Disabled Iraqis struggle to access October's elections: HRW

Disabled Iraqis struggle to access October's early legislative elections: HRW
3 min read
16 September, 2021
Unless something changes soon in Iraq, 'hundreds of thousands of people may not be able to vote', according to Human Rights Watch.
The Iraqi legislative elections are being held early [SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty]

Disabled Iraqis are experiencing serious barriers when it comes to their involvement in next month's legislative elections, a new report by Human Rights Watch has claimed.

Released on Thursday, the document suggests "discriminatory legislation and inaccessible polling places" are to blame.

The New York-based NGO said unless something is done soon, "hundreds of thousands of people may not be able to vote."

It claimed on Thursday that its report shows Baghdad has not made sure disabled citizens have their electoral rights.

Wheelchair user Suha Khalil, 44, lamented: "Every election day is the most depressing day for me.

"Everyone gets to vote and I am stuck at home waiting for the day to end."

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Disabled people explained some require help to get to the voting stations, though if they get this help from someone belonging to a particular political group, they may attempt to sway their choice of candidates.

Voice of Iraqi Disabled Association Director Ahmed Al-Ghizzi revealed his association's research discovered just 200 of 5,000 responding members managed to cast a ballot in the 2018 legislative poll.

Human Rights Watch senior crisis and conflict researcher, Belkis Wille urged: "The government should ensure that polling places are accessible to all voters.

"While some steps will take time, like amending legislation, others are easy, and the Independent High Electoral Commission has no excuse to continue to fail to address accessibility."

The report draws on data gathered from interviews with 14 individuals living with disabilities as well as disability campaigners, in addition to officials and others.

The report criticises the electoral authorities for its near total-reliance on schools to hold votes, saying these are often not accessible and that ballot boxes are often placed on the second floor, despite there being no lift access.

There are also no mobile polling places, digital or postal vote facilities, though "Iraq's weakened postal system" could be the cause of the latter.

Becoming a candidate is also a struggle for many disabled people.

Just eight disabled candidates could be identified by Human Rights Watch from 2005 onwards.

The rights organisation said there are laws that mandate people are "fully competent" or "fully qualified" to put themselves forward.

Other issues include parties not wanting to find or assist disabled people to run for them, as well as economic barriers.

47-year-old wheelchair user Naghim Khadir Elias explained: "It really makes me sad when I see all the members of parliament and there is no one to represent us."

The legislative elections in Iraq will take place on 10 October, having been called early. The vote would ordinarily have been held next April.