|KHRP Deputy Director completes FFM investigating human rights in Kurdish regions of Iraq|
In January, KHRP sent a fact-finding mission to the Kurdish Regions of Iraq, which comprised visits to Sulemanya, Dohuk and Arbil in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), as well as to Kirkuk. The mission sought to investigate human rights developments in a region which has been transformed in so many ways since the fall of the Baathist regime in Iraq in 2003.
The particular focuses were the treatment of minorities, freedom of expression and the awareness and understanding of human rights. The mission met with a range of government, intergovernmental and NGO representatives. Observations and recommendations will be laid out in full in a report in April.
Upon her return, mission member Rachel Bernu gave briefings to KHRP,
the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, and to UK
government officials. Firstly, the mission observed that the
development of a strategic human rights framework is urgently needed in
the region. Whilst both the Kurdish Regional Government and civil
society actors appear to welcome the introduction of such a framework,
little has been done to support its systematic introduction. The
mission believes that such development is being undermined by a
pervading sense of impermanence which is contributing to the lack of
long term strategies for institutional and infrastructural development
in the region and the emphasis on border security. It is deeply
concerned about the lack of strategic international support currently
being given to create good governance structures. Despite this, the
mission observed public optimism about the potential future of the
Secondly, the mission is concerned that the efforts to prevent terror from spilling into the three Governorates’ borders has lead to strong border security, but little security for those accused of crimes. The mission observed that the standards of pre-trial detention are extremely poor, with no effective investigations system in place to minimise detention time. The conditions in the region’s gaols are also extremely poor, particularly in men’s prisons, and child imprisonment is commonplace. It is also well known in the region, though not officially acknowledged, that the main political parties (PUK and KDP) also run their own prisons and detention centres. Furthermore the three regional prisons have not been opened for inspection, except to the international Red Cross, and there are widespread allegations of torture and ill-treatment, as well as arbitrary arrest.
The mission further observed that there continues to be confusion between federal, regional and old Baathist law, along with inappropriate application of Shar’ia law. Marginalisation of women and violence against them was said to be on the increase, as was the influence of radical Islamic elements in certain cities. It was observed that these are concerns for the Regional Government, but due to external pressures and the resulting lack of a systematic human rights approach, all too often questions of internal day to day security for women and children in particular, but for society as a whole as well, falls in the hands of tribal, clan and religious leaders.
The most positive observation of
the mission was the degree to which the right to freedom of expression
has been realised. It appeared that most people interviewed felt
comfortable expressing their concerns. However, the mission also noted
that in general, public understanding of rights is very lacking, with
many seeing rights simply in terms of what the government owes them.
Those charged with responsibility for human rights are more often than
not political appointees, and there is no consistent domestic training
on human rights in the region. It is clear, therefore, that much
work needs to be done in Iraq’s Kurdish regions to improve the human
rights situation, and international NGOs have a part to play in this.
Indeed, during its time in Kurdistan the mission met with numerous
requests for human rights training from NGOs, civil society groups and