U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Iraq

IRAQ[1]* Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997   Political power in Iraq is concentrated in a repressive one-party apparatus dominated by Saddam Hussein. The provisional Constitution of 1968 stipulates that the Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party (ABSP) governs Iraq through the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), which exercises both executive and legislative authority. President Saddam Hussein, who is also Prime Minister, Chairman of the RCC, and Secretary General of the Regional Command of the ABSP, wields decisive power. Saddam Hussein and his colleagues continue to point to an October 1995, nondemocratic "referendum" on his presidency in which he received 99.96 per cent of the vote as legitimating the regime. However, his "referendum" included neither secret ballots nor opposing candidates, and many credible reports indicated that voters feared possible reprisal for a negative vote. The judiciary is not independent and is subject to presidential interference. Ethnically and linguistically, the Iraqi population includes Arabs, Kurds, Turkomen, Yazidis, and Armenians. Historically, the religious mix is likewise varied: Shi'a and Sunni Muslims (both Arab and Kurdish), Christians (including Chaldeans and Assyrians), and Jews (most of whom have emigrated). Ethnic divisions have resulted in civil uprisings in recent years, especially in the north and the south. The Government has reacted against those who revolt with extreme repression. The Government's security apparatus includes militias attached to the President, the Ba'ath Party, and the Interior Ministry. They play a central role in maintaining the environment of intimidation and fear on which government power rests. Security forces have committed widespread, serious, and systematic human rights abuses. The Government controls most of the economy, which is largely based on oil production, and owns all major industries. Damaged by the Gulf War and subjected to United Nations sanctions as a result of Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the economy continues to deteriorate. The sanctions ban all exports and allows imports only of food, medicine, and materials and supplies for essential civilian needs. The Government's failure to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions has led to repeated extensions of the sanctions. In May, after a year of obstruction and delay, the Government reached agreement with the U.N. on a plan to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 986, which would allow a controlled sale of Iraqi oil to purchase food and other humanitarian goods to improve the deteriorating situation of the Iraqi people. Throughout the rest of 1996, however, the Government continued to engage in delaying tactics and other actions which the U.N. and other observers cited as delaying implementation. The Government's actions threatened the resolution's intended controls on oil sales and the conditions required to ensure fair and equitable distribution of relief. In mid-December, the U.N. announced that conditions were finally in place to allow implementation to begin, although it appeared likely that relief would not be delivered until early 1997. The Government's abysmal record on human rights worsened in 1996. Human rights abuses remain extremely difficult to document because of the Government's efforts to conceal the facts, including its refusal to permit visits by human rights monitors or other observers and its continued restrictions designed to prevent dissent. Nevertheless, the Government's renewal of repression and threats in northern Iraq following its military attack on the city of Irbil on August 31 make it clear that serious human rights violations increased. Summary executions of perceived political opponents reportedly increased, as did reports of disappearances. Both types of repression were particularly clear in the north during and after the August 31 attack on Irbil. Tens of thousands of political killings and disappearances remain unresolved from previous years. As socioeconomic conditions deteriorated, the regime punished persons accused of economic crimes, military desertion, and a variety of other charges with torture and cruel and inhuman penalties, including the extensive use of amputation. Prison conditions are poor. The authorities routinely use arbitrary arrest and detention. The judiciary is not independent; the President can override any court decision. The Government continues to deny citizens the right to due process and privacy. Max van der Stoel, the Special Rapporteur for Iraq appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), confirmed again that freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association do not exist, except in some parts of the northern areas, beyond control of the Government. The Government severely limits