Human Rights Watch World Report 2001 - Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan

Human Rights Developments

The Iraqi government continued to commit widespread and gross human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests of suspected political opponents, executions of prisoners, and forced expulsions of Kurds and Turkmen from Kirkuk and other districts. Known or suspected political opponents living abroad were reportedly frequently targeted and threatened by Iraqi government agents.

Relations between the two opposition groups, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), that retained control over most of the northern provinces of Duhok, Arbil and Sulaimaniya, remained strained despite a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace agreement and continued mediation efforts by the U.S. In the north, the year was punctuated by clashes between these and other Kurdish parties, resulting in casualties and some arrests, and human rights abuses were committed by the KDP, PUK and opposition groups. Municipal council elections were held in PUK-controlled territory in February, the first in the region since May 1992.

In the area under Iraqi government control, elections were held on March 27 for a new four-year term National Assembly, in which 220 of the 250 parliamentary seats were contested. The other thirty, reserved for the Kurdish population, were filled by presidential appointees.

Economic sanctions imposed on Iraq by the United Nations Security Council in August 1991 remained in force. The Security Council adopted a resolution expanding the "oil-for-food" program and setting up a new weapons inspection system, proposing the suspension of the sanctions for a limited period following compliance by Iraq with the provisions of the resolution. The Iraqi government rejected the proposal, stating that none of the Security Council's resolutions provided for such suspension, and continued to demand the total lifting of sanctions. International consensus over the sanctions was further eroded following several "humanitarian flights" by Russia, France, Syria and Egypt, among others, following the reopening of Baghdad's Saddam International airport in mid-July.

Human Rights Developments in Government-controlled Iraq

Five Republican Guard officers were reportedly executed on December 29, 1999, after being accused of complicity in the alleged attempted murder of President Saddam Hussain's younger son, Qusay. Among them were Lieut. Col. Ibrahim Jassem and Capt. `Umar Abdul Razzaq. In April, a number of Republican Guard and Special Security Forces personnel were reportedly arrested following an alleged coup attempt. Some forty Republican Guard members were reportedly among those taken to Radhwaniyya prison, including Staff Lieut. Col. Hashem JassemMajid and Lieut. Col. Shawqi Shraishi. Further arrests and executions were reported in May of four officers belonging to the Special Security Forces, among them staff colonels Kadhim Jawad `Ali and `Ali Muhammad Salman.

Numerous executions of political prisoners as well as those convicted for criminal offences were apparently carried out as part of the government's "prison cleansing" campaign involving several prisons, including Abu Ghraib and Radhwaniyya. In March, the opposition Iraqi Communist Party's Center for Human Rights submitted to the U.N. special rapporteur on Iraq details on 223 executions that it said were carried out between October 12, 1999, and March 9, 2000. They included twenty-six political detainees executed on November 26, 1999, and a further twenty-six executed on January 27, all in Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. The majority were Shi'a Muslims from Basra, al-Samawa, al-Nasiriyya, al-Diwaniyya, al-Hilla, al-'Amara and Baghdad, some of whom had been held without judicial due process since 1991 on suspicion of having participated in the March 1991 uprising. The bodies of the victims were reportedly buried in mass graves near the prison.

Iraqi security forces continued to target suspected supporters of Ayatollah Muhammad Sadeq al-Sadr, a leading Shi'a cleric who was assassinated in al-Najaf in February 1999 together with his two sons. In March, scores of Shi'a Muslims who had fled Iraq earlier in the year and in 1999 told Human Rights Watch that they had been repeatedly interrogated and in some cases detained and tortured. Some of those detained were relatives of prominent clerics or of Ayatollah al-Sadr's students who had been arrested shortly after his assassination. Twenty-two of those arrested soon after his murder were tried by a special court attached to the Mudiriyyat al-Amn al-'Amma (General Security Directorate) in Baghdad on charges including carrying out armed attacks on military and Ba'th Party personnel, membership of a prohibited organization, and sheltering supporters of Ayatollah al-Sadr who were being sought by the authorities. On May 13, at least six, all students of religion in al-Najaf, were sentenced to death and their homes demolished. They included Shaikh Salim Jassem al-'Abbudi, Shaikh Nasser al-Saa'idi and Sa'ad al-Nuri. Other defendants received sentences of life imprisonment or lesser terms. By October 2000 it was not known whether the death sentences had been carried out. Some of their relatives were also arrested and tortured.

