Reports and Briefings

Beyond the Veil: Women in Iran continue to face discrimination

September 2019

PDF: Beyond the Veil: Discrimination Against Women in Iran in ENGLISH and PERSIAN

The human rights environment for women in Iran continues to be characterized by inequality and exclusion in all areas of Iranian society, says a group of human rights organizations in a comprehensive new report.

Beyond the Veil: Discrimination against women in Iran by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, Minority Rights Group International and the Centre for Supporters of Human Rights (CSHR) delineates how Iranian women and girls face discrimination in all aspects of their lives, from participation in public life to access to education and employment, as well as in marriage and other family matters. In addition, the report highlights how the many ongoing efforts at reform within Iran have been obstructed, with recent protests by women activists against state repression being met by an escalation in official surveillance and intimidation.

‘President Rouhani’s repeated promises to improve the situation of women’s rights have rung hollow’ says Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Laureate and Chair of CSHR. ‘Instead, Iran has increased its repression of women human rights defenders. Women who have peacefully protested compulsory veiling laws have been attacked, detained and imprisoned.’

Iran is one of just six UN member states that have not signed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, and its national legislation enshrines many barriers to accessing basic rights in areas such as employment, marriage and citizenship.

‘These issues are especially pronounced for minority women, who often face intersectional discrimination on account of their ethnic and religious identity,’ says Joshua Castellino, Executive Director of Minority Rights Group International (MRG). For instance, while the gap in literacy rates between women and men has narrowed, girls from ethnic minorities remain particularly disadvantaged when it comes to education, not least because many of the provinces home to ethnic minorities are among Iran’s poorest and most marginalized.’

Despite certain advancements for gender equity in Iran in recent years, such as an amendment enabling women to pass on nationality at childbirth for the first time, continued resistance to equality by conservative forces has largely curtailed meaningful progress. Women’s rights were not a focus of the 2017 election, and Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has called gender equality ‘one of the biggest mistakes of Western thought’.

The report concludes with recommendations for women’s and girl’s rights for the UN’s Universal Periodic Review of Iran, scheduled for November of this year. It also recommends that states that have established bilateral human rights dialogues with Iran in the past continue to prioritize human rights and follow up on any women’s rights recommendations they might have already made.

Notes to editors

  • The Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights is an initiative to develop ‘civilian-led monitoring’ of violations of international humanitarian law or human rights, to pursue legal and political accountability for those responsible for such violations, and to develop the practice of civilian rights.
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is the leading international human rights organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.
  • The Centre for Supporters of Human Rights is a non-governmental organisation established in the UK in 2012. Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2003, is one of its founders and the chair of the Centre. The objectives of the Centre are the advancement of education and increased awareness of human rights in the Middle East, in particular in Iran.
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Peoples Under Threat 2019: The role of social media in exacerbating violence

4 June 2019

PDF: Peoples under Threat 2019 briefing.

Website: Peoples under Threat

The use of social media by repressive states and extremist groups is adding directly to the threats faced by some of the world’s most vulnerable populations and can exacerbate violence where atrocities have occurred or risk transpiring, according to new data analysis provided by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) and the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

The analysis, known as the Peoples under Threat index, uses authoritative indicators to identify those countries around the world most at risk of genocide, mass killing or systematic violent repression. This year’s index draws attention to the numerous instances where social media is being used in an organized way to disseminate hate and incite killing.

‘Unequal access to modern technology by way of social media creates an accelerated process through which hate and xenophobia can spread,’ says Joshua Castellino, MRG’s Executive Director. ‘The immediacy of the medium facilitates opinion without need for context or nuance. The sensationalist nature of some of these communications, designed to shock and awe, inevitably aids their spread.’

Syria, where social media platforms are used actively by all sides in the war, heads this year’s Peoples under Threat index. The power of hashtags persists in Syria, where supporters of President Bashar al-Assad popularized a #SyriaHoax hashtag on Twitter to discredit the overwhelming evidence of horrific chemical attacks on civilian targets. Numerous videos uploaded to YouTube by many parties to the conflict have received hundreds of millions of views, leading the Syrian conflict to be dubbed the ‘social media war’.

Somalia maintains its position behind Syria in the index. As it relates to social media, Al-Shabaab has been known to use Twitter and Facebook as propaganda and recruitment tools in an environment where mobile phone use has steadily risen in recent years.

Afghanistan is among those states where threat levels have increased this year. The civilian death toll in Afghanistan reached an all-time annual high in 2018, with 3,804 killed and another 7,189 injured. Government-controlled territory also shrank to its lowest since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. To mitigate this discouraging picture, the Afghan Ministry of Defense publishes daily figures of Taliban fighters who are killed or captured to its Twitter feed. The Taliban, in turn, widely uses WhatsApp and Twitter to recruit, plan, fundraise and claim responsibility for its attacks.

