UN chief Antonio Guterres has expressed deep concern over reports on the continued use of live ammunition against demonstrators in Iraq.
“We are deeply disturbed by the continued killing and wounding of protesters in Iraq, including the latest casualties during the extremely violent events over the past two days in Nassariya,” he said.
“The Secretary-General reiterates his call on the Iraqi authorities to exercise maximum restraint, protect the lives of demonstrators, respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and swiftly to investigate all acts of violence,” read the statement issued late Thursday evening.
Guterres also reminded the Iraqi authorities of their obligation to protect diplomatic and consular facilities and personnel, as well as public and private property.
For her part, namely UNAMI head Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said: “The increasing numbers of deaths and injuries cannot be tolerated. Presence of spoilers, derailing peaceful protests, places Iraq on a dangerous trajectory. I’ll brief the Security Council in New York on Tuesday.”
Earlier, she visited the Neurosurgery Teaching Hospital in Baghdad and tweeted saying: “Remarkable work in a most challenging environment by medical staff for whom I have the greatest respect. Extremely saddened to witness the horrific injuries. Freedom of expression should never come at this price.”
The National Iraqi News Agency quoted police and medical sources as saying that most people killed during the protests were unarmed.
Hospital sources noted that some died after being severely injured during Thursday’s clashes with the security forces in Nassariya.
The latest deaths raised the number of anti-government protesters killed since early October to 408.
Further, six UN human rights experts urged the Iraqi authorities "to prevent and cease violence immediately against protesters and ensure that those responsible for unlawful use of force are investigated and prosecuted.”
The experts said it was of “paramount importance that Iraqi authorities take additional steps to prevent violence and enable a safe environment for peaceful protests.”
They added: "It is incomprehensible – and heart-breaking – that such a brutal response can be leveled against Iraqis simply wanting to express their rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.
“The Iraqi State has a duty to protect those exercising their right to peaceful assembly, including from violent non-state actors, and a responsibility to seek out, investigate and prosecute those responsible for killing demonstrators under international human rights law."