Iraqi intelligence agents targeted political opponents who had fled Iraq, threatening and intimidating them or arresting and torturing family members still in the country. On June 7, Staff Lieut. Gen. Najib al-Salihi, former chief of staff of the Iraqi army's Sixth Armoured Division who had fled to Jordan in 1995, received a videotape showing the rape of a female relative by intelligence personnel. The rape or threat of rape has long been used in Iraq as a punitive measure against opponents to extract confessions or information or to pressure them into desisting from anti-government activities. Shortly afterwards, Salihi received a telephone call from his brother in Baghdad, asking him to cease all opposition activity. Iraqi political exiles living in Europe and elsewhere consistently reported being threatened with the arrest or execution of their relatives if they did not return to Iraq or abandoned opposition activity, and asylum seekers in Jordan, Syria and other countries reported being under surveillance by Iraqi intelligence agents.

The government continued its forced expulsion of Kurds and Turkmen from Kirkuk, Khaniqin, Makhmour, Sinjar, Tuz Khormatu, and other districts as part of its `Arabization' program. Those expelled included individuals who had refused to sign so-called "nationality correction" forms, introduced by the authorities prior to the 1997 population census, requiring members of ethnic groups residing in these districts to relinquish their Kurdish or Turkman identities and to register officially as Arabs. The Iraqi authorities also seized their property and assets; those who were expelled to areas controlled by Kurdish opposition forces were stripped of all possessions and their ration cards were withdrawn. A smaller number, mostly Turkmen, were forcibly expelled to central and southern Iraq, including al-Ramadi, and were allowed to take some of their possessions. In both cases, the Iraqi authorities frequently detained heads of households until the expulsions were complete. Over 800 people were reportedly expelled between January and June, bringing the total number of those expelled since 1991 to over 94,000, according to Kurdish opposition sources.

Press freedom and the right to information remained severely restricted. The government maintained tight control on all media outlets, including television, radio, and newspapers, most of which were state-owned. Satellite dishes and modems remained under ban, and the installation of facsimile machines continued to require special permission. Plans announced by the authorities in November 1999 to allow Iraqis to tune into selected satellite television channels through a paid service had not materialized by October 2000. Internet services, provided solely by the Ministry of Culture and Information, became available to Iraqis for the first time on July 27 when an Internet café opened in Baghdad. The authorities announced that additional centers would be opened in other cities in the future. Minister of Transport and Communications Ahmad Murtada Khalil reportedly said that customers could browse those Web sites that did not violate "the precepts of the Islamic religion" or offend "morals and ethics." However, users were reportedly banned access to unmonitored Web-based electronic mail systems.

On June 28, two staff members of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) were shot dead in Baghdad and seven others wounded, reportedly by an Iraqi identified by the authorities as Fowad Hussain Haidar. He said he had carried out the attack in protest at the U.N.-imposed embargo.

