Since October 2019, a new wave of peaceful demonstrations have been organised in Iraq unifying different ethnic and political groups, following years of protest movements by different sectors of society. The demonstrations were led by Iraqi human rights defenders protesting the government itself as well as non-state armed and political groups, endemic corruption, economic struggle and to demand basic and functioning state services. Police, military and armed groups quashed these demonstrations with lethal force, suppressing their rights to assembly and free speech. Live ammunition was used against peaceful protesters, which resulted in the death of hundreds of demonstrators including many human rights defenders while others were abducted and attacked.
Iraqi human rights defenders are subjected to assassination, abduction, arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance. Iraq is considered an extremely dangerous country for human rights defenders, particularly with the ubiquity of armed groups who pose additional threats to obstruct their work.
Women human rights defenders have been subjected to smear campaigns on social media due to their participation in protests and have been specifically targeted for abduction and killing, particularly in the southern city of Basra.
Despite the appointment of a new government by the Iraqi Parliament in May 2020 in response to the protests, the administration has failed to protect human rights defenders. Several were assassinated in following months. Peaceful demonstrations continue, with human rights defenders putting their lives at risk to demand real change.