freedom of religion and movement, discriminates against women, children, religious minorities, and ethnic groups. It also restricts worker rights. Citizens do not have the right to change their government. The October "referendum" on Saddam's presidency was not free. It was dismissed by most international observers. As in years past, the Government forcibly transferred hundreds of government workers from one job to another, purportedly to prevent the development of potential opposition in any government institutions. After failed coup attempts and repressed protests between May and July, the Government arrested, removed from their jobs, or otherwise punishednumerous citizens for their alleged association with these incidents. The fate of many such persons remains unknown. After Saddam's daughters and his sons-in-law, Hussein Kamel and Saddam Kamel al-Majid, defected to Jordan in August 1995, the Government reportedly arrested scores of midlevel military and civilian officials for their association with the defectors. Evidence has emerged that the Government was behind the deaths of Saddam's sons-in-law, who returned to Iraq in February from Jordan after they received promises of amnesty. Shortly after entering Iraq, the two were separated from their families and were killed, allegedly in a gunfight with relatives. Other members of the al-Majid clan were also arrested or disappeared. Iraqi military operations continued to target Shi'a Arabs living in the southern marshes. In central and southern Iraq, the regime continued to divert humanitarian supplies to its security forces, the military, and other supporters. For most of the year, the Government maintained an internal embargo against Iraq's northern governorates, blocking the shipment of food, medicine, and other goods from government-controlled territory to the Kurdish-controlled areas. The Government announced the lifting of the internal embargo on September 12, but anecdotal and other reports indicate that the regime still exercises tight control over the flow of goods and services into and out of northern areas. The Government persisted in its flagrant interference with the international community's provision of humanitarian assistance, in contravention of the conditions of UNSC Resolution 688. It harassed and intimidated relief workers as well as U.N. security personnel throughout the country. The Government renewed a threat to arrest or kill relief workers, whether foreign or Iraqi, simply for association with a foreign relief organization. The Government initially objected to the distribution monitors required by the terms of Resolution 986, and it remains to be seen whether the Government will allow those monitors to carry out their work. In northern Iraq, fighting continued between the two main Iraqi Kurd groups, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), in which both fighters and civilians were killed. KDP cooperation with the Government in the August 31 attack and PUK cooperation with Iran in August increased instability and, according to Iraqi and Iranian opposition reports, the ability of both governments to act against political opponents in the area. A cease-fire established on October 23 ended fighting for the rest of the year, albeit with a few sporadic clashes. At the end of the year, both groups were considering a mutual release of detainees as one of several confidence-building measures to strengthen the cease-fire and improve prospects for political reconciliation between the two groups. Terrorist actions in northern Iraq and Turkey by the Turkish terrorist organization, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), also resulted in the death of both fighters and civilians. Both Iraqi Kurdish groups and the PKK reportedly committed serious abuses, including killings, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

The regime has a long record of executing perceived opponents. The U.N. Special Rapporteur, the international media, and other groups all reported an increased number of summary executions in 1996. In his November report to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, the Special Rapporteur stated that "the country is run through extrajudicial measures." In an April 10 report, Amnesty International noted that various decrees expanding the use of the death penalty in 1994 and 1995 have not been sufficiently clarified to ensure fair and just applicability, a problem compounded by the lack of an independent judiciary. As in previous years, there were numerous credible reports that the regime executed persons allegedly involved in plotting against President Hussein, including high-ranking civilian, military, and tribal leaders, as well as members of his family and clan. The regime periodically eliminates large numbers of detainees; in May, according to unconfirmed reports, the regime executed as many as 100 detainees. In June some 400 officers of various ranks were