The overall humanitarian situation in Iraq remained dire despite the expanded "oil-for-food" program. In his March 10 report to the Security Council on the operation of the program, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that "an excessive number of holds" continued to impede the relief program. These included holds on contracts in the water and sanitation and electric power sectors, which he stated were a major factor impeding progress in the area of public health. In his most recent report of September 8 to the Security Council, the Secretary-General noted some improvements in this area, but said that "infrastructural degradation" of the water and sanitation sector was being exacerbated by "the absence of key complementary items currently on hold and adequate maintenance, spare parts and staffing." As regards the electricity sector, the report stated that the "entire electricity grid is in a precarious state and is in imminent danger of collapsing altogether." The overall provision of health care and services was said to be in "steep decline." This assessment was supported by the findings of U.N. and other humanitarian agencies. In a report published in December 1999, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the sanctions have had a "devastating effect on the lives of civilians," and that while the "oil-for-food" program has alleviated their plight, "it has not halted the collapse of the health system and the deterioration of the water supplies, which together pose one of the gravest threats to the health and well-being of the civilian population." In a report published on September 13, the FAO said that while existing food rations, combined with market food purchases, have "halted further deterioration in the nutritional situation, they have not by themselves been able to reverse this trend." It concluded that acute malnutrition among children under five had decreased only slightly from the 12 percent recorded in 1995, and that at least 800,000 children under five were chronically malnourished.

Human Rights Developments in Iraqi Kurdistan

The two major Kurdish opposition groups in Iraqi Kurdistan, the KDP and the PUK, retained control over most areas in the three northern provinces of Arbil, Duhok and Sulaimaniya. Despite mediation efforts by U.S. government officials, little progress was made towards the implementation of the provisions of the 1998 Washington Accord. Both sides pledged to normalize relations but continued to maintain separate administrative, legislative and executive structures in areas under their control. On October 22, senior officials from the two parties agreed on a series of measures, including prisoner exchanges, the gradual return of internally displaced people to their homes, and arrangements for the organization of free movement of people and trade between their respective areas. Most of these measures were not implemented. In December 1999, the PUK announced that it would set up a separate court of cassation to serve areas it controlled, and on February 3 held municipal council elections. One prisoner exchange took place on March 6, the PUK releasing five KDP prisoners and the KDP releasing ten PUK prisoners. Both sides continued to grant regular access to their prisons to ICRC representatives who, as of April, were visiting an estimated 500 detainees held by both parties.

In March, the KDP broadcast on its television channel, Kurdistan TV, statements by five detainees in its custody who had apparently admitted to carrying out acts of sabotage in the Arbil region in previous months. The five were allegedly members of the opposition Islamic Unity Movement of Kurdistan (IUMK), whose leaders denied these allegations in a statement issued on March 15, saying that Iraqi government agents were likely to be responsible for these acts. They also said the five detainees had been denied judicial due process and their confessions extracted under torture, which KDP officials denied in an April 2 statement. Acts of sabotage continued, however, with two bomb blasts occurring in June in both Arbil and Sulaimaniya amid reports of the Iraqi government's deployment of additional troops to the northern region, apparently with the aim of launching armed attacks on Kurdish-controlled territory.

KDP security forces attacked the headquarters of the opposition Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) in Arbil on July 11, killing Abdullah Adil Hursit and Feridun Fazil Mehmet, both guards. The immediate reason for the attack was unclear, but relations between the two sides had deteriorated since an earlier incident in April, when several ITF members staged a sit-in at their headquarters in protest at what they stated was undue interference by the KDP in the Turkmen community's internal affairs. The KDP denied these charges.

PUK forces arrested members and supporters of the opposition Iraqi Workers Communist Party (IWCP) in July and August in an apparent attempt to pressure them into leaving PUK-controlled areas. Thirteen demonstrators protesting the cutting of water and electricity supplies to IWCP bases were arrested on July 13 outside the PUK's Ministry of Interior building in Sulaimaniya. Others were arrested in the ensuing days, including three IWCP leaders who were reportedly negotiating a settlement with PUK officials at the time. The premises of two organizations affiliated to the IWCP, the Centre for the Protection of Women in Kurdistan and the Independent Womens' Organization, were raided on July 21. Twelve women sheltering at the center, a shelter for abused women, were taken away and their whereabouts remained unknown. Most of the IWCP detainees were released by late September.