Myanmar is a stark example of the link between social media and the commission of atrocities. In this instance, dehumanizing language and outright incitement to mass murder was amplified via Facebook and Twitter, contributing to the widespread targeting of the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Iraq remains vulnerable to outbreaks of violence, and during its most intense and violent repression of minority communities, ISIS used the Twitter hashtag #AllEyesOnISIS to publicise its atrocities. While the hashtag has recently lost much of its currency, its deliberate use demonstrates how social media has become an important conduit for spreading hate and fear.

The threat level has also risen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as the country now holds more than 5 million displaced people within its borders and represents the largest displacement crisis on the African continent. Authorities in Kinshasa have engineered internet and social media bans to assist in denials of government mismanagement and insecurity.

’In country after country, social media platforms are now being used to spread hate, recruit the killers, and organize mass killing,’ said Mark Lattimer, Executive Director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights. ‘For years we have thought of social media as the friend of civil society, but it is now being used against them on an unprecedented scale.’

India is among the highest risers this year, moving up 16 places in the Peoples Under Threat Index in 2018. Violence has been escalating in Kashmir since 2016 when a separatist commander with a major social media following among Kashmiris was killed. With increased militarisation by the government, 2018 saw the highest death toll in the region in a decade, along with greater coooperation between several Islamist separatist groups. Meanwhile, across India, it is important to note that social media has played a significant role in advancing Hindu nationalism and intolerance towards minorities and perceived outsiders in the lead-up to the 2019 general elections. Members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), supporters and ‘bots’ ratcheted up the production of inflammatory, anti-Muslim messaging. The BJP’s president Amit Shah called Bangladeshi migrants ‘termites’, and the party’s Twitter account echoed his words. The BJP won the election returning Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power with a renewed mandate. However, in the few days since the BJP’s victory, Muslims have already been targeted by numerous hate attacks.

Cameroon has also leapt up the index amid escalating political violence. Peaceful demonstrations in 2016 against decades of political and economic marginalization of the country’s Anglophone regions by the largely French-speaking government led to a separatist movement for an independent state. Facing prolonged internet shutdowns and scant international attention, protestors, and later separatists, have relied heavily on Twitter hashtags to mobilize. President Paul Biya, in power since 1982, even labelled social media used by separatists ‘a new form of terrorism’. Meanwhile, Boko Haram attacks persist in the far north, adding to the growing numbers of internally displaced and deepening the humanitarian crisis.

‘Regulating hate and false news is an imperative, with collective responsibility: of technology companies, states and politicians, but also of a responsible civil society and general population’, says Castellino. ‘Failures, as this report demonstrates, increase the threats that vulnerable communities face, which becomes ever more acute in a context of heightened competition for limited resources.’

Social media promises to increasingly influence how violence is perceived or responded to. Upheaval and conflict can no longer be dislocated from the use of social media by an array of actors. It is also important, however, to consider how these expansive communication tools can be equally used to mitigate hate and combat the spread of misinformation.

This is the 14th year that the Peoples under Threat index has been released by MRG, joined now by the Ceasefire Centre. It is based on indicators from authoritative sources and continues to provide early warnings of potential mass atrocities.

Notes to editors

  • Visit the online map which visualizes data from Peoples under Threat. View the map by year or by country, and find links to reports, press releases and further information on the communities under threat.
  • Download the full Peoples under Threat 2019 briefing.

Interview opportunities: 

  • Joshua Castellino, Executive Director, Minority Rights Group International (London, UK)
  • Mark Lattimer, Executive Director, Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights (London, UK)
  • Minority representatives from Syria, Somalia, Iraq, DRC and other countries featured in the index.

For more information or to arrange interviews please contact:

ceasefirePeoples Under Threat 2019: The role of social media in exacerbating violence
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Study finds displacement, economic hardship drive domestic abuse among Syrian refugees in Iraq   

March 2019

PDF: Combating Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Refugee Crises: Lessons from working with Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq: ENGLISH, ARABIC, KURDISH

A two-year programme on sexual and gender-based violence among Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq found that displacement and economic hardship have led to an increase in physical and emotional abuse, with one focus group of women reporting that as many as half of husbands yelled at and hit their wives.

The programme, a joint project run by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Asuda, an Iraqi women’s rights group, surveyed Syrian refugees in the governorates of Erbil, Dohuk and Suleymania in Iraqi Kurdistan. The lessons learned from this study are highlighted in Ceasefire’s report: “Combating sexual and gender-based violence in refugee crises: Lessons from working in with Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq”.  

‘This report clearly highlights the psychological impact forceable displacement, exile and economic hardship has on vulnerable refugee populations,’ said Ceasefire’s Head of Middle East/North Africa Programmes, Miriam Puttick. ‘The most vulnerable sections of the refugee community – women and children – bear the brunt of this trauma.’