executed, including some senior Republican Guard officers. Allegedly these executions were ordered directly by Saddam Hussein and supervised by his eldest son, Uday. Also in June, Uday reportedly ordered the killing of a former aide, Muhammad Al-Rawi, for trading stocks on the Baghdad stock market. Hussein Kamel and Saddam Kamel, Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law, were executed by the Government in February, according to numerous credible sources, when they returned from Jordan after defecting in August 1995. Although the Government announced amnesties for both men, they and over 40 relatives, including women and children, were killed in what the official Iraqi press described as the spontaneous administration of tribal justice. The Special Rapporteur noted in his November report that "the killings occurred without any legal process and with total impunity." He also cited continued reports of the frequent use of the death penalty for such offenses as "insulting" the President or the Ba'ath Party, and the pervasive fear of death for any act or expression of dissent. Government forces reportedly executed more Shi'a inhabitants of the southern marshes in 1996, but there remains no independent means to verify these reports (see Section 1.g.). Indications persist that the Government has offered "bounties" to anyone who kills United Nations or other international relief workers in northern Iraq. A September 12 amnesty announcement specifically excluded anyone accused of espionage, a charge the Government has repeatedly made against foreign relief organizations working in northern Iraq. As in previous years, the regime continued to deny totally the widespread killings of Kurds in northern Iraq during the "Anfal" Campaign of 1988 (see Sections 1.b. and 1.g.). The Special Rapporteur and Human Rights Watch have concluded that the Government's policies against the Kurds raise issues of crimes against humanity and violations of the 1948 Genocide Convention. The most obvious extrajudicial killings occurred during and after the Iraqi army attacked northern Iraq in late August and early September. Numerous credible reports, including but not limited to eyewitness accounts collected by opposition organizations, confirm that 96 Iraqi army officers and soldiers who had previously deserted the army and fled to the north were captured in the town of Qushtapa, 22 kilometers south of Irbil, on August 31. Local residents were reportedly taken to the town center and forced to watch while soldiers executed these prisoners. As noted by the Special Rapporteur and media reports, a KDP spokesman acknowledged on September 11 that the Government was responsible for these executions. Numerous other individual executions and extrajudicial killings were reported over the next few months. For example, on October 16 the body of an Iraqi dissident, architectural engineer Qutaiba Ghazi Al-Samarra'i, was discovered in Dohuk. According to opposition reports, Al-Samarra'i was an opponent of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship and was eventually sought out and killed by government intelligence units . There was no further information on the death of the prominent Shi'a oppositionist Taki Al-Khoei who, along with three others, was killed in 1994 in a suspicious automobile crash in southern Iraq. Strong circumstantial evidence points to the Government's involvement. During the year, political killings and terrorist actions occurred in northern Iraq. Intra-Kurdish fighting from August through October between the PUK and the KDP resulted in the deaths of several fighters and civilians, and both groups complained of forced expulsions of one another's supporters from territory controlled by the other party. At the end of the year, both groups were working to confirm the whereabouts of one another's detainees and missing supporters and to end forced expulsion and other abuses as part of confidence-building measures to strengthen the October 23 cease-fire. Throughout 1996, elements of the PKK, a Turkish Kurd terrorist group, remained active in northern Iraq and reportedly killed local residents in an effort to control a territorial base. The PKK sometimes attacked civilians, foreign relief workers, and journalists.

b. Disappearance