A number of people were killed and attempts made on the lives of others by unknown assailants in apparently politically motivated acts. Among them was Farhad Faraj, a political activist and founder of a trade union organization, the Union for the Unemployed in Kurdistan, who was killed outside his home in Sulaimaniya city on October 17, 1999. In another incident, Hawjin Mala Amin, a researcher at the anthropology department of Sulaimaniya University, was shot outside his home in the city on December 9, 1999. He survived and later stated that he may have been targeted because of his outspoken views on Islam. In a speech on December 23, 1999, PUK leader Jalal Talabani condemned the attack and stated that "perpetrators of terror" who were targeting writers and artists would be punished. On July 17, a parliamentarian in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Osman Hassan, was shot dead by a group of armed men near Arbil. He had represented the PUK prior to 1996, and had elected to remain in Arbil when PUK forces were ousted from the regional capital that year and withdrew to their strongholds in Sulaimaniya province. The KDP initiated an investigation into his death, but its outcome was not known by October 2000.

There were repeated military incursions by Turkey's armed forces into northern Iraq in pursuit of members of the opposition Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) of Turkey. Several thousand troops were deployed in September and November 1999, with the Turkish airforce targeting PKK positions in both KDP and PUK-controlled areas. Further incursions were carried out in April, May, and August 2000, resulting in one case in the killing of thirty-eight Iraqi Kurdish civilians. (See Turkey). In July, armed clashes broke out between PKK and KDP forces, lasting several days and reportedly resulting in forty casualties, most of them PKK fighters. In mid-September, fierce fighting broke out between PKK and PUK forces, which continued intermittently for over two weeks in several areas, including Qala Diza, Rania, and Zeli, with scores of casualties reported on both sides. The fighting ended on October 4 when the PKK declared a unilateral ceasefire.

The Role of the International Community

United Nations

Policy toward Iraq continued to cause divisions within the Security Council and the international community generally, exacerbated by mounting evidence that U.N. sanctions were having a devastating humanitarian impact in Iraq. As evidence of this, the Security Council was able to adopt Resolution 1284 on December 17, 1999, only after three permanent members, France, China, and Russia agreed to abstain. The resolution established, as a subsidiary body to the council, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) to carry out weapons inspections in Iraq authorized by Resolution 687 (1991). Its predecessor, UNSCOM, was disbanded following the withdrawal of its staff from Iraq in December 1998. The resolution proposed the suspension of sanctions for a 120-day period, renewable by the council, made contingent upon Iraq's cooperation with UNMOVIC. It also removed the dollar ceiling on Iraqi oil exports, allowing increased funding of the "oil-for-food" humanitarian relief program authorized under Resolution 986 (1995). However, it did not incorporate fully the March 1999 recommendations of the council's "humanitarian panel" addressing Iraq's urgent humanitarian needs, notably the infrastructure planning and investment required to meet basic civilian needs. Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, condemned the resolution and said that no weapons inspectors would be permitted into the country.

On February 14, the Secretary-General appointed Yuli Vorontsov as high-level coordinator for the return of missing property and missing persons from Iraq to Kuwait, as required by Resolution 1284. An estimated 605 Kuwaiti and third-country nationals remained unaccounted for since the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait in February 1991.

On June 8, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1302, extending the "oil-for-food" program for a further six months, introducing accelerated procedures for the approval of water and sanitation equipment, and instructing the secretary-general to appoint independent experts to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the humanitarian situation in Iraq. In his September 8 report to the Security Council on the operation of the "oil-for-food" program, the secretary-general reported that the Iraqi government had refused to issue visas to the experts he had appointed. It also refused to discuss how a "cash component" to the "oil-for-food" program could allow U.N.-controlled funds to be used to purchase locally produced goods and services. The report also cited serious problems stemming from protracted holds by the Security Council's sanctions committee on key infrastructure repair items affecting public health, emphasizing that humanitarian relief alone cannot address the overall impoverishment of ordinary people.