Almost half of the participants reported ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ mental health. Both male and female Syrian refugees said stresses related to displacement, especially financial stress and the inability to find work, had led to an increase in physical and emotional violence against women by their husbands, and to women taking out their stress and frustration verbally on their husbands and verbally and physically on their children.

Some women in Suleymania said many men were angry at how the men were treated by the host community — often taken advantage of at work, suffering physical and verbal abuse, being underpaid and forced to work long hours. These abuses were hard to address as Syrian refugees had inadequate access to legal protection.

‘However, the programme also made a strong case for the effectiveness of early and proactive intervention to address this issue, to change perceptions and start open discussions within the refugee community,’ Puttick noted. ‘The engagement of men and boys in this programming is critical – both to engage them as allies in sexual and gender-based violence programming and as potential victims of emotional and physical abuse.’

Key findings and recommendations of the programme include the importance of building trust in target communities, linking anti-SGBV efforts with livelihood and job creation schemes, ensuring services reach all of the affected community, including those living outside of refugee camps, and engaging host communities.

Recommendations for the INGO community engaged with SGBV include engaging the local government and building its capacity to effectively address this issue, and improving cooperation mechanisms between INGOs themselves.

Key project lessons: 

  • Project activities should be designed in a way that facilitates trust-building;
  • Anti-SGBV efforts should be combined with livelihoods assistance and job creation programmes;
  • Men and boys should be included in anti-SGBV programming by engaging them as allies in combating violence, but also by ensuring that services are available to male victims of SGBV;
  • Anti-SGBV programming should be extended to non-camp residents in a more sustained and targeted manner;
  • The quality of and access to shelter facilities for survivors of SGBV should be improved;
  • Host communities should be engaged with awareness sessions to reduce SGBV against refugees and create social cohesion between host and refugee communities.

Key lessons for INGOs: 

  • Building the capacity and involvement of the government should be a priority;
  • Cooperation mechanisms between NGOs need to be improved.


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ISIS fighters and their families facing justice: Eight options and four principles

Report PDF: Read the report here.

March 2019

Crimes under international law committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), including systematic attacks on civilian populations, have shocked the world. Now that the remaining ISIS-controlled territory in Syria is regained, attention is at last focusing on bringing ISIS leaders and fighters to justice. These include Iraqi and Syrian nationals, as well as the so-called ‘foreign fighters’ – nationals of other states in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as European, North American and other nationals. In particular, a global debate has begun about what to do with foreign fighters and their families, including a significant number of women and children.

This Ceasefire briefing considers eight accountability options potentially facing ISIS fighters and their families. It assesses the feasibility of each option and its implications, and then highlights four cross-cutting principles that should be taken into account in any decisions on justice mechanisms.

Since at least 2014, the need to hold ISIS accountable for its crimes has been considered a global priority. Which mechanism or mechanisms are now implemented will have major implications for the security of individual states across the world, for the long-term stability of the Middle East and North Africa, and, most pressing of all, for delivering justice to the tens of thousands of ISIS victims.

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Iraqi activists live in fear as death squad killings rise – new report

December 2018

Report PDF: Civilian Activists under Threat [PDF]

Civilian activists in Iraq are facing arbitrary detention, torture and premeditated assassinations, including at the hands of Shi’a militia members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), reports a new bulletin published today by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Minority Rights Group International. Hundreds of human rights defenders have been detained and mistreated, and scores have been killed.

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Syrian refugee women and girls facing gender-based violence in Iraq’s Kurdistan region – new report

Syrian refugee women and girls facing gender-based violence in Iraq’s Kurdistan region – new report

May 2018

Seven years after the eruption of the conflict in Syria, refugee women and girls are facing gender-based violence in host countries in the region, says a new report from the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Asuda, a leading NGO combating violence against women in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Report: Broken Lives: Violence against Syrian refugee women and girls in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (Kurdish version | Arabic version) is based on 92 in-depth interviews conducted by the two organizations with Syrian women and girls.

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Reparations for the victims of conflict in Iraq – new report

As Iraq rebuilds after ISIS conflict, ensuring reparations for the victims of violations committed by all sides should be priority.

November 2017

Report PDF: Reparations for the victims of conflict in Iraq: Lessons learned from comparative practice

As Iraq prepares to rebuild and recover from the conflict with ISIS, ensuring accountability for violations committed and reparations for victims is an immediate priority, says a new report from the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Minority Rights Group International.

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Eyes on the Ground: Realizing the potential of civilian-led monitoring in armed conflict

July 2017

Report PDF: EYES ON THE GROUND – Realizing the potential of civilian-led monitoring – Ceasefire July 2017

Technological advances have meant that civilians are now enabled to play a greater role than ever before in monitoring and documenting violations, finds a new report Eyes on the Ground: Realizing the potential of civilian-led monitoring in armed conflict.