The Special Rapporteur stated in November that he continues to receive reports on widespread disappearances. The Government continued to ignore the more than 15,000 cases conveyed to it in 1994 and 1995 by the U.N. Working Group on Enforcement on Involuntary Disappearances, as well as other requests from the Governments of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on the whereabouts of those missing from the 1990-91 occupation of Kuwait. The United Nations has documented over 16,000 cases of persons who have disappeared According to the Special Rapporteur, most of these cases occurred during the Anfal campaign. He estimates that the total number of Kurds who disappeared during Anfal could reach the tens of thousands. HRW estimates the total at between 70,000 and 150,000, and Amnesty International (AI) at more than 100,000. Disappearances in northern Iraq increased in 1996 as Iraqi and Iranian intelligence units grew more active. On September 11, a KDP spokesman confirmed various reports that Iraqi intelligence units arrested numerous individuals, including members of the oppositionist Iraqi National Congress (INC) and Turkomen and Islamist groups. According to the Special Rapporteur, the fate of these individuals remains unknown. Unconfirmed reports blamed Iran for the disappearances of several Iranian opposition figures who resided in the north. The Special Rapporteur and several human rights groups continued to request that the Government provide information about the arrest in 1991 of the late Grand Ayatollah Abdul Qasim Al-Khoei and 108 of his associates. The Ayatollah died while under house arrest in Al-Najaf. Others arrested with him have not been accounted for, and the regime refuses to respond to queries regarding their status. The Government failed to return or account for a large number of Kuwaiti citizens and other foreign nationals detained during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. Regime officials, including military leaders known to have been among the last to see the persons who disappeared during the occupation, have refused to respond to the hundreds of outstanding inquiries about the missing. The regime denies having any knowledge of them and claims that relevant records were lost in the aftermath of the Gulf War. In addition to the tens of thousands of reported disappearances, human rights groups report that the Government continues to hold thousands of other Iraqis in incommunicado detention.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The security services routinely torture detainees, even though the Constitution prohibits the practice. The Special Rapporteur and AI provided new, detailed accounts of the Government's systemic use of physical and psychological torture in recent years. They noted that government decrees and announcements that might reduce the use of torture had not been confirmed by demonstrable evidence. For example, the Special Rapporteur noted that an August 5 RCC decree suspending the use of amputation against army deserters did not apply to those convicted of various other crimes. The execution of 96 deserters in northern Iraq on August 31 (see Section 1.a) calls into question whether the Government intended any lesser punishments for army deserters. According to former detainees, torture techniques include brandings, electric shocks administered to the genitals and other areas, beatings, burnings with hot irons, suspension from ceiling fans, dripping acid on the skin, rape, breaking of limbs, denial of food and water, and threats to rape or otherwise harm relatives. Tormentors kill many torture victims and mutilate their bodies before returning them to the victims' families. Eyewitnesses reported that the Government carried out second amputations and brandings on repeat offenders and on those who sought corrective surgery for earlier disfigurements. In some of these cases, the regime executed the offenders as well as the doctors who either performed corrective surgery or refused to carry out amputations. The Special Rapporteur also reported the execution of a number of doctors who refused to tattoo army deserters on their foreheads as required by government decree. In his November report, the Special Rapporteur reconfirmed his previous analysis, that the amputations and brandings constituted "gross violations of human rights." Several government officials cited Islamic law (Shari'a) as a rationale for amputating the right hands of convicted thieves, but none commented on the punishments imposed on repeat offenders or the Government's disregard for rights protected under Islamic law. One senior official claimed that brandings were instituted in order to avoid confusing criminals with war veterans who had lost limbs in battle. The Special Rapporteur, human rights organizations, and opposition groups continue to receive numerous reports of women still suffering severe psychological trauma after they were raped while in custody. The security forces allegedly raped women captured during the Anfal Campaign and during the occupation of Kuwait. The Government has never acknowledged these reports of rape or conducted any investigation. Although the regime made a variety of pronouncements against rape and other violent crimes during the year, it took no action against regime activists who committed these abuses. Prison conditions are poor. Certain prisons are notorious for routine mistreatment of prisoners. Al-Rashidiya Prison, on the Tigris River north of Taji, reportedly has torture chambers. The Al-Shamma'iya Prison, located in east Baghdad, holds the mentally ill