Human Rights Watch World Report 1995 - Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan

Events of 1994

Human Rights Developments

The government of Saddam Hussein continued to rely upon police, military and intelligence agencies to control and intimidate the general populace. Pervasive violations of human rights included torture, executions and disappearances, and arbitrary detention. Through these various means of abuse, the government repressed ethnic groups and stifled freedom of expression and association.

After the Gulf War, the U.N. Security Council's Resolution 687 of April 3, 1991 required Iraq to eliminate all its weapons of mass destruction and to recognize Kuwait's sovereignty and borders. Two days later, in Resolution 688, the Security Council expressed great concern about "the repression of the Iraqi civilian population in many parts of Iraq" and called on the government to take steps to end the repression. Iraq maintained that it had fully complied with Resolution 687 and that the sanctions that limited the sale of oil and the importation of goods should be lifted.

Rolf Ekeus, the U.N. envoy in charge of dismantling and monitoring weapons systems, acknowledged that the Iraqi government had grown more cooperative and essentially complied with the provisions regarding weapons monitoring under Resolution 687. He still proposed a six month probationary period of monitoring, to begin in October 1994, before the Security Council lifts the sanctions.

Before U.N. discussions regarding the renewal of sanctions were held in October, the government sent over 50,000 troops to within twelve miles of the Kuwaiti border. Within a week, however, the Iraqi forces had largely withdrawn from their positions near Kuwait. On November 10, Hussein issued a decree accepting the "sovereignty of the State of Kuwait, its territorial integrity and political independence."

Iraq argued that sanctions violated human rights by starving its citizens. In October, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said that the sanctions and the embargo were "a process of vengeance, a process aimed at depriving the people of Iraq...of the simplest constituents of human life." Iraq avoided widespread hunger, however, distributing monthly food rations that provided 70 percent of the average daily caloric requirements. Hyperinflation, however, made supplementing the rations difficult for many. In September, the Iraqi government announced that it was cutting the food rations in half. Iraq refused to make a one-time sale of $1.6 billion in oil, as authorized by Security Council Resolutions 706 and 712, to pay for essential civilian food and medical needs, because it rejected the U.N.'s conditions by which the expenditure would be monitored and controlled.

As the economic situation worsened, the regime employed new measures of repression to bolster its position and power. In May, Hussein assumed the Prime Minister's position. Following the formation of a new Cabinet, he appointed three deputy prime ministers (Tariq Aziz, the former Foreign Minister, Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan, and Muhammad Hamzah al-Zubaydi). Several members of Hussein's family also received cabinet positions in a further consolidation of power.

Following the cabinet reshuffle and ostensibly in response to increasing crime, the Iraqi government issued several new decrees introducing cruel and extreme punishments said to be based on Islamic law, Shari'a, for a range of crimes.

First-time offenders convicted of stealing cars and other property valued over five thousand dinars (approximately $15 U.S.) are to have their right hand amputated and an "X" tattooed on their forehead. A second conviction would result in another amputation. The penalty for forging official government documents is amputation of the right hand or life imprisonment. Deserters from the military are to have their earlobes amputated and their foreheads tattooed. If a person had a weapon during the commission of a crime or a death occurred during the commission of the crime, the person is liable to the death penalty. A death sentence will also be handed down if the person committing the crime is a member of the armed forces, the security service or a government employee. Conviction for smuggling Iraqi antiquities too, was made punishable by death.

Iraqi courts moved promptly to sentence people under the new decrees; an Iraqi government official told Human Rights Watch/Middle East that in the first months after their introduction several hundred convicts had suffered the amputation of limbs and earlobes and been branded. Opposition groups and fleeing soldiers estimate the number is much higher. The Iraqi government explained that these penalties were "an improvement" upon the previous policy of executing deserters.

News reports suggested that the government enacted these punishments to relieve prison overcrowding and the costs of caring for prisoners. According to the Times (London), riots ensued in September to protest the ear amputations. In the southern city of Amarah, angry crowds stormed Ba'ath Party offices and cut off the ears of several Ba'ath Party officials. Moreover, the Times indicated that a man in Nasiriyeh later killed the doctor who performed the amputation on his hand in an incident highlighting the public's rising frustration. Iraqi doctors who opposed the amputations were warned not to protest.

The government also began a crackdown against money changers in the spring. Under a new law issued in June, conviction for currency speculation, too, carries a punishment of hand amputation. Amnesty International reported that on March 26 five money changers were executed for currency speculation at Abu Ghraib Prison outside Baghdad.

