Programs & Projects

Projects in Iraq


IHRLI has been involved with a number of human rights and rule of law projects in Iraq designed to:

  • Assist Iraqi law schools with educational reform
  • Gather and analyze victims’ narratives of human rights violations committed during the prior regime
  • Assist the Iraqi government with the preparation of a comprehensive plan for judicial and legal reform
  • Provide human rights training to key government sectors
  • Support the drafting and implementation of the new constitution
  • Manage seminars on post-conflict justice, federalism, domestic security for Iraqi leaders, and provide special training for the Iraqi Special Tribunal and the Iraq High Criminal Court
  • Improve the defense and protection of women’s rights
These projects are managed by IHRLI’s staff in Chicago as well as staff in Iraq. Some of these projects are jointly managed with IHRLI’s partner organization, the International Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Sciences (ISISC) in Siracusa, Italy.

Iraq History Project

The Iraq History Project (IHP) gathers and analyzes personal narratives from victims, their families, witnesses, perpetrators, and others regarding human rights violations committed during Saddam Hussein’s regime. These testimonies document experiences of torture, massacres, assassinations, rape, chemical weapons attacks, disappearances, and other acts of systematic repression.

The IHP began in late 2005 and is now one of the largest independent human rights data collection and analysis projects in the world. The IHP has gathered over 7,000 testimonies from throughout Iraq, representing around 100,000 pages of text that have been entered into a secure, searchable database. The project is run by an all-Iraqi in-country staff. Over sixty Iraqis have worked on the project as interviewers, supervisors, analysts, data entry staff, and administrators.

The Iraq History Project was founded in the belief that victims, their families, and societies as a whole have a fundamental right to know the truth about past abuses, including accurate information regarding specific violations, patterns of violations, the history of the conflict, and the identification of responsible parties.

After the fieldwork ended in mid-2007, the IHP began presenting its material publicly through radio programs, CDs, newspaper inserts, publications, and events. In June 2007, the IHP launched a radio program entitled “Testimony” in Kurdish on Radio Nawa, and in August 2007, the project began a similar program in Arabic on Radio Dijla. These programs reached hundreds of thousands of listeners and provided Iraqis with an opportunity to listen to the testimonies of their fellow citizens and reflect on the impact of their experiences.

In November 2007, IHRLI published a book of IHP testimonies in Arabic, English, and Kurdish, as well as over 15,000 newspaper inserts in major Arabic and Kurdish publications. IHRLI also launched the IHP website where one can review the project, read selected testimonies, download copies of the books, and listen to the radio programs.

Current Violations Initiative

In 2008, IHRLI started a new project – the Current Violations Initiative (CVI) – to document and analyze current human rights violations in Iraq. This project was developed in response to requests by IHRLI’s Iraqi staff and our various colleagues, as well as many victims who participated in the IHP. Political violence in Iraq has reached terrifying levels. Targeted assassinations, mass lethal attacks, abduction, torture, threats, and abuse of various types from a variety of factions have produced extraordinary suffering and created an emergency situation with a profound impact on Iraq and the region. The wave of political violence has led to mass displacement and created one of the worst internally displaced persons (IDP) and refugee crises in the world. The United Nations estimates that one in eight Iraqis have fled their homes as a result of violence.

Despite the chilling nature of the situation, there are no large-scale rigorous data collection projects documenting the personal, familial, and community impact of political violence in Iraq. This short-term project will gather and analyze 1,000 to 1,800 detailed personal narratives of victims of current human rights violations. The CVI has a three interrelated phases: i) interview collection; ii) data entry and analysis; and iii) the presentation of findings through a final report, and various popular media presentations of material, including radio programs, newspaper inserts, and publications.

The CVI will provide insight into the current situation of human rights violations in Iraq by documenting the stories of Iraqi victims who represent all sectors of society and a broad representation of all ethnic/religious groups. Data collected will be shared with organizations working on the refugee and IDP crisis, including UNHCR, IOM, Red Crescent, and others. The overall project and analysis will be useful for assisting existing and future reconciliation activities in coordination with the government of Iraq, the Kurdish Regional Government, UNAMI, UNDP, and others.