and is reportedly the site of both torture and disappearances. The Al-Radwaniyah Prison is a former prisoner-of-war facility near Baghdad and reportedly the site of torture as well as mass executions. This prison was the principal detention center for persons arrested following the civil uprisings of 1991. HRW and others have estimated that the Al-Radwaniyah Prison holds more than 5,000 detainees. There were continued reports that Iraqi Kurdish groups tortured captured criminal suspects and political opponents. A wide variety of observers documented KDP abuses against the al-Sourchi tribe and others for alleged cooperation with the PUK and others. Some observers charged that the KDP was reportedly responsible for the death of a respected leader of the tribe, Hussein al-Sourchi, as well as for detaining tens of suspected KDP opponents and for property damage. The KDP claimed that Hussein al-Sourci's death was an accidental result of a preemptive strike against KDP opponents, and the KDP denied what it termed exaggerated reports of damage and of detainees. Numerous other reports of KDP and PUK abuses against perceived opponents also circulated during the year, especially in the aftermath of Iranian support for PUK military moves in August and of Saddam Hussein's August 31 attack on Irbil (see Section 1.g.). The PKK also reportedly tortured civilians captured in northern Iraq in the latter half of the year. The UNHCR and other observers noted that PKK influence at the Atrush refugee camp had grown to such a point that at year's end the UNHCR decided to close the camp, with its inhabitants offered the options of voluntary repatriation to Turkey or relocation elsewhere in northern Iraq.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Although the Constitution and Legal Code explicitly prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, the authorities routinely engage in these practices. In his November report, the Special Rapporteur stated that arbitrary arrests are still common throughout the country and often lead to detention for long periods of time without access to a lawyer or being charged. The military and security services, rather than the ordinary police, carry out most cases of arbitrary arrest and detention. Government officials have linked ending these practices to the lifting of the international embargo. They maintain that the arrests are a temporary preventive measure and do not constitute human rights violations. It has also been reported that there is a widespread practice of holding family members and close associates responsible for the alleged actions of others. In the aftermath of several security incidents, security forces reportedly arrested hundreds of persons perceived as security threats, mainly on the basis of an individual's personal association or family connection with opponents of the regime. Many of those arrested were reportedly killed while in custody (see Section 1.a.). The Special Rapporteur also notes that "guilt by association" is facilitated by administrative requirements on relatives of deserters or other perceived opponents of the regime. Relatives who do not report deserters, for example, could lose their ration cards for purchasing government-controlled food supplies or be evicted from their residences. According to international human rights groups, numerous foreigners arrested arbitrarily in previous years remain in detention. According to the Special Rapporteur's report, Iraqi military and security authorities arbitrarily arrested hundreds of people during and after the Government's military operations against the northern city of Irbil in late August and early September. Among those arrested were several prominent local politicians, intellectuals, lawyers, journalists, and university lecturers. Reportedly 1,500 persons were arrested in Irbil alone, including women and children. In addition, 150 members of an opposition group and persons suspected of involvement with opposition groups were reportedly detained by government security personnel. Their fate remains unknown. Opposition groups provide many detailed but unconfirmed reports of arbitrary arrest in other areas of the country. In April, for example, the regime reportedly launched a random arrest campaign in the Al-Basrah governorate. Troops reportedly raided a number of homes in the Al-Zubayr district and arrested about 30 citizens under the pretext that the detained persons had connections with Kuwaiti citizens who own farms near the Iraqi border. In the Abu Al-Khasib district, six citizens reportedly were arrested on the same charge. The Government reportedly continued to target Shi'a Muslim clergy and their supporters for arbitrary arrest and other abuses. The Government also reportedly continued to forcibly move various Shi'a populations from the south to the north and other minority groups such as Assyrians and Turkomen from the north to government-controlled territory. There