Hope and Fear: Human rights in the Kurdistan region of Iraq
Source: Amnesty International (AI)
Date: 14 Apr 2009
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The Kurdistan Region of Iraq, unlike the rest of the country, has generally been stable since the 2003 US-led invasion. It has witnessed growing prosperity and an expansion of civil society, including the establishment of numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) active in the promotion and protection of human rights. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has made progress in the field of human rights. In mid-2008 it released hundreds of political detainees, many of whom had been held for years without charge or trial. It has improved Iraqi legislation; the Press Law of September 2008, for example, expanded freedom of expression, and amendments to the Personal Status Law passed in October 2008 strengthened women's rights.
The authorities have also established several bodies to monitor and prevent violence against women, including specialized police directorates and shelters. Platforms have been established to foster dialogue between the authorities, particularly the Ministry of Human Rights, and civil society organizations on human rights concerns, including violence against women.
Despite these positive and encouraging steps, however, serious human rights violations persist and still need to be addressed. In particular, urgent action by the government is required to ensure that the KRG's internal security service, the Asayish, is made fully accountable under the law and in practice, to investigate allegations of torture, enforced disappearances and other serious human rights violations by the Asayish and other security and intelligence forces. As well, more needs to be done to end violence and discrimination against women, building on the progress achieved so far, and to enhance the standing in society and life choices available to women and girls.
Thirdly, the KRG must take steps to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression, including media freedom, taking into account the vital role of the media in informing the public and acting as a public watchdog.
It is these three areas which form the focus of this report.
Since 2000, thousands of people have been detained arbitrarily and held without charge or trial in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, in some cases for more than seven years. The vast majority were suspected members or supporters of local Islamist organizations, including both armed groups and legal political parties that do not use or advocate violence as part of their political platform. Some were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention.
Invariably, detentions were carried out by members of the Asayish , without producing an arrest warrant, and those detained were then denied access to legal representation or the opportunity to challenge their continuing detention before a court of law or an independent judicial body, throughout their incarceration.
Some detainees were subjected to enforced disappearance, including some whose fate and whereabouts have yet to be disclosed – typically, following their arrest by the Asayish or the intelligence services of the two main Kurdish parties, their families were unaware of their fate and whereabouts and were unable toobtain information about them, or confirmation of their detention from the authorities. Dozens of other prisoners, meanwhile, are under sentence of death having been convicted in unfair trials.
Despite welcome government efforts to address "honour crimes" and other violence against women, it is clear from comparing survey data on violence against women with the number of police recorded cases of violence against women that the vast majority of such incidents remain unreported. Even when women have been killed or survived a killing attempt, many perpetrators have not been brought to justice – often because investigations have failed to identify the perpetrators or because suspects remain at large.
Freedom of expression continues to be severely curtailed in practice, despite the recent abolition of imprisonment for publishing offences. Journalists have been arrested and sometimes beaten, particularly when publishing articles criticizing government policies or highlighting alleged corruption and nepotism within the government and the dominant political parties. Again, the hand of the seemingly all powerful and unaccountable Asayish and other security agencies is alleged to be behind a number of these attacks. One journalist was killed in July 2008 in suspicious circumstances.
This report details a wide range of human rights violations committed in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in recent years. In particular, it sheds light on violations such as arbitrary and prolonged detention without charge or trial, enforced disappearance, torture and other illtreatment, the death penalty, unfair trials, discrimination and violence against women, and attacks on freedom of expression. It includes case studies to illustrate these abuses. The report also puts forward numerous recommendations which, if implemented, would go a long way towards reducing such violations.
Much of the information contained in this report is the outcome of a fact-finding visit conducted by Amnesty International in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq from 23 May to 8 June 2008,2 the first such visit by Amnesty International for several years. Amnesty International submitted its findings, in the form of two memoranda on human rights concerns, to the KRG in August 2008 and sought its response. The responses received in communications from the KRG Ministry of Human Rights at the end of 2008 are reflected in this report.
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