Comprehensive Strategic Plan for the Iraqi Judiciary

In 2006, ISISC, with IHRLI’s assistance, began a series of high-level meetings in Jordan, Italy and Iraq to develop a plan for comprehensive judicial reform in Iraq. Participants in the meetings included the Chair of the Higher Judicial Council, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Judicial Affairs of Kurdistan, the head of the Department of Corrections, the chairperson of Judicial Oversight Commission, representatives of the Prime Minister, the State Shoura Council, and the Ministry of Human Rights. The meetings began in September 2006 and led to the creation of a comprehensive plan for the reform of the criminal justice and judicial system in Iraq.

Human Rights Education

This project provides interdisciplinary human rights education through three distinct tracks:

  • A series of two to three month train-the-trainer human rights courses for police and prison officials in which IHRLI staff train Iraqis who then go on to train others in their country;
  • Civil society trainings on elections, gender rights, due process, detention monitoring and related issues;
  • A year-long university course on international human rights.

As one component of this project, IHRLI has been working with Iraqi professors to develop a one-year course that covers key human rights issues, including international instruments, international and regional protective systems, civil and political rights, socio-economic rights, civil society organizations, women’s rights, post-conflict justice, existing Iraqi law, and shari’a.


Support for the Iraqi Constitutional Process

From 2004 through 2006, IHRLI worked with the American Bar Association (ABA) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) on a series of programs to support the new Iraqi constitution. IHRLI helped establish an advisory working group, provided various forms of legal assistance, and prepared a series of five books in Arabic (with three edited volumes in Kurdish) to assist the Iraqi people in addressing key issues linked to the country’s new constitution.

The book series was designed to benefit newly elected officials, their advisors and staff, representatives of civil society, and local leaders. The books were used extensively by key members of the constitutional drafting committee.

Seminars and Trainings: Post-Conflict Justice, Federalism, Domestic Security and Support for the Iraq Special Tribunal/Iraq High Criminal Court

In 2005 and 2006, IHRLI and ISISC worked together to design and organize a series of three intensive seminars on post-conflict justice, federalism, and domestic security in Iraq.

Each event involved around forty high-level Iraqis, including government officials, representatives of key political parties, members of the constitutional drafting committee, judges, police and security officials, professors, civil society leaders, and clerics. Seminars linked lectures by international experts with open discussions among Iraqi participants and concluded with the preparation of working documents and guidelines related to each theme.

In addition, in 2005 ISISC and IHRLI hosted a week-long training seminar for approximately seventy members of the Iraqi Special Tribunal (now the Iraq High Criminal Court) involved in prosecuting Saddam Hussein and high level members of the Ba’athist regime. The seminar provided the Tribunal’s judges, investigative judges, and others with support and training on the use of forensic and scientific evidence. IHRLI and ISISC also presented an Arabic language analysis of internal problems with the Tribunal’s statute along with various training materials.

Gender Justice in Iraq

This project linked a seminar in Amman, Jordan in November 2005 with the publication of a book promoting gender justice in Iraq. The seminar involved seventeen women leaders from Iraq and ten from throughout the Arab world including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, and Syria. The participants included current and former ministers, parliamentarians, academics, and representatives of non-governmental organizations.

The group drafted a series of essays that have been published in Arabic, Kurdish, and English in a book entitled, Gender Justice and Women’s Rights in Iraq. Over 2,500 copies of the book have been printed and distributed throughout Iraq.

Raising the Bar – Legal Education Reform

From 2003 through 2005, IHRLI was involved in comprehensive legal education reform in Iraq. The project involved close cooperation between IHRLI and the Universities of Baghdad, Basra, and Sulaimaniya and also provided nationwide support for faculty training and general educational assistance. IHRLI organized a series of conferences held in different parts of Iraq to encourage interaction between law faculty, government officials, members of the judiciary, and leaders within the legal community. To improve faculty understanding of different approaches to law and legal education, IHRLI organized a study tour to Egypt and Italy for forty Iraqi professors from eleven major universities.

IHRLI also worked with law faculty and university administrations to modify existing curricula and develop new courses focusing on human rights, international criminal law, and international commercial law. These activities included integrating practical elements of legal practice into the educational process through the creation of moot courts and legal clinics. In 2005 and 2006, IHRLI assisted Iraqi law student teams in traveling to Washington, DC to participate in the Jessup International Law Moot court competition.

The Institute also provided substantial support to the Universities of Baghdad, Basra, and Sulaimaniya to restore and upgrade law libraries, legal research services and various facilities. These efforts included extensive physical renovations of libraries, building moot court rooms, setting up computers, installing satellite internet, and providing technical assistance for library planning and management.

International Human Rights Law Institute