During the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, thousands of Kuwaitis were taken as captives to Iraq. After the war, over 7,000 were repatriated, and the Hussein regime maintains that as of January 1992 all Kuwaitis held in Iraq had been released, but hundreds who have yet to be accounted for were last seen in Iraqi custody. The Kuwaiti government claims that 625 Kuwaitis are still being held by Iraq. Recent Iraqi exiles continue to report gross human rights violations at the Radwaniya military camp situated west of Baghdad. Hussein Sharastani, head of the Gulf War Victims organization, reported that Iraqi exiles fleeing to Iran charge that the Iraqi regime executed two thousand prisoners early in the year, mostly Shi'a, who have been detained since the failed 1991 uprising in southern Iraq. Sharastani said that although many of the victims were buried in mass graves, the regime delivered hundreds of bodies for family burials in the first quarter of 1994 in order to further intimidate the Shi'a. Independent confirmation could not be obtained since Iraq does not permit human rights monitoring and the few journalists who visit the country are severely restricted.

On April 12, Iraqi opposition figure Taleb al-Suheil, a leader of the London-based Free Iraqi Council and a principal actor in an attempt to oust Hussein from power last year, was assassinated in Beirut. Within hours of the assassination, Lebanese authorities arrested several diplomats from the Iraqi Embassy, two of whom allegedly confessed that the Baghdad office of Mukhabarat, the Iraqi foreign intelligence service, ordered the assassination. Lebanese security personnel also arrested Ali Darweesh, the Iraqi Consul, and Hadi Hassan as they attempted to board a plane to Amman. Lebanese authorities claimed Darweesh planned the assassination while Hassan actually shot al-Suheil.

On April 3, Lissy Schmidt, a German reporter and Aziz Qadar, her Kurdish bodyguard, were driving on the road between Sulemaniyeh and Penjwin in the Kurdish controlled region near the Iranian border when they were killed by gunmen with automatic weapons. Kurdish authorities arrested Zaki Said Abbas and Ismail Muhammad Mustafa. They allegedly confessed to the murder as well as other attacks against foreigners in Iraqi Kurdistan. They maintained that Mukhabarat had recruited them and offered them at least $3,000 for every foreigner killed. The two men also claimed that their relatives were held hostage by Mukhabarat until they carried out such attacks.

In two separate incidents in March and April, U.N. guards were wounded by gunfire in Iraqi Kurdistan. In March, two Swedish journalists were seriously injured in a car bomb explosion near Aqrah in northern Iraq.

Western journalists reported in June that Hussein allegedly extrajudicially executed three senior army officials in a political purge. The victims were all from the el-Douri family and had served within Hussein's circle of close advisors.

The state employs a policy of discrimination and repression against ethnic minorities; in addition to Arabs, Iraq has populations of Kurds, Turkomen, Yazidis, and Armenians. Its population is also religiously diverse. Sunni Muslims dominate the present government, despite a Shi'a Muslim majority. Moreover, there are minority communities of Assyrian and Chaldean Christians and Jews. Government policy forbids citizens from classifying themselves as members of any ethnic group except Arab or Kurd. Furthermore, in a campaign of Arabization, government demographers frequently coerced non-Kurdish people to identify themselves as Arabs. This policy was also applied to groups like the Yazidis who consider themselves Kurdish, although practicing their own religion, unlike the Kurds, who are Sunni Muslims.

Although Shi'a Muslims constitute approximately 55 percent of the Iraqi population, the ruling Baath party has generally excluded them from any role in the government. Since the Shi'a uprisings after the Gulf War, Hussein's military forces have waged an aggressive campaign against the Shi'a in southern Iraq, including the Marsh Arabs, Shi'a Muslims who have traditionally lived in the marshy area of southern Iraq. By diverting the major rivers, the government is draining the marsh region and destroying the environment that is essential to the economy and culture of the Marsh Arabs.

Among the government documents seized by Kurdish rebels after the Gulf War was a 1989 document entitled "Plan of Action for the Marshes." It declares that "security operations (such as poisoning, explosions and the burning of houses) must be conducted against the subversives." The plan further describes measures to destroy local village life. "The principle of economic blockade must be applied to the villages and areas in which subversives are operating." This blockade calls for "withdrawal of all food supply agencies;... a ban on the sale of fish;... the severest of measures against persons who smuggle foodstuffs;... [and] prohibiting goods traffic from entering those villages and areas." Lastly, the plan required the region to be drained in order to facilitate controlling the population and building roads in the area.

The government maintains that the massive marsh draining operation is actually a development project to create new agricultural land. In February, the MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour reported that Hussein described the operations in the marsh region firstly as an issue of national security: "[t]he opposition in our country, it was no longer a local opposition but an international opposition. It calls for it to be subject to execution and to torture. In accordance with the law, we say he who collaborates with a foreign party is sentenced to death."

