Practical Federalism in Iraq

Final Declaration - Venice Seminar 18-26 July 2006

Final Communiqué
Upon the kind invitation of Dr Bakhtiar Amin, Secretary-General of the International Alliance for Justice and former Minister for Human Rights, in partnership with No Peace Without Justice and the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation, and with the support of the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, a seminar on “Practical Federalism in Iraq” was held from 18 to 25 July in Venice, Italy. This seminar was attended by Iraqi politicians, members of the Chamber of Deputies, certain political party leaders and representatives and representatives of various groups of Iraqi society. A number of experts from Italy, Spain, the USA, Canada, Ireland, Germany, South Africa, India, Turkey and Egypt also participated in the seminar. Their contribution to the seminar, which consisted of sharing the experiences of their countries in shifting from centralised systems to federal ones, was much appreciated as it allowed the participants to be better acquainted with different models of federalism. A number of Italian officials also attended the seminar, including the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the representative of the Veneto Region at the European Union, a member of the Provincial Government of the City of Venice and representatives of the European and Italian Parliaments.
The discussion was held in an atmosphere characterised by friendliness and brotherliness, underpinned by the shared priority of the best interests of Iraq as a whole. The participants acknowledged that above all, democracy is a guarantee for the success of any federal system, learning particularly from the experiences of various federalist countries.
The discussion covered the following issues: federalism, devolution and region building; distribution of powers, competences and responsibilities; fiscal arrangements and public spending (taxation and treasury); management and sharing of water, oil, gas and other natural resources; the justice system, criminal law and liberties; representation; language, education, culture and religion; conditions for successful federalism; and national unity.
The participants made several recommendations concerning federalism and region building and the conditions for their success. Furthermore, they underlined the importance of a federal solution as the way forward for a new Iraq, characterised by stability and unity, that is free from tyranny and oppression, which already took their toll in Iraq at the human, material and moral levels.
At the conclusion of the seminar, the participants thanked Dr Bakhtiar Amin who had a major role in guaranteeing the success of the seminar. They also expressed their gratitude to the Italian government and all parties who contributed to the organisation of the seminar in all its aspects, wishing them success in all their endeavours as well as progress in their relationship of cooperation with the people of Iraq, to the benefit of all. 
Recommendations from the Venice Seminar on Practical Federalism in Iraq
The participants in the Seminar on “Practical Federalism in Iraq”, which was held in Venice, Italy, from 18 to 25 July 2006 adopted the following recommendations:
1)         Federalism
In a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, federalism, which was adopted by the Iraqi Constitution, must be considered a strategic choice that guarantees the unity of the Iraqi people and territory. It is a choice that allows for the creation of a democratic country characterised by pluralism and unity, while rejecting all forms of discrimination, marginalisation and oppression, which the Iraqi people suffered for a long time. Federalism lays the ground for the shared principles of citizenship, participation and accountability. The participants also believe that federalism goes hand in hand with democracy, since it guarantees a just distribution of powers and responsibilities, as well as the sharing of common resources. Democracy ensures a vertical distribution of powers and federalism permits a horizontal distribution of such powers between the federal authorities on the one hand, and the regional and provincial authorities on the other. This is a basic guarantee against the return of dictatorship. Moreover, the participants insist on the need to adopt all the legal and ethical criteria necessary to reject all forms of ethnic and religious fanaticism in the creation of the federation.
2)         National reconciliation
The participants support the initiative of national reconciliation proposed by the Iraqi Government. The challenges to the creation of a new Iraq can be faced only through support for national dialogue and the compliance with the principle of transparency in all relations at the national level. National reconciliation is viewed as the premise and the means to guarantee the participation of the Iraqi people as a whole in the political process and for the creation of mutual trust between the various components of the Iraqi society.
3)         Condemnation of sectarianism and terrorism
The participants insist on the need for the eradication of all kinds of sectarian and ethnic discrimination in order to lay the bases for the unity of the Iraqi people. All forces of terrorism must be fought against and all illegally armed groups must be disarmed, as such forces may try to create sectarian and ethnic disunity among the Iraqi people. The common aim must be to insist on the unity of Iraq as well as on its national sovereignty, security and prosperity.
4)         Natural resources
The participants see the need to insist on the fact that current and future hydrocarbon (oil and gas) fields belong to the Iraqi people as a whole in all the regions and provinces of Iraq. Such resources must be administered in cooperation between the federal government and the regional and provincial authorities, in order to guarantee a just distribution of profits on the bases of population density, the degree of poverty and any damage caused both by the previous regime and after the fall of the regime itself. All negative effects on the environment in the regions and provinces where such resources are being exploited must be taken into consideration.
The participants insist on the need to adopt strategic policies for the development of the natural resources sector. This requires the creation of a Higher Council for oil and gas, comprised of representatives of the federal government and the regional and provincial authorities in areas where such resources are being produced. The objective of this Higher Council must be to adopt general policies and to formulate the laws that may be adopted at the federal level, as well as at the regional level, to manage natural resources to the benefit of the whole of Iraq.
5)         Amendment of the Constitution
An ad hoc committee must be created to consider amendments to the Constitution, in order to make the necessary amendments on the articles that remain to be resolved, with the aim of reaching general consensus. The participants also insist on the urgent need to adopt laws dealing with those articles of the Constitution that are general and require explanatory laws.
6)         The Judiciary
The Iraqi Judiciary needs training, modernisation and improvement, given its politicisation by the previous regime, in order to face the requirements of the current phase. The limited number of judges available leads to delays in court proceedings and the accumulation of case loads. Consequently, the criteria for admittance to the Law Institute, as well as the curricula of the institute, must be revised. Courts of Cassation must be created for the regions and the provinces. The criteria for the selection of judges must be competence, dedication and impartiality. The participants recommend that the Chamber of Deputies, according to the adopted legal criteria, nominate the President of the Judicial Council. Moreover, the participants insist on the need to protect judges against threats and pressure.
7)         Rights and freedoms
The participants insist on the importance of the individual and personal freedoms of all Iraqi citizens, as well as on the need to prevent all violations of such freedoms by any party.
The participants suggest that the law on personal status be reviewed. They also insist on the need to protect women, children and the family, as well as on the importance to prevent any violation of their rights. The participants recommend that Article 41 of the Constitution be amended to reflect this goal.
The Constitution must include the principles of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and all international agreements on human rights, in accordance with the articles of the Constitution.
8)         Culture
The participants consider that culture and education are fundamental aspects of civilization and that they reflect the identity of Iraq, its people and its history. The federal government, as well as the regional and provincial governments, must give particular attention to these aspects, to guarantee the unity of the Iraqi people and to respect the various ethnic, linguistic and educational groups that are part of the Iraqi society.
The participants suggest the amendment of Article 35 of the Constitution on culture, to envisage the creation of a Higher Council for Culture and Education that coordinates contacts between the federal government on the one hand and the regional and provincial authorities on the other. This Council shall coordinate contacts between the competent ministries and cultural associations with a view to developing all aspects of cultural life.
Moreover, the participants suggest calling upon the Chamber of Deputies and the Council of Ministers to support civil society organisations.
9)         Coordination between the federal government and the regional and provincial governments
The participants emphasise the need to accelerate the passing of laws on the distribution of competences between the federal government on the one hand and the regional and provincial governments on the other, according to the principle of sharing of accountability and with the aim of promoting progress and development in the country as a whole, including the training of personnel in these issues.
 25 July 2006; Venice, Italy