was no substantive evidence that the Government was implementing two "amnesty" decrees issued in 1995. AI stated on April 10 that it "remains concerned that Iraqi authorities may be attempting to bring deserters and government opponents out of hiding in order to penalize them." The Special Rapporteur reported in November that his similar analysis in 1995 remained accurate. Although the figure is unknown, there are possibly thousands of political detainees. The Government apparently does not practice forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is not independent, and there is no check on the President's power to override any court decision. The Special Rapporteur and international human rights groups all observed during the year that the repressive nature of the political and legal systems precludes any concept of rule of law. There are two parallel judicial systems: the regular courts, which try common criminal offenses; and special security courts, which generally try national security cases, but may also try criminal cases. There is a Court of Appeal. The Court of Cassation is the highest court. Procedures in the regular courts theoretically provide for many protections. However, the regime often assigns to the security courts cases which, on their merits, would appear to fall under the jurisdiction of the regular courts. Trials in the regular courts are public, and defendants are entitled to counsel, at government expense in the case of indigents. Defense lawyers have the right to review the charges and evidence brought against their clients. There is no jury system; panels of three judges try cases. Defendants have the right to appeal to the Court of Appeal and then to the Court of Cassation. The Special Rapporteur noted in his November report that numerous laws lend themselves to continued oppression. He reported in detail on extrajudicial methods used by the Government in previous years to extract confessions or coerce cooperation with repressive actions by the Government's security forces. The Government shields certain groups from prosecution for alleged crimes. A 1992 decree grants immunity from prosecution to members of the Ba'ath Party and the security forces who kill anyone while in pursuit of army deserters. Unconfirmed but widespread reports indicate that this decree was applied in 1996 to prevent trials or punishment of such government officials as Uday Saddam Hussein, the President's son. A 1990 decree grants immunity to men who kill their mothers, daughters, and other female family members who have committed "immoral deeds," e.g., adultery, fornication, etc. Special security courts have jurisdiction in all cases involving espionage and treason, peaceful political dissent, smuggling, currency exchange violations, and drug trafficking. According to the Special Rapporteur and other sources, military officers or civil servants with no legal training head these tribunals, which hear cases in secret. Authorities often hold defendants incommunicado and do not permit contact with lawyers. The courts admit confessions extracted by torture, which often serve as the basis for conviction. Many cases appear to end in summary execution, although defendants may appeal to the President for clemency. Saddam Hussein may grant clemency in any case that apparently suits his political goals. There are no Shari'a, or Islamic law, courts as such. Regular courts are empowered to administer Islamic law in cases involving personal status, such as divorce and inheritance. Because the Government rarely acknowledges arrests or imprisonments, it is difficult to estimate the number of political prisoners. Many of the tens of thousands of persons who have disappeared or been killed in recent years were originally held as political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Government frequently disregards the constitutional right to privacy, particularly in cases allegedly involving national security. The law defines security offenses so broadly that authorities are virtually exempt from the legal requirement to obtain search warrants. In 1996 the authorities subjected citizens of various ethnic groups and tribal affiliations to searches without warrants (see Section 1.g.). The regime routinely ignores the constitutional provisions safeguarding the confidentiality of mail, telegraphic correspondence, and telephone conversations. The Government periodically jams news broadcasts, including those of opposition groups, from outside Iraq. The security services and the Ba'ath Party maintain pervasive networks of informers to deter dissident activity and instill fear in the public. For example, the Special Rapporteur reported in November that an operator was arrested and executed in 1993 for having warned a person not to use a bugged telephone line. The authorities also hold family members and close associates responsible for the alleged actions of others (see Section 1.d.).

