Open Letter to the U.N. Security Council on the Government of Iraq’s NGO Shelter Policy

October 2016
U.N. Security Council
United Nations, New York, U.S.A.


Open Letter to the U.N. Security Council on the Government of Iraq’s NGO Shelter Policy


(Arabic Version) النسخة العربية

(Kurdish Version) دانه يا كوردي

Print friendly version (English)

Your Excellencies,

The undersigned nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are writing to express our concern about the Government of Iraq’s policy prohibiting Iraqi NGOs from legally providing shelter to individuals and families fleeing conflict-related gender-based violence.

The invasion of Da’esh[1] and the ensuing crisis has increased the number of those displaced to three million and left over ten million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Iraq alone. It is not surprising that local authorities and the international community are struggling to meet the critical demand for shelter. The situation is worse in hotly contested cities where there is great risk for most international relief workers and sparse access through Da’esh-controlled checkpoints.

Despite this unprecedented crisis, outside of the Kurdistan region it remains against public policy for Iraqi NGOs to provide shelter for those escaping gender-based violence. This prohibition prevents survivors from accessing life-saving services, particularly in areas beyond the reach of international humanitarian actors.

Without policy protections, local organizations providing shelter and support services are forced to run their operations underground, becoming less visible to those in need. Security raids put survivors residing in NGO-run shelters at risk of being killed or sent back to their families who have sought to kill them for reasons of “honor.” In this sense, it is not only the lack of available shelter, but the policy prohibiting privately-operated shelters itself that puts women and other at-risk persons in jeopardy of torture or death. This policy undermines the overall capacity of the Iraqi government to address conflict related gender-based violence and provide adequate services to survivors.

The problem lies within policy ambiguity that leaves it unclear whether or not it is within the purview of Iraqi registered NGOs to provide shelter. While the Kurdistan Regional Government corrected this opacity through a regional policy decree in 2014, the central government of Iraq has yet to act. The right to shelter exists under Iraqi Law and is supported by the Iraq National Action Plan for the Implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. The Combating Trafficking in Persons Law of 2012 states that the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs should create shelters to assist the survivors of human trafficking and exploitation. Regrettably, government officials have interpreted this policy to mean that only the government can run shelters. However, state-run shelters maintain a policy of alerting families of survivors to their whereabouts and thus remain vacant.

Despite many government officials’ public support for the anti-shelter policy, the ongoing conflict has increasingly compelled change. Faced with an influx of displaced people, and a dearth of relief aid, some local officials in affected towns have entered into temporary agreements with Iraqi NGOs to provide much-needed shelter and other direct service provision.

Humanitarian efforts by local organizations have also not gone unnoticed by the central government authorities. Despite officials’ continued endorsement of the anti-shelter policy, the government also recognizes its reliance on local NGOs to help provide services to survivors of gender-based violence in light of the current conflict. For example, in the fall of 2015, when asked about the availability of shelter by the U.N. Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ESCR) Committee, government representatives responded that the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), an Iraqi NGO, is helping to meet the needs of survivors in central and southern Iraq.[2] Officials explained that OWFI is taking measures to address the sharp rise in violence against women through providing comprehensive services for survivors, including shelter. Thus, in international statements, officials pass off their obligation to ensure shelter for survivors to local NGOs, while on the ground, they harass and hamper local organizations providing such services in areas where they lack operating agreements with local authorities.

A directive from the Iraq government clarifying that Iraqi organizations may provide much-needed services to survivors of conflict-related violence, including shelter, would help bolster Iraq’s capacity to meet the urgent needs of those escaping conflict related gender-based violence. International human rights treaty bodies encourage such a policy expansion in Iraq. In 2015, the U.N. Committee against Torture called on the Iraqi government to “[e]nact comprehensive legislation… including a law permitting privately run shelters.”[3] Shortly after, the U.N. ESCR Committee and the U.N. Human Rights Committee also called on the Iraqi government to support privately run shelters.