The Right to Monitor

Private citizens, individually or collectively, can monitor or disseminate information about government violations of human rights only at extreme personal peril in Iraq and access to international human rights monitors is closed. Laws punish harshly those who "insult or demean" any government or Ba'ath Party institutions, subjecting them to arrest, detention, imprisonment, and even the death penalty. As a result, Iraqi human rights organizations are either located abroad or, since October 1991, operate in the Kurdish-controlled enclave.

Iraqi exiles monitor human rights developments primarily from Tehran, Damascus, and London. The Iraqi National Congress, a London-based coalition of opposition parties; the Documental Center on Human Rights in Iraq, affiliated with the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq; the Organization for Human Rights in Iraq, a private London-based group; and Gulf War Victims, a private relief organization located in Tehran, were principal sources of information about human rights violations. The last three organizations focus on the rights of the Iraqi Shi'a. Various international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch/Middle East as well as the U.N. Commission on Human Rights have repeatedly called on Iraq to permit human rights monitoring to determine whether Iraq was complying with Resolution 688.

The Role of the International Community: U.S. Policy

The United States has maintained a strong stance against lifting the U.N. sanctions despite growing pressure from several countries. In March, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Robert Pelletreau told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that lifting the embargo hinged on Iraqi compliance with Security Council resolutions and not the removal of Hussein.

In October, Chief U.S. Delegate to the U.N., Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright, called for expanding the conditions for lifting of sanctions to include compliance with human rights requirements under Resolution 688. Observers noted that from both a legal and practical perspective changing compliance conditions at this late stage could discourage compliance.

The U.S. military maintained its "no-fly" zones above the 36th parallel and below the 32nd parallel. In October, the U.S. sent approximately 50,000 troops to counter the Iraqi troop buildup near the Kuwaiti border.

The Clinton administration gave periodic reports to Congress during the year on the situation in Iraq, including human rights conditions. President Clinton cited Iraq's refusal to sell oil pursuant to Resolutions 706 and 712, in arguing that Iraq bears full responsibility for the suffering of its citizens, since the income would buy food, medicine and other essential goods to meet civilian needs. President Clinton also asserted that the Hussein regime continued to repress the civilian population and to deprive them of humanitarian assistance, among other means through a total blockade of Iraqi Kurdistan and the military attack on the Marsh Arabs. He expressed concerns about Iraqi chemical weapons capabilities and highlighted Iraq's failure to cooperate in the location and release of Kuwaitis detained during the Gulf War.

In September, Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey asserted that Iraq "is still hiding Scud missiles, chemical munitions and its entire biological-weapons warfare program." He claimed that "Iraq is accelerating construction of deep underground shelters and tunnels to produce and store weapons of mass destruction."

U.N. Policy

The U.N. Human Rights Commission issued a report listing numerous human rights violations, condemning the Hussein regime for creating "an all-pervasive order of repression and oppression which is sustained by broad-based discrimination and widespread terror." Nigel Rodley, the Special Rapporteur on Torture to the Commission on Human Rights, submitted a report discussing torture and cruel or inhuman punishment which named several Iraqis who allegedly died in detention from torture.

On February 25, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iraq Max Van der Stoel issued a report on the human rights situation in Iraq, accusing Hussein and his cousin, Defense Minister Ali Hassan al-Majid of committing crimes against humanity. It states that Iraqi military and security forces routinely cause people to disappear, arbitrarily detain individuals, and commit torture. They commit executions in an extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary manner. He discussed a system of collective punishment, whereby civilians are routinely detained and held responsible for the crimes and activities of their family members.

Rolf Ekeus, head of the U.N. Special Commission for weapons monitoring in Iraq, issued a report on October 7 stating that Iraqi cooperation and declarations had improved but fell short of full compliance with Resolution 687. The Commission anticipated installing all monitoring devices by the end of 1994.

E.U. Policy

On May 8, the Council of Ministers issued a statement calling for prompt and full Iraqi implementation of all Security Council resolutions as a prerequisite for the establishment of peace and security in the region. It stressed that Iraq must fully comply "with Resolution 687 concerning the immediate release of all Kuwaiti and other POWs and detainees held by Iraq, Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and Iraq's payment of full compensation for the losses and damages caused by her aggression against the State of Kuwait." Furthermore, the European Union expressed concern regarding "the continued repression and sufferings of the entire Iraqi population, for which the Iraqi regime bears sole responsibility." In December 1993, the European Parliament issued a resolution condemning continued attacks against the Marsh Arabs and linked lifting sanctions to the end of these abuses.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Middle East

Human Rights Watch/Middle East focused on the examination of Iraqi government documents captured in Iraqi Kurdistan in March 1991, during the uprising against the Hussein regime. In January, the organization published its second report on these documents, Bureaucracy of Repression: The Iraqi Government in Its Own Words. The report offers a unique look into the inner workings of a sophisticated, one-party police state responsible for over twenty-five years of systematic repression of Iraq's Kurds. These documents, from the files of the General Security Directorate and other government agencies, corroborate eyewitness testimony and forensic evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch in Iraqi Kurdistan regarding the 1988 genocidal campaign against the Kurds. The extraordinarily brutal methods of control practiced against the Kurds in the past are still official policy – part of the governmental arsenal that continues to be used against other groups branded as dissidents, such as the southern Marsh Arabs. Among the abuses brought to light by the documents published in the report are Baghdad's long-standing policy of "Arabizing" Kurdish-populated regions of northern Iraq; the carte blanche given to security forces to carry out extrajudicial executions; and the measures Hussein took in 1991 to restore control over Iraq.

