Irish resident held without charge in Iraq

International groups of lawyers intervene in case of Australian citizen Robert Pether

Robert Pether with his wife Desree: Ms Pether, who lives in Elphin with their children, says the Government so far “has done nothing, nothing”.

Robert Pether with his wife Desree: Ms Pether, who lives in Elphin with their children, says the Government so far “has done nothing, nothing”.

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has been asked to help secure the release of an Irish resident held without charge in Iraq since April 7th.

Robert Pether is an Australian citizen, but he lives in Elphin in Co Roscommon with his wife, Desree; two sons, Flynn (18) and Oscar (16); and eight-year-old daughter, Nala, who all hold Irish passports.

An engineer, he was arrested in April with his Egyptian colleague, Khalid Radwan, without explanation in the office of the governor of the Iraqi central bank in April, following a dispute over payments between the bank and building contractors.

Now, six French, Irish and British lawyers have petitioned the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, part of the office of the UNHCR, to become involved.

“This is a very, very egregious case. It is just blackmail,” according to one of the lawyers who have petitioned the UN, French arbitration lawyer Pierre Pic.

Ill-treatment in custody

A 19-page petition drafted by the lawyers, lodged with the working group in recent days, describes Mr Pether’s arrest and detention, and his treatment in custody.

Now, the UNHCR group will be expected to contact the Iraqi foreign ministry and to seek explanations for the arrests of the two men, who have not been charged with any offence.

“This is a crucial test for the rule of law in Iraq,” said Mr Pic, “[If] he is not released, a signal will be sent that will be extremely detrimental for Iraq and anyone willing to invest in Iraq.”

The petition accuses the Iraqi authorities of arresting the two “to gain leverage in a commercial dispute” between the bank and the men’s employer, the Abu Dhabi-based CMC Consulting.

“Not only have their rights to security been violated but their due process rights have also been severely compromised,” says the petition, adding that both face “a very serious threat” to their health and security.

Government criticised

Mr Pether’s wife, Desree Pether, who lives in Elphin with their children, criticised the actions of the Irish Government so far: “[It] has done nothing, nothing.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney should be prepared to intervene directly with the Iraqi authorities and should “publicly condemn” her husband’s detention.

“We know so many Irish engineers in the Middle East and it could be any one of them in this position,” she told The Irish Times, “We have been begging for his help since April.”

An Irish intervention would help since Ireland is now a member of the UN’s Security Council, she said. However, the department points out that Mr Pether, despite living in Roscommon with his Irish-passported family, is Australian.

The Australian department of foreign affairs is the consular authority in charge, it said, and it is important “that external actors or third parties not take any steps which could detract from that role”.

“Our embassies and consulates cannot directly intervene in the internal affairs or processes of another jurisdiction, including the provision of consular assistance to citizens of that jurisdiction,” the department said.

This article was edited on July 7th, 2021.