rights commission in the embattled nation.

The Center for Global Peace (CGP) worked for more than two years on the law to create the independent human rights commission. CGP advised the parliamentary committee crafting the law, held in-country workshops, and prepared legal analyses of successive draft legislation.

The work has been funded by $2.9 million in grants from the U.S. Department of State. The center also has a $2.2 million State Department grant to help boost voter turnout in three Iraqi provinces with low turnout in the 2005 elections.

It’s all part of the effort to help establish a solid foundation for democracy in Iraq. The human rights commission will provide a key piece of that foundation.

“It’s a tool to support the goal of a democracy in progress, because democracy includes protections. This committee will serve a kind of ombudsman function. It will allow the citizens of Iraq to say something’s not working,” said Carole O’Leary, School of International Service (SIS), coprincipal investigator on the project with Abdul Aziz Said, SIS.

The law passed in parliament and was presented to the Presidency Council in late November to be signed into law.

The AU center is also supporting Iraq’s nascent democracy with the Iraq Election Education Project to increase voter turnout. CGP is preparing the curriculum for master training sessions and other efforts to educate voters and increase turnout in Anbar, Mosul, and Salahaddin provinces.

“We are targeting those regions of Iraq that in the 2005 cycle were distinctly under-represented, both because people chose not to vote and because of security [concerns] and fear,” O’Leary noted.

The project is being implemented in the field by two Iraqi NGOs, including a media production and training company managed by Ali Alshamary, SIS ’93. In addition to training master trainers who will branch out to communities across the three provinces, the project funds public affairs programming on voting and training for journalists in fair election reporting.

As part of a related grant, AU is also working with the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights to design a strategic national plan of action that will help coordinate human rights efforts among the ministries, including the introduction of human rights education at an early age.

The grants are from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

Key participants with O’Leary and Said in the center’s Iraq work are Julie Mertus, SIS; Mary Gray, College of Arts and Sciences; and SIS adjunct professors Janet Lord and Kathy Guernsey. Recent graduate Christopher Argyris, SIS/MA ’08, is project manager.

“We’re very excited,” O’Leary says. “We really look forward now to working with the new commissioners to achieve accreditation of the commission through the international accrediting body.”