Deferred Testimonies Peace and Freedom Organization – Sérgio de Mello Team in Iraq


Deferred Testimonies
Peace and Freedom Organization
Sérgio de Mello Team in Iraq

The process of building the foundations of peace, security and human rights in the world may seem almost impossible in view of the deterioration in the status of human rights and the humanitarian situation, especially when insecurity and fear worsen, and large numbers of people abandon their homes and homeland in pursuit of safety. This is perhaps the predominant scene in today’s world, and this is probably the reality in Iraq, which has prompted the founders of the Peace and Freedom Organization to follow a peculiar approach to protecting and defending human rights; an approach of peace building in order to achieve a peaceful, democratic and diverse society, one that guarantees human rights and freedoms for all, promotes the values of social justice, citizenship and non-violence, and condemns extremism in all its forms.

“To build for man a world without fear, we must be without fear.”

The Peace and Freedom Organization focuses on three programmes:

  1. Peace building and social cohesion to ensure peaceful coexistence within diverse communities.
  2. Human rights and fundamental freedoms with the aim of promoting human rights and highlighting violations of individual and collective rights and liberties.
  3. Transitional justice with a view to preserve the individuals’ dignity and redressing victims.

What those three programmes have in common is the call for social peace, which the Organization promoted in Nineveh Plains and Al-Mosul. “We need to defend human rights and take initiative in foster peace.” 

Towards the end of 2019, the Peace and Freedom Organization formed the Sérgio de Mello Team in Iraq, after Brazilian national Sérgio Vieira de Mello, who served as the Special Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for 34 years in various conflict-affected countries, the last of which was Iraq, where he was killed in a bombing of the UN building east of Baghdad. The lifetime of this man of peace inspired a group of human rights defenders in Iraq to form Peace and Freedom Organization task force that monitors the human rights situation and prepares rapid response plans for disasters and crises.

The forming of this team coincided with the early demonstrations in October and November, which called for justice, transparency, accountability, equal rights, protection and opportunity for all in Iraq.

“We need the weapon of accurate, honest and detailed information in order to defend human rights and eliminate violations.”

Members of the “Sérgio de Mello Team in Iraq” believed that they needed the weapon of accurate, honest and detailed information in order to defend human rights and put an end to violations. In pursuit of professional performance, they trained male and female defenders on the importance of believing in human rights, unifying their concepts on them, and acquiring the cognitive and practical skills necessary to monitor, document and report human rights abuses. 

The architects of monitoring plans in the “Team” had no hesitation with regard to documenting the demonstration. “We shall not let our commitment to defending human rights derail. If these rights are being violated and we ignore that, these rights will fade and die. If that happens, people will pay a high price.” They organized themselves as field task-forces, and closely monitored the incidents that occurred during demonstrations, gathered testimonies of victims and witnesses, collaborated with many activists and defenders, in addition to the UNAMI Human Rights Office  and a number of human rights organizations and institutions.

“We answered the call of duty towards human dignity, and focused our energy on this work”

Within one year, Sérgio de Mello Team in Iraq issued four qualitative reports on the state of human rights and fundamental freedoms amidst demonstrations in Iraq 2019-2020, based on the relevant international and national standards and instruments pertaining to freedom of peaceful assembly. These reports gained international and national attention, and some of which were translated into four languages: Arabic, English, Kurdish and Spanish.




“We believe that solidarity is a humanitarian responsibility”

The successive crises in Iraq are far from being over, and with the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, the Team’s priority was to provide assistance to vulnerable people, against the backdrop of the severe shortage in medical supplies as well as screening and prevention equipment. The Team was aware of the “fragility of the health-care system” in Iraq, in the aftermath of years of conflict and underinvestment in this sector. In addition, more than 1.2 million citizens remain displaced and reside in formal and informal camps, where social distancing is hard to implement.

Volunteering was stronger and more rapid than the spread of Corona virus

Looking to the future, bearers of humanist messages realized that “the human rights values we share bring us together, and remind us of the duty we have towards our common humanity”. They identified their final destination as “volunteerism”. These efforts were the bright side in the face of the pandemic. Team members responded to the crisis with intentionality, they set a specific target and defined the end objectives. Dozens of medical students joined them voluntarily, and brought along new experiences that went hand in hand with the direct interventions targeting isolated areas as a result of the virus outbreak.

With great energy and optimism, the team members took the utmost precautionary measures, and stood at the forefront in a fierce battle against the pandemic. The team worked directly in 21 locations in 7 Iraqi governorates; including five completely isolated areas, on which the army had imposed a military cordon: Al-Hilal district in AlRumaitha City, located in the southwestern Governorate of Al-Muthanna; Assada Al Freiha at Al-Meshkhab is a district located in An-Najaf Governorate located in the Middle Euphrates region; Al-Khora in Al-Hartha district located in Al-Basra governorate in the far south of Iraq; the Khan Al-Lowalowa area in Baqubah district located in Diyala Governorate in eastern Iraq; and Sectors 45 and 47 in As-Sadr City, east of Baghdad.

The team of volunteers carried out a thorough sterilization and disinfection of the epidemiological and transmitted diseases ward at Al-Karkh Hospital in central Baghdad, as well as the Hospital in The Maysan area located at the centre of Al-Basra governorate, which was made operational again following the outbreak. The team also undertook field visits to the  a juvenile detention center, the Safe House for Women, the Retirement Home, Al-Resala camp and a number of Islamic and Christian places of worship in both Baghdad and Al-Anbar governorate in western Iraq. Team members provided the residents of those facilities and the camp’s inhabitants with information and tips on keeping safe.

“The Sérgio de Mello Team was a light in the dark. They made us feel that we are not alone, and that someone is looking out for us.”

A citizen from Al-Hayania, Al-Basra Governorate

The Corona outbreak was a reminder that the world is home for all; a common space in which we share the same fate.

The Team managed to overcome the lack of resources through building partnerships with a number of organizations:

  • Iraq health Access Organization in Al-Hilal district of Al-Muthanna governorate.
  • Iraqi Al-Firdaws Society at Al-Khora in Al-Hartha district, located in Al-Basra governorate.
  • Baghdad Women Association, which provided resources to the Team in Diyala governorate and As-Sadr City.

 As they responded to the Corona pandemic, the Team captured heartwarming stories which embodied the spirit of cooperation and humanitarian action. The Team members realized that “The Corona outbreak was a reminder that the world is home for all; a common space in which we share the same fate.”


Defending human rights as identity and faith

The Team of volunteers is determined to continue its work: “We are strongly self-driven by a noble goal. We will keep on doing our work, and no achievement will ever be the end of our mission.”

Looking closely at the experiences of The Sérgio de Mello Team in Iraq would change one’s outlook, and bring people to recognize that we must all work in solidarity to ensure human dignity, and realize that what we have in common is far greater than what divides us.”

The initiative of the Peace and Freedom Organization contributed to reaffirming that defending human rights is an identity and a faith. Time and resource limitation ought not curtail one’s ability to assume their duties and responsibilities towards humanitarian solidarity. This initiative demonstrated that the success of work requires tactics that enhance the individuals’ awareness of the importance of voluntary work, which is based on defending human rights and exposing violations.