The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has been asked to help secure the release of an Irish resident who has been detained without charge in Iraq since April 7.
Robert Pether is an Australian citizen, but he lives in Elphin in County Roscommon with his wife, Desree; two sons, Flynn (18) and Oscar (16); and her eight-year-old daughter, Nala, all of whom hold Irish passports.
An engineer, he was arrested in April along with his Egyptian colleague, Khalid Radwan, without explanation in the governor’s office of the Iraqi central bank in April, following a dispute over payments between the bank and construction contractors.
Today, six French, Irish and British lawyers called on the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which is part of the UNHCR office, to get involved.
“This is a very, very glaring case. It is only blackmail ”, according to one of the lawyers who seized the UN, the French arbitration lawyer Pierre Pic.
Ill-treatment in detention
A 19-page petition drafted by the lawyers, filed with the task force in recent days, describes Mr Pether’s arrest and detention, as well as his mistreatment in police custody.
Now the UNHCR group will have to contact the Iraqi foreign ministry and ask for an explanation of the arrests of the two men, who have not been charged with any offense.
“It is a crucial test for the rule of law in Iraq,” Pic said, “[If] he is not released, a signal will be sent which will be extremely damaging for Iraq and for anyone wishing to invest in Iraq.
The petition accuses Iraqi authorities of arresting the two “to gain influence in a business dispute” between the bank and the men’s employer, Abu Dhabi-based CMC Consulting.
“Not only have their security rights been violated, but their due process rights have also been severely compromised,” the petition says, adding that the two face “a very serious threat” to their health and safety.
The government criticized
Mr Pether’s wife Desree Pether, who lives in Elphin with their children, has criticized the Irish government‘s actions so far: “[It] did nothing, nothing.
Foreign Minister Simon Coveney should be prepared to intervene directly with the Iraqi authorities and should “publicly condemn” the detention of her husband.
“We know so many Irish engineers in the Middle East and it could be any of them in that position,” she told The Irish Times, “We have been begging for his help since April.”
Irish intervention would be helpful since Ireland is now a member of the UN Security Council, she said. However, the department points out that Mr Pether, despite living in Roscommon with his Irish family, is Australian.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs is the consular authority in charge, he said, and it is important “that external actors or third parties do not take any action that could undermine this role”.
“Our embassies and consulates cannot directly intervene in the internal affairs or processes of another jurisdiction, including providing consular assistance to citizens of that jurisdiction,” the department said.