U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Hans von Sponeck left Iraq on March 31 after resigning in protest at the effect of sanctions on the Iraqi population, and was succeeded by Tun Myat. On August 15, Benon Sevan, executive director of the U.N. Office of the Iraq Program (OIP), urged the Security Council to adopt a "fresh approach and more flexibility" following a 17-day visit to Iraq.

In a resolution adopted on December 17, 1999, the General Assembly strongly condemned Iraq's human rights record, including widespread and systematic torture, summary and arbitrary executions, widespread use of the death penalty, and "the suppression of freedom of thought, expression, information, association, assembly and movement." It called on the government to "cease its repressive practices" and to "bring the actions of its military and security forces into conformity with the standards of international law." It also urged cooperation with U.N. human rights mechanisms, "in particular by receiving a return visit by the Special Rapporteur to Iraq."

In November 1999, Max van der Stoel, special rapporteur on Iraq since 1991, resigned. He was succeeded by Andreas Mavrommatis, who said in a preliminary report to the Commission on Human Rights in March that he had received numerous communications alleging human rights violations by the Iraqi government, including arbitrary detentions, executions, torture, "disappearances," and discrimination against religious and other minorities. While expressing concern about the grave humanitarian situation in Iraq, the special rapporteur also noted that serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms could not be justified under any circumstances. He added that he had made a formal request to the government to visit Iraq to "study, in situ, the human rights situation." The special rapporteur's mandate was extended for a further year in a resolution passed on April 18, in which the commission strongly condemned the "systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law" in Iraq. It urged the government to abide by its international legal obligations and to cooperate with the U.N. human rights mechanisms, including by granting the special rapporteur access to the country. In a report to the General Assembly, issued in August, the special rapporteur presented additional information he had received about human rights abuses in Iraq, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and the harrassment of political opponents. By October, the special rapporteur had not been invited to visit Iraq.

On August 18, the U.N. Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights adopted a resolution calling on the Security Council to lift the embargo provisions affecting the humanitarian situation of the population of Iraq. The resolution also appealed to all governments, including that of Iraq, to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi population, in particular by facilitating the delivery of food and medical supplies to meet their basic needs.

On June 14, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considered Iraq's combined second and third periodic reports submitted under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The committee noted that the advancement of women and their socio-economic well-being had been adversely affected by the ongoing sanctions, but stressed Iraq's obligations under the convention to implement the relevant anti-discriminatory measures. The committee criticized, among other things, discrimination against women under Iraq's nationality law and violence against women perpetrated through honor killings.

European Union

The E.U. remained the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Iraq, with 8.6 million euros allocated for the year through the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO). It was intended to fund operations in central and southern Iraq run by U.N. specialized agencies and NGOs related to health care, water and sanitation, food, and education

The European Parliament, in a January 20 resolution, criticized Iraq for failing to clarify the cases of 605 Kuwaiti and third-country nationals taken prisoner during Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, calling for their immediate release and for the names of those who may have died in captivity to be revealed; demanding a review of all cases submitted through the ICRC over the past six years; and urging Iraq to resume participation in meetings of the Tripartite Commission, which was set up in April 1991 under ICRC chairmanship to ascertain the fate of missing military personnel and civilians after the 1991 Gulf War. In an April 13 resolution, the parliament observed that "sanctions are penalizing the civilian population but, in nine years, have not succeeded in weakening the Iraqi regime," and called on the E.U. to take action to ensure that the Security Council "clarifies the terms of Resolution 1284 by specifying precisely what is expected of the Iraqi government." The resolution also called for the lifting of sanctions "as a matter of urgency" once Iraq agreed to cooperate in implementing relevant U.N. resolutions. In a further resolution on July 6, the European Parliament reiterated its call for the lifting of economic sanctions on Iraq "while maintaining a strict arms embargo," and proposed sending a fact-finding parliamentary delegation to Iraq to assess ways of extending the "oil-for food" program as a means of improving living conditions in Iraq. The resolution also proposed that the E.U. play a role in bringing about "a lifting of the no-fly zone, together with a formal renunciation by the Iraqi Government of the use of military force in dealing with the demands for autonomy of the Kurdish people."

