About IraQueer and its Initiative Objectives

Founded in March 2015, IraQueer is the first LGBTQI+ organization in Iraq. Their mission is to empower the LGBTQI+ community to organize and lead a movement in Iraq to create a country where LGBTQI+ people are recognized and protected. To achieve this mission, IraQueer provides direct services and undertakes education and advocacy initiatives.

Despite commitments under international human rights conventions and treaties, violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ people in Iraq persist, and victims are guaranteed virtually no protection or redress under Iraqi law and the legal system. In response, IraQueer engages in advocacy around human rights protections for LGBTQI+ people at the domestic and international levels. Its objectives for this initiative are:

  • Promote international and domestic action to advance the rights and ensure greater protections for LGBTQI+ people in Iraq; and
  • Ensure that human rights violations against LGBTQI+ people are clearly documented and publicly available.

Monitoring the Political Process and Creating Shadow Reports

As part of this strategy, IraQueer has published multiple shadow reports highlighting the state of LGBTQI+ human rights and protections in Iraq. In partnership with other civil society and human rights organizations, IraQueer has submitted shadow reports to the U.N. Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). IraQueer has also published its own baseline study, Fighting for the Right to Live, documenting the state of LGBTQI+ rights in Iraq.

IraQueer aims to use these reports to establish a public record of LGBTQI+ rights in Iraq and to raise awareness and mobilize international action to hold the Iraqi government accountable. By working through international mechanisms, building sustained relationships with international actors, and establishing a network of local LGBTQI+ allies, IraQueer seeks to advance the rights and ensure greater protections of LGBTQI+ people in Iraq.

To develop the shadow reports, IraQueer works with a coalition of other domestic organizations, such as an Iraqi feminist human rights organization, as well as international organizations, such as Outright Action International.60 For example, to draft a CEDAW shadow report, IraQueer partnered with Outright Action International, MADRE61 and CUNY Law School to analyze the data, develop strategic recommendations and draft the reports.

Because of the sensitive subject matter, the data collection process is slow and requires careful planning. Staff visited the target communities 5-10 times over the course of a few months. Visiting a community for a shorter period of time, over multiple visits, was a security measure for the data collector and a strategy to avoid raising suspicions among the community. The data collectors were from either the specific community they were gathering data in or the close surrounding area. Because they knew the local context, they already had a nuanced understanding of the dynamics around the interview topics and had relationships with many of the participants. This facilitated greater trust and helped elicit more detailed responses from participants. However, it was still a challenge to speak to the families of LGBTQI+ victims for a number of reasons, such as the family’s fear that the community would find out about the relationship, because they had previously disowned the victim, or because family members had victimized the LGBTQI+ person themselves.

To avoid raising the community’s suspicion and generating fear among the respondents, the data collectors conducted interviews without the use of any interview tools and did not take notes. As such, the data collectors frequently broke up the interviews into multiple parts over the course of a few days, asking a few survey questions each time, before returning to a safe space to record the survey responses.

After submitting the reports to the relevant international body, IraQueer engages in an inclusive advocacy strategy focused on expanding the local LGBTQI+ movement in Iraq and developing sustained support internationally to advance their advocacy priorities. IraQueer engages directly with the United Nations and other international platforms and organizations to raise awareness of the LGBTQI+ situation and human rights status in Iraq and to promote concerted international advocacy and engagement with the Iraqi government. By raising awareness and fostering commitment from international stakeholders, IraQueer hopes to encourage international stakeholders to convene behind-the-scenes conversations with Iraqi officials to advance strategic recommendations.

Domestically, IraQueer aims to increase the intersectionality in the Iraqi human rights movement, equipping LGBTQI+ people to join the movement and training other human rights activists to be more inclusive in their own advocacy work. Using the shadow reports, IraQueer also engages with members of parliament and government officials to raise awareness about the state of rights for LGBTQI+ people in Iraq and to advocate for government action to protect these individuals.

While high-profile support is important to advance strategic priorities, IraQueer recognizes that it is public officials at the local level, who are responsible for implementing laws and government services, who have the most direct impact on LGBTQI+ rights and protections. IraQueer uses the shadow reports to empower local officials with information about the status of LGBTQI+ people in Iraq and provides training on approaches and tools to better support LGBTQI+ people who request services or report violations.

Through outreach and trainings led by its 600+ volunteer network, IraQueer is also building a coalition of nongovernment organizations to support LGBTQI+ rights as part of their own human rights advocacy initiatives, including women’s rights movement, children’s rights and others. Through sustained engagement, IraQueer aims to have these other organizations contribute to future shadow reports.

Evaluating Impact

Although there have been some shifts at the national political level toward greater support and recognition for the right to life of all, regardless of sexual orientation, IraQueer still struggles to get direct meetings with officials and to get them to publicly commit to action. By working through international mechanisms and platforms, such as CEDAW and UPR, engaging with international stakeholders, and building a network of domestic LGBTQI+ allies, IraQueer aims to mobilize support for LGBTQI+ rights and increase public pressure on the Iraqi government to uphold its international commitments and obligations.

Lessons Learned

  • Undertake significant research and outreach. The international human rights system is complicated, and understanding the different bodies, platforms and procedures and how best to engage them requires significant research and outreach.
  • Build relationships with international, national and local partners. While the shadow reports feed into international mechanisms and help apply pressure on the government to take action, relationships are key to sustained commitment on LGTBQI+ issues and substantive political, legal and societal change. It is useful to build a multipronged advocacy strategy that builds an intersectional and inclusive local advocacy network that equips both LGBTQI+ people and other human rights activists to advance LGBTQI+ rights; educates and trains government officials at the local and national level; and engages international stakeholders in advocating for LGBTQI+ rights and protections. Building relationships helps to sustain commitment, and face-to-face meetings are important to generate greater investment in the movement.
  • Prioritize data confidentiality and security. When collecting data on a sensitive topic, the safety and security of data collectors and interview participants is a high priority. Before traveling to the field, the data collection team needs to consider how to adapt collection strategies to the local context and how to ensure data confidentiality and security. Therefore, it is important to plan accordingly, as the data collection process of the monitoring initiative will likely take an extended amount of time.
  • Manage and store data securely. Because of the sensitive and broad nature of the IraQueer’s data field on human rights violations against LGBTQI+ people, managing and storing the data in a safe, secure and accessible manner is a top priority. IraQueer has used Google Sheets to store and manage the data, but it is becoming increasingly challenging to manage and time-consuming to use. For example, IraQueer staff must manually search for relevant statistics (e.g., type of violation, geographic area, etc.) for the shadow reports, which is a slow and tedious process. As such, there is a need to identify or develop a more efficient and secure database.

60 “Together, for LGBTIQ Lives. OUTRIGHT,” OutRight Action International, accessed October 29, 2022, https://outrightinternational.org.

61 “MADRE,” MADRE, accessed October 29, 2022, https://www.madre.org.