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

As in previous years, the armed forces conducted deliberate artillery attacks against Shi'a civilians in the southern marshes and against minority groups in northern Iraq. In 1992 the Gulf War allies imposed "no-fly zones" over both northern and southern Iraq. The no-fly zones continue to deter aerial attacks on the marsh dwellers in southern Iraq and residents of northern Iraq, but they do not prevent artillery attacks in either area, nor the military's large-scale burning operations in the south. Credible reports confirm the ongoing destruction of the marshes. The army continued to construct canals, causeways, and earthen berms to divert water from the wetlands. Hundreds of square kilometers have been burned in military operations. Moreover, the regime's diversion of supplies in the south limited the population's access to food, medicine, drinking water, and transportation. During 1996 the Government regularly reported on several water-diversion and other projects in the south, which continued the process of large-scale environmental destruction. The Government claims the drainage is part of a land reclamation plan to increase the acreage of arable land, spur agricultural production, and reduce salt pollution in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. However, the evidence of large-scale human and ecological destruction appears to belie this claim. The Government maintained an internal embargo against the three governorates in northern Iraq for most of the year. These governorates are populated primarily by Kurds, Assyrians, Turkoman, and other ethnic minorities. The embargo prevented the entry of food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies to that area. Beginning in 1993, the embargo also included electrical power cut-offs in specific areas, causing the disruption of water and sanitation systems and interfering with the delivery of food and fuel. The United Nations and donor governments installed temporary generators to alleviate the crisis. The Government announced that the embargo was lifted in mid-September, but anecdotal and other reports indicate that some areas are still subject to more restrictive movements of goods and people than other parts of the country. The entire northern area remains subject to the threat of future cut-offs. Operation Provide Comfort – a multinational coalition made up of the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Turkey – continued enforcement of a "no-fly zone" to inhibit government aerial activity to repress citizens in northern Iraq. However, government military forces continued intermittent, sometimes heavy shelling of northern villages by long-range artillery throughout the year, especially of areas controlled by the PUK. Iranian forces reportedly shelled military positions and civilian sites within KDP-controlled areas in August. The Government also continued to "Arabize" certain areas, such as the urban centers of Kirkuk and Mosul, through the forced movement of local residents from their homes and villages and their replacement by Arabs from outside the area (see Section 1.d.). On August 31, government troops, tanks, artillery, and helicopters first shelled and then captured the city of Irbil in northern Iraq. Several other cities and villages in northern Iraq were shelled by artillery and then were entered by government troops. The Special Rapporteur stated in November that indiscriminate shelling by Iraqi forces of civilian settlements had been a recurrent practice well before these most recent clashes. He and numerous other observers confirmed that the Government's use of military forces against civilian targets is a clear violation of Security Council Resolution 688, which demands that the Government cease oppression of its civilian population. According to the Special Rapporteur, there were at least 100 casualties following the drive by troops into Irbil, as well as many other casualties of a simultaneous push by the KDP. In addition, security forces reportedly executed several members of the INC, PUK, and other opposition groups in the streets following house-to-house searches. It has also been reported that the troops that entered the villages upon the first attacks burned and destroyed houses after having looted valuable property. Major buildings, including hospitals, as well as water and sanitation systems, were reportedly looted, damaged, and in some cases destroyed. The armed conflict in Irbil also resulted in the cutting of electricity and water supplies by both Kurdish groups, which were restored fully a few weeks after a cease-fire was put in place on October 23. The KDP was accused of several extrajudicial killings and indiscriminate attacks in September, including a confirmed attack on September 10 on a camp near the Iranian border that held refugees from PUK-controlled areas. The KDP also detained PUK members and perceived supporters throughout this peroid, including PUK politburo member Fuad Massoum and 11 other PUK supporters who were released on September 25. The PUK was accused of similar indiscriminate attacks and detainees in August and October, which the KDP said were supported by Iranian forces. The vast majority of these reports could not be confirmed due to the absence of impartial observers and the general lack of security, but individual cases that were confirmed indicate that the abuses likely took place on both sides while fighting continued. During this period, the KDP and PUK took steps to protect foreign workers engaged in humanitarian relief work. However, there were several reports that Kurdish relief workers were abused during the second half of the year. The PKK committed numerous abuses against civilians in northern Iraq throughout the year. It also stepped up violence against UNHCR officials working in the Atrush refugee camp late in the year. On several occasions in 1996, Turkish armed forces entered northern Iraq in pursuit of PKK terrorists and bases. Human rights organizations