By expanding shelter opportunities, Iraqi NGOs can help meet the needs of those left most vulnerable by the conflict. Allowing NGOs to provide critically needed shelter will not only save lives, it will also spur local job creation. Iraqi NGOs, operating in areas unreachable by international aid organizations, hold a critical advantage when it comes to reaching displaced communities and at-risk persons. Local women’s organizations not only help meet immediate needs, they also help survivors rebuild their lives. They help to reduce illiteracy and the spread of disease, and chip away at the number of those most vulnerable to violence. They also alleviate the economic burdens placed on local governorates left scrambling to address masses of fleeing people pouring into their townships.

We ask the Security Council, in all its relevant decisions about Iraq, including UNAMI’s mandate, and the Council’s interactions with the government of Iraq and mission leadership, to:

Call on the Government of Iraq to issue a directive clarifying that Iraqi NGOs may provide much-needed shelter and other services to conflict-related gender-based violence survivors.

To this end,

  • Encourage the Ministerial Council to call on the General Manager of the NGO Directorate, Ali Makki Khalil, to permit local NGOs to run shelters for those escaping conflict-related violence, with the supervision of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs;
  • Encourage the NGO Directorate and Minister of Social Affairs, to facilitate these processes;
  • Encourage the Prime Minister, the Minister of the Interior, and all other relevant members of the government of Iraq to support this directive;
  • Encourage U.N. agencies working in Iraq to support this directive.


We thank you for your strong commitment and support to remedying violations against women, girls and other marginalized persons affected by the Da’esh conflict and urge you to consider our request. In bringing these concerns to your attention, we are lending our support to, and pledging our future assistance with, any efforts that you undertake to protect the rights of those fleeing conflict-related violence in Iraq. To this end, we respectfully request that you investigate this matter and take the necessary action to support amending this harmful policy.


Respectfully Submitted,

Iraqi Organizations

Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI)


Women Leadership Institute

Baghdad Women’s Association

Women's Justice Organization

The Women’s Legal Assistance Organization (WOLA)

SAWA Human Rights Organization

AWAN Organization

Women for Progress Organization

Etana Women’s Organization

Peace Ambassadors Organization for Development

Al-Fyhaa’ Association for Development

The Organization of Iraqi Family

Al-Jeel for Human Resources Development

Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights

Affected Women Association

HIWA Foundation 

Rasan Organization 

People's Development Organization

Iraqi Without Borders

Rafidain Women Coalition Association

Women’s Organization for Women’s Betterment

Bo Peshewa Organization for Human Development

Alshahbaa’ Mother and Child Organization

Kurdish Institute for Elections

Youth Development Activity Center (YADC)

WADI- Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Co-operation

Frya Organization

Democracy and Human Rights Development Center (DHRD)

Civil Society Initiative (CSI) 

Advocating for Rights and Justice Organization (ARJO)

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) 

Rezhwan Organization 

Wafa Organization for Developing Youth Abilities (W.O.D.Y.A)

The National Center for Human Rights 

Aran Organization for Developing Civil Culture

Leader Network

Legal Clinic Network 

Zhyan Group

Rights Development Foundation

The Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI)

AlSalam Humanitarian and Charitable Organization

Runaki Wllat Organization

Free Journalists League

The Media and Cultural Center (Technical Authors Associations)  

Venos Women Organization 

The Organization for Empowerment and Development for All

Khama’el Organization 

The Arabic Regional Office for Special Needs Persons (AlRafideen Gathering)

Anti-Human Trafficking Network

Thi Qar Forum for Civic Development 

The Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI)