As UN rapporteurs and other official international monitors are effectively denied access to a wide range of insecure territories around the world, civilian monitors have become a complementary, and in some cases the principal, source of information on what is happening on the ground to civilian populations.

The recommendations of the report on the strengthening of civilian-led monitoring draw on an expert seminar that took place in Geneva in June 2017, bringing together NGO leaders pioneering civilian-led monitoring in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other armed conflicts with senior representatives from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, Geneva Call, the Institute for International Humanitarian Law, academic and civil society experts and governments with an interest in promoting the implementation of international humanitarian law. As one of the experts commented: ‘The world doesn’t change with more information – but it just might, with good information.’

Civilian-led monitoring has developed on the back of:

  • The huge expansion in popular access to mobile telephony and digital communications;
  • The development of crowd-sourcing, digital mapping and crowd verification techniques, including through the use of open-source programmes;
  • Increased public awareness of human rights standards and IHL standards;
  • Advances in data-mining and news curation using increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence;
  • New opportunities for civil society organisation and activism created through social media;
  • Growing receptiveness of UN, inter-governmental and governmental bodies to information produced by civil society.

The increase in both the quantity and quality of data from civilian sources is also a response to the demand for real-time information and for in-situ monitoring. Traditional human rights and IHL monitoring mechanisms, including investigative rapporteurs and fact-finding missions, remain important but are subject to long time delays, frequent controversy over mandates, and concerns over selective reporting.

Drawing on the experience of a major pilot of civilian-led monitoring in Iraq, this report discusses significant challenges for civilian-led monitoring, including quality control, verification, security of activists and victims, and ethical questions raised by interviewing and documentation undertaken by unqualified activists. The challenges of verifying and authenticating information posted online are exacerbated during armed conflict where the deliberate spread of misinformation has a long history. This report discusses different approaches and techniques to verifying civilian-led monitoring information, including building on the experience developed by large media organizations for assessing user-generated content.

To support the effective deployment and expansion of civilian-led monitoring, this report recommends:

  • Appropriate training and capacity-building for civil-society organizations and activists on the ground in conflict-affected environments, including training on monitoring and documentation techniques, IHL and human rights standards, and cyber security;
  • Development of standardised reporting formats and related technical support in partnership with local civil society or civilian populations, to reflect the linguistic, technological and security situation on the ground;
  • Strengthened protection mechanisms for civilian monitors and other human rights defenders, including improved cyber security infrastructure;
  • Ensuring civilian rights to participate fully in civilian protection, peace-building and transitional justice processes.
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Civilian deaths in the anti-ISIS bombing campaigns 2014 – 2015

November 2015

Report PDF: Civilian deaths in the anti ISIS bombing campaigns

Over 4,000 civilians have been killed in the anti-ISIS bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria during 2014 – 2015, according to available monitoring information based on credible local sources. The majority of these deaths, over 2,800, resulted from often indiscriminate bombardment by the Iraqi Security Forces. Hundreds of other civilians have been killed in anti-ISIS airstrikes carried out by members of the US-led international coalition, by the Syrian Air Force, and more recently by Russian forces, among others.

Civilian populations in Fallujah and other cities in western and northern Iraq, and in Raqqa, Aleppo and other areas of eastern and northern Syria, have been subjected to an unremitting and often indiscriminate bombardment, including the use of barrel bombs, that has left residential areas destroyed and caused extensive damage to schools, hospitals and mosques.

The international coalition is conducting airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria in support of the Iraqi government’s struggle against ISIS and cites the collective self-defence of Iraq as the primary justification for its use of force under international law. Intelligence from Iraqi security forces on the ground is used to inform the targeting of international coalition strikes, and military training, intelligence and equipment, including American F16 fighter aircraft, are supplied by members of the coalition to Iraqi forces. Under the circumstances, there is a serious failure to take any collective responsibility for the unacceptable rates of civilian casualties.

The prevention of future civilian casualties is being impeded by the failure by all parties to the conflict to acknowledge civilian deaths and investigate them transparently. In respect of the international coalition, failures in transparency represent a marked deterioration from recent practice in other conflicts.

This report recommends:

  • All credible allegations of civilian casualties should be subject to an effective, prompt, thorough and impartial investigation, and the results made transparent, with a view to suppressing breaches of international humanitarian law and violations of human rights and securing reparation for victims and their families;
  • The international coalition should seek to ensure that both its individual members, and the Iraqi Security Forces it supports, prohibit attacks targeted at civilians or civilian objects, prohibit indiscriminate attacks and take all feasible precautions to avoid or at least minimise civilian death or injury;

Any decision to undertake further military action should put in place adequate mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the action according to its effect on the civilian population.

SianCivilian deaths in the anti-ISIS bombing campaigns 2014 – 2015
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