The report of an all-party inquiry by the International Development Committee of the U.K. House of Commons entitled The Future of Sanctions concluded in January that the heavy responsibility of the Iraqi government for the humanitarian crisis in the country did not "entirely excuse the international community from a part in the suffering of Iraqis." "A sanctions regime which relies on the good faith of Saddam Hussain is fundamentally flawed," the report said.

British policy on Iraq remained closely aligned with that of the United States, although there were reports that U.K. officials were pushing their U.S. counterparts on some aspects of policy, especially Security Council "holds" on contracts under the "oil-for-food" program. In a July 17 letter to Church of England representatives following a mission to Iraq, Peter Hain, the minister of state with responsibility for the Middle East, wrote that "this is an area in which we continue to press the U.S. for greater flexibility." On the question of "smarter sanctions," Hain wrote that "the regime in place against Iraq is already targeted as far as it can be on the government."

United States

The U.S., together with the U.K., maintained its policing of the "no-fly zone" over northern Iraq from Incirlik base in Turkey, and that of southern Iraq from bases in Saudi Arabia. Scores of civilians were reportedly killed as a result of air strikes carried out by the coalition forces in these zones. In response to information released by Iraq on August 15 that since December 1998, U.S. and U.K. forces had flown over 18,500 sorties killing 311 Iraqis and wounding 967 others, a State Department spokesman said on August 28 that air strikes in the no-fly zones "are only taken in self-defense in response to Iraqi threats to our forces," and that "we make every effort to avoid civilian casualties and damage to civilian facilities."

The U.S. continued to insist on the maintenance of comprehensive sanctions on Iraq, including full compliance with Security Council resolution 1284, despite mounting evidence from U.N. specialized agencies and NGOs working in Iraq that the ongoing sanctions have caused a humanitarian crisis. In a statement before the Security Council on March 24, Deputy Permanent Representative to the U.N. James Cunningham noted that the sanctions " have never targeted the Iraqi people and have never limited the import of food and medicine." He placed full responsibility on the Iraqi government, "due to both its failure to meet its obligations under Security Council resolutions and its cynical manipulation of civilian suffering in an effort to obtain the lifting of sanctions without compliance."

On August 2, the tenth anniversary of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the State Department's Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes issues, David Scheffer, announced the administration's intention to declassify a number of Iraqi government documents captured by U.S. forces in Kuwait in 1991. He said this would contribute to efforts to bring Iraqi officials to justice for war crimes. The documents would be released through the Iraq Foundation, a U.S.-based NGO, providing evidence which "justifies an international tribunal like what exists for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda."

Ambassador Scheffer also confirmed that the Clinton administration was providing financial assistance to six NGOs to gather the necessary documentation for that purpose. On September 28, the State Department entered into a $4 million grant agreement with the opposition Iraqi National Congress (INC) for programs in the areas of information, advocacy, and humanitarian relief. The sum was the first part of a U.S. $8 million package allocated to the INC by Congress from the Economic Support Fund for fiscal year 2000 independently of the $97 million allocated to INC under the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act.

In its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999, released on February 25, the State Department described Iraq's human rights record as "extremely poor." It said that the government was responsible for numerous summary executions of suspected opponents, "disappearances," arbitrary detention, torture, and the denial of the basic right of due process. In its Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2000, released on September 5, the State Department noted that the government "for decades has conducted a brutal campaign of murder, summary execution, and protracted arbitrary arrest against the religious leaders and followers of the majority Shi'a Muslim population, and has sought to undermine the identity of minority Christian (Assyrian and Chaldean) and Yazidi groups."

This report, Human Rights Watch's eleventh annual review of human rights practices around the globe, covers developments in seventy countries. It is released in advance of Human Rights Day, December 10, 2000, and describes events from November 1999 through October 2000.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.