Together to Rescue the Family Organization 

Areej for Children Organization

Book Club Forum 

Social Exchange Network 

Baghdad Lawyers Association 

Basmah Organization for Rescuing and Development

Care for Diabetes Organization  

Ritaj Center for Civic Development 

Thi Qar Association for Culture and Media 

Tammooz (July) Organization for Social Development 

Alhabobi Youth Students Association

Ana Wasit Women and Child Support Organization 

The Organization for Family Development and Protection in Iraq

Khanzad Organization 

Directorate for Combating Violence Against Women 

Architectural Engineers Association 

Progress Organization for Human Development

Women Leaders Forum

AlWadaq Organization for Family and Child


Iraqi Individuals

*Women representatives from Yazidi Community (names omitted for safety reasons)

Mr. Ahmed Abdeljabbar Al-kareem, President of the Provincial Council of Saladin Governorate

Hon. Salam Ismael Zeidan, Chief Judge, Samarra

Hon. Ahmad Mahdi Mohamed, Personal Affairs Court of Samarra

Mr. Talal Khalil Mahmoud, Assistant District Attorney, Samarra

Mr. Mohmoud Khalaf Ahmad, Mayor of Samarra District

Mr. Omar Mohamed Hassan, City Councilman in Samarra City

Mr. Sami Abdallah Saleh, Secretary City Council in Samarra City

Mr. Ayman Sa’ed Mahmoud, City Council Member, Samarra City

Mr. Layth Mohamed Hatim, City Council Member, Samarra City

Mr. Mohamed Wajeeh Aloush, City Council Member, Samarra City

Ms. Halimah Hamad Harbi, Principal Asma’ Girls High School

Sheikh Khalid Faleeh Hasan, Head Sheikh, Samarra City

Sheikh Ayoob Abdelwahad Fareed, Samarra City

Dr. Ahmad Al-jbouri, Orthopedic Specialist and Surgeon

Mr. Hasan Abdelkareem Alshabeeb, Member of the Executive Bureau of the Iraqi Democratic Current (IDC) - Headquarters

Rezan Dler, Member of the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament (Kurdistan National Assembly)

Murad Alshmisawi, Director of Nasiriyah Women Prison, Nasiriyah City

Salam Jabbar Mohsin, Council Member in Nasiriyah Governorate, Nasiriyah City

Abdelrazzaq Fadil Alnasir, Nasiriyah City Police Chief, Nasiriyah City

Lieutenant Dia’ Abdelwahhab Tahir, Director of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, Nasiriyah City


Other Supporting Organizations

*We the undersigned non-governmental organizations are writing to express our support for Iraqi organizations’ call to clarify the shelter policy that Iraqi NGOs may provide much-needed shelter and other services to conflict-related gender-based violence survivors.

MADRE (United States)

The Sorensen Center at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law (US)

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) (Switzerland)

ABAAD (Lebanon)

Walk Free Organization (United States)

Un Ponte Per Association (Italy)

Sport Against Violence (Italy) 

International Institute for Nonviolent Action (Spain)

Helia Association (Spain) 

September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows (United States)

Participatory Development Action Program (Bangladesh)

Liga De Mujeres Desplazadas (Displaced Women League) (Colombia)

Female Solidarity for Integrated Peace and Development (SOFEPADI) (The Democratic Republic of Congo)

Congolese Women’s Fund (The Democratic Republic of Congo)

V-Day, A Global Movement to End Violence Against Women and Girls (United States)

One Billion Rising (United States)

Refugees International (United States)

Global Justice Center (United States)

Sonke Gender Justice (South Africa)

Women Now for Development (Syria)

Global Fund for Women (United States)

The Center for Constitutional Rights (United States)

War Resisters League (United States)


[1] Also known as the so-called Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

[2] The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) (“CESCR Committee”), Concluding Observations on the Fourth Periodic Report of Iraq, ¶ 39, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/IRQ/CO/4 (Oct. 12, 2015),

[3] U.N. Committee Against Torture, Concluding Observations On The Initial Report of Iraq, (Sept. 7, 2015) ¶ 24 U.N. Doc. CAT/C/IRQ/CO/1, &Lang=en