Thomas Seven is the director of the European Union office in Erbil for supporting the rule of law in Iraq. In an interview with Rudaw he spoke about the works of his office that was opened only two months ago in the capital of the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
According Seven, their office opened in Erbil after a request in 2005 from the Iraqi government to the EU to assist the country in consolidating the rule of law in Iraq and develop the judicial system, prisons, and the police force.
The EU responded to Iraq’s request and decided to help by organizing training courses for Iraqis who work in those three fields.
“Many of our courses took place in Europe due to the unfavorable security conditions in Iraq.” said Seven. “In 2009, the EU members decided to move the location of these courses to Iraq and so we did arrange several courses in different Iraqi cities.”
The relative improvement in Iraq’s security situation finally convinced the EU mission to expand their work in Iraq and open offices in major cities as Baghdad, Basra and Erbil. According to Seven the main bureau was relocated from the Belgian capital Brussels to Iraq.
Seven says that in general they have good relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), however, they mainly deal with four ministries that are the Ministry of Social Work, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Planning.
Some of Seven’s work so far has been to arrange trips to courts in Europe for judges from Kurdistan and courses for members of the police.
“We have, for example, taken the judges of Iraqi Kurdistan to EU and showed them how the court systems work there,” said Seven, “with the police system, we currently work on investigation methods and we also have serious work going on with the prisons to teach the guards how to deal with the inmates.”
Here they argue about having a legal permit before protesting. This rule is the same in many European countries.
Seven’s office in Iraq has until now organized twenty courses in the three Kurdish provinces of Erbil, Sulaimani, and Duhok. They have trained around nine hundred government employees. In all of Iraq, nearly 4000 employees have participated in their courses.
Seven acknowledges that the situation in Iraq is different from that of other countries. It has had a history of dictatorial regimes; therefore he doesn’t want to compare the judicial system in the Kurdistan region or Iraq with Europe.
“We do not want to compare, our situations are different than the one of Iraq because Iraq was ruled by dictatorship for more than 30 years,” he said. “However, I have to point out that since we started working in these three systems, a noticeable development has been achieved, but more work needs to be done and this needs time.”
The EU mission also deals with public prosecution department in Iraq and Kurdistan that often comes in for criticism for applying rules of the old system.
“We have specialized experts in this field and we are in continuous contact with the ministry of justice and the public prosecution courts, which is a very crucial field to assist in developing the rule of law in Iraqi Kurdistan.” said Seven.
Seven’s office receives request for help in various areas all depending on the needs of the government ministries that approach them.
“In the police department, it is the method of investigation and treatment of inmates, strengthening the relationship between the police and the courts during investigating the cases.” he said. “Regarding the ministry of social works; it is about the improvement of the conditions in detention centers and the inmates.”
Seven has visited prisons in the Kurdistan region and he described them to be in good condition, though not comparable to prisons in Europe.
“I have visited one prison in Erbil, what I saw was good, but I have not seen the other ones yet.” said Seven. “But what I saw was good, and clean. However, it cannot be compared to prisons in Europe. According to what I heard about other prisons in Iraqi Kurdistan from some of the experts, some prisons are good while others are not.”
In the past, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticized the state of human rights in Iraqi Kurdistan and have tried to draw attention to torture in Kurdish prisons.
Seven’s bureau is aware of those reports and they find torture unacceptable. He said that his office can offer help address that issue.
“We have seen these reports and we as the EU find torturing prisoners as an illegal act.” said Seven. “We can help the KRG in this regard if they ask for our help. One of the main points that we stress in our courses to the police and the prison guards is the behavior of the guards and the consideration of human rights.”
A monthly report is prepared by Seven’s mission on their work, their progress and their evaluation of the overall judicial system in Iraq to share with member states at the EU.
“We always write reports about our activities and impressions. We have monthly reports, we also have evaluation reports that we send to 17 members of EU in which we talk about the effectiveness of our offices in developing the fields in which Iraqi government asked for our assistance.” said Seven.
The EU mission was active in the Kurdish capital when protests went on in Sulaimani city for two months. Seven condemned the use of violence against protestors, but in the meantime he agreed with the Kurdish authorities that to stage a protest you need a legal permit.
“Here they argue about having a legal permit before protesting. This rule is the same in many European countries. You should ask for legal permission and follow the rules of demonstrations.” he said.
In the first day of protests in Sulaimani, protesters gathered outside the main office of the Kurdistan Democratic Party where violence broke out and one teenage boy was killed and several injured.
In Kurdistan both the authorities and protesters accused each other of triggering the violence, but Seven says that in those circumstances both sides could be responsible.
“Any violence in protests can be blamed on both the protesters and the government. Protesting is a right of all individuals, but that should be according to an existing law.” he said. “The death or injury of any individual in the protests, either civilian, police or journalist, is a manifestation of inadequacies in the process of establishing a democratic country.”
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