In a five-page letter dated October 18, the Iraqi government responded to several key issues discussed in Bureaucracy of Repression. The main arguments are summarized as follows: Iraq's military actions were in response to a hostile insurgency by Kurdish rebels assisting Iranian forces; reports that the Iraqi military used chemical weapons against the Kurds are erroneous; Kurdish rebels inserted forged documents among the genuine ones. The documents project is part of a wider effort by Human Rights Watch to provide evidence that Iraq's Anfal campaign against its population of rural Kurds amounted to genocide. On the basis of the evidence contained in the eighteen tons of documents and two years of field research, Human Rights Watch is fully convinced that the Anfal campaign breached the 1951 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, to which Iraq is a party. Thus, the organization is urging governments to bring a case under the Convention against the Government of Iraq at the International Court of Justice.

Iraqi Kurdistan

Human Rights Developments

Human rights conditions in the Kurdish controlled region deteriorated during 1994. Extrajudicial executions reportedly occurred during fighting between the Islamic Movement in Kurdistan and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in December 1993 as well as between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Socialist Party. Both sides are believed to be responsible for killing outside of combat, although the PUK's Washington representative Barham Salih denied this charge in January.

Fighting broke out between the PUK and the KDP in May and spread quickly throughout the region. In KDP heartlands, PUK offices were surrounded and their members and soldiers were arrested and disarmed. The PUK took similar actions in their territory. The hostilities resulted in violations of the laws of war, including summarily executing persons held in custody. A fragile cease-fire was declared after a week of fighting which left hundreds of peshmerga – Kurdish rebel fighters – and civilians dead. PUK peshmerga allegedly opened fire on a crowd mourning the death of a KDP commander on June 13 killing twelve people. Several cease-fire agreements were reached and breached shortly thereafter. The head of the Iraqi National Congress Ahmed Chalabi mediated talks between the two Kurdish leaders in June.

The Right to Monitor

The Kurdish regional authorities have generally been open to foreign human rights monitoring. Many Western nongovernmental organizations have conducted missions to Iraqi Kurdistan, although these visits have become more dangerous with the recent attacks on foreigners by Iraqi agents in the region. The politicization of Kurdish life based on the split between the PUK and the KDP hinders some investigation efforts.

Amnesty International investigated alleged abuses during the fighting in December between PUK and the Islamic Movement in Kurdistan. It documented abuses committed by both sides with photographic and medical evidence.

U.S. Policy

The United States has been careful to call for limited autonomy in the Kurdish area without promoting independence for the Kurdish region. The maintenance of the Combined Task Force/Operation Provide Comfort has remained central to U.S. policy toward Iraqi Kurdistan. The military mission provides a shield over the areas of Iraq north of the 36th parallel. Aircraft patrolling the region enforcing the "no-fly" zone as well as a small allied liaison force at Zakho depend entirely on the Turkish government for base support and logistics. Turkey has become increasely less cooperative with the U.N. sanctions over both Iraq and its operations with regard to the Kurdish region. It wishes to resume trade with Iraq and is wary of iniatives that grant the Iraqi Kurds autonomy, fearing that it would serve as a potential catalyst for autonomy demands by Turkish Kurds.

In January, the U.S. expressed grave concern over allegations of extrajudicial executions by the PUK in discussions with the PUK's Washington representative.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Middle East

Human Rights Watch/Middle East was in correspondence with Kurdish leaders throughout the year expressing concern over human rights abuses during the fighting between factions, especially summary executions of prisoners. The organization emphasized the need to adhere to the laws of war.

In a December 17, 1993 letter to Massoud Barzani, the organization questioned the KDP's involvement in an attack with gunfire on a large crowd of peaceful demonstrators outside the KDP headquarters building in Suleimaniyeh on December 13. A letter was sent on May 17, 1994 to Massoud Barzani, Jalal Talabani, and Abullah Rasoul, Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, discussing the fighting. The letter highlighted international legal obligations under international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilian populations from harm during military operations as well as the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks under the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

Iraq's Crime of Genocide: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds, based on previously published reports by Human Rights Watch/Middle East, will be co-published with Yale University Press in early 1995.

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