The role of legal representation to obtaining legal identity: Ibrahim's story

Located 80 kilometres south of Baghdad, Al-Salaam Camp is but one of many settlements in and around Iraq that host thousands of displaced people. Photo: Dhuha Juhaishi/UNDP Iraq/2018

Al-Salaam Camp, Baghdad, 21 January 2018- Ibrahim is a young husband and father, born in Baghdad but raised in East Mosul. He and his wife, Kadijah, had their first child in 2015 during the occupation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). They did not obtain birth certificates at the time of their child’s birth, nor did they marry in the courts or seek a marriage contract. Ibrahim was openly defiant towards ISIL, wearing short pants and calling friends on the cell phone in public. “As a consequence, ISIL soldiers publicly whipped me on two occasions,” he said.

Highlights

  • Marriage out of courts is an offence under the Iraq Personal Status Law and punishable by imprisonment for up to 6 months
  • In the absence of a marriage certificate, Ibrahim and Kadijah's second child was born, they were not able to obtain a birth certificate for the newborn
  • With UNDP's support, Ibrahim and Kadijah got a free legal aid and successfully obtained their marriage certificate

Marriage out of courts is an offence under the Iraq Personal Status Law and punishable by imprisonment for up to 6 months. As such, Ibrahim and Kadijah were placed in significant jeopardy for failing to obtain marriage contract, and suffered anxiously under the weight of application procedures, which were confusing to everyday people.

A few months after the Government of Iraq (GoI) launched its campaign to liberate Mosul, Ibrahim and his family, including his mother and father, chartered a taxi and left for Baghdad, where his Aunt was living. After passing through a local checkpoint, the family members, along with nearly hundred others, boarded large buses and lorries, and headed onward to Qayara. “At a checkpoint there, we were told that we could not proceed to Baghdad unless we obtain security clearances from the local authorities,” Ibrahim recalled. Over the next couple of days, Ibrahim and his father went to the Qayara’s Office of the Mayor, Neighbourhood Council, Anti-Terrorism Office and National Security Office. He was provided with letters certifying him as clear of any terrorism offense, and accordingly allowed to continue his journey.

When Ibrahim and his family arrived at Alabaichi, a small town outside of Baghdad, they faced another checkpoint where the documents obtained in Qayara were not sufficient. The authorities required him to be escorted by a family member from Baghdad or be vouched for by a military officer. Unable to host, the Aunt led the family to a displacement camp in Baghdad proper.

A few days later and in the absence of a marriage certificate, when the couple's second child was born, they were not able to obtain a birth certificate for the newborn.

Several days later, security authorities visited Ibrahim as part of their efforts to verify national identity cards of all Camp residents. Without any form of official identification, Ibrahim said: “Kadijah and the babies were not accounted for in any of the documents. Unless we provide the authorities with marriage certificates and a document to verify lineage of our children within a month, we would be asked to leave the camp.”

Legal identity recognizes one’s existence before the law. Similarly, legal identity documents are closely connected to the basic human right to be recognized everywhere as a person before the law. In fact, the importance of such documents explains why legal identity provision is identified as a priority in the Sustainable Development Goals, under Goal 16 that stipulates for providing access to justice for all amongst other targets.

One morning, Ibrahim noticed a sign in camp with Dar al-Khibra Organization’s (DKO) contact information. In partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), DKO, amongst others, has been working in Al-Salaam Camp since June 2016 to provide free legal aid services to its 3,000 displaced residents. Located 80 kilometres south of Baghdad, Al -Salaam Camp is but one of many displaced settlements in and around Iraq.

Two weeks after placing his phone call, a DKO attorney, Raja, took Ibrahim under her care. They signed a power of attorney document, and then visited the family court to file a request for a marriage and a verification of lineage resolution. The court accepted the case. The hearing took place two weeks later, and the family court judge sent the case to the investigative judge.

“The investigative judge said he will have to put me in jail for marrying out of court [according to the Penal Code and Criminal Procedures Code]. But I had a guardian who vouched for the authenticity of the marriage,” Ibrahim said. Raja went to the hospital to provide further documents related to the couple’s child, and then to the forensics department to prove the baby’s lineage.

Raja and Ibrahim went to the National ID Department in Baghdad to verify his birth, name, age, marital status and family relationships, and obtain an official letter of certification. “Ibrahim was lucky to be born in Baghdad; internally displaced people born in Ramadi, Mosul and other areas of Iraq must travel back to their place of birth to obtain their documents, though this is rarely done in practice,” Raja said. “After nearly 10 visits to various offices around the capital, we showed up once more at the family court, presenting four different documents for the judge’s consideration. A week later, Ibrahim and Khadijah finally received their marriage certificate.” This conclusion, made possible through legal support facilitated by UNDP and DKO, resolved a stressful situation for Ibrahim and his family, and allowed his wife Kadijah to be on the legal footing to enjoy her full legal rights as a citizen of Iraq.

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