and political organizations charged that these operations resulted in some civilian deaths and destruction of residences. Turkish government authorities stressed that the operation sought to avoid civilian casualties. Land mines in northern Iraq, mostly planted by the Government before 1991, continue to kill and maim civilians. Many of the mines were laid during the Iran-Iraq War, but the army failed to clear them before it abandoned the area. The mines appear to have been haphazardly planted in civilian areas. The Special Rapporteur has repeatedly reminded the Government of its obligations under the Land Mines Protocol to protect civilians from the effects of mines. Various nongovernmental organizations continue efforts to remove mines from the area and increase mine awareness among local residents. Reports from victims and eyewitnesses show that the Iraqi regime engaged in war crimes – willful killing, torture, rape, pillage, hostage-taking, and associated acts – directly related to the Gulf War. Many governments continue to urge the U.N. Security Council to establish an international commission to study evidence of a broader range of war crimes, as well as crimes against humanity and possible genocide. HRW continues to work with various governments to bring a genocide case at the International Court of Justice against the Government for its conduct of the Anfal campaign against the Kurds in 1988. U.S. Government policy is to support these efforts to hold Saddam Hussein's regime accountable for its war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of speech and of the press do not exist, and political dissent is not tolerated in areas under the Government's control. The Special Rapporteur reports that "the possibility for citizens to freely express their opinions is seriously undermined if not totally meaningless." The Government and the Ba'ath Party own all print and broadcast media and operate them as propaganda outlets. They generally do not report opposing points of view that are expressed either domestically or abroad. According to the Special Rapporteur, journalists are under regular pressure to join the Ba'ath party. The Special Rapporteur and other observers have described how journalists are under instruction to mention Saddam Hussein positively in any article, regardless of the subject. The same sources have detailed how journalists may fall under suspicion for not writing about Saddam Hussein every few months. Negative articles can carry extreme consequences: one journalist was reportedly executed extrajudicially for criticizing an article written by Saddam Hussein under a pseudonym, while another was sentenced to life imprisonment for telling a joke about the President. The Special Rapporteur also reported that the Ministry of Culture and Information periodically holds meetings at which orientation and general guidelines for the press are provided. Furthermore, books can be published only with the authorization of the Ministry of Culture and Information. The President's son, Uday Hussein, also reportedly exercises control over journalists. He sometimes uses a newspaper under his personal control, Babel, to threaten members of a particular tribe or clan believed to be insufficiently supportive of the regime. In a more direct example of control, the Special Rapporteur reported that Uday Hussein and his cohorts pelted two elderly, well-respected journalists with tomatoes at a conference as punishment for not being sufficiently supportive of the regime. The Government also jams foreign news broadcasts (see Section 1.f.). Several statutes and decrees suppress freedom of speech and the press. These include a 1986 decree stipulating the death penalty for anyone insulting the President or other high government officials; Section 214 of the Penal Code, which prohibits singing a song likely to cause civil strife; and the Press Act of 1968, which prohibits the writing of articles on 12 specific subjects, including those detrimental to the President. Foreigners are also subject to restrictions on freedom of the press. The Government refused to admit a returning Danish member of the U.N. Guard Contingent in Iraq, which protects international humanitarian workers throughout the country, for carrying a foreign newspaper with unfavorable coverage of Saddam Hussein. In northern Iraq, several newspapers have appeared over the past 5 years, as have opposition radio and television broadcasts. The absence of central authority permits some freedom of expression, although most journalists are influenced or controlled by various political organizations. The Government has no respect for academic freedom, exercising strict control over academic publications. University staff is hired or fired depending on their support for the Government.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Citizens may not peacefully assemble or organize for any political purpose other than to express support for the regime. The Government regularly orchestrates crowds to demonstrate support for the regime and its policies through financial incentives for those who participate and threats of violence against those who do not. Unconfirmed reports continued to circulate of small demonstrations and even confrontations between farm workers and the security forces. The Special Rapporteur and other observers expressed doubts that the Government would allow such reports to be confirmed by monitors, whose mandate under Resolution 986 could cover such activities insofar as they are related to the distribution of relief. The Government controls the establishment of political parties, regulates their internal affairs, and monitors their activities. Several parties are specifically outlawed, and membership in them is a capital offense. A 1974 law prescribes the death penalty for anyone "infiltrating" the Ba'ath Party.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Government severely limits freedom of religion. The Provisional Constitution of 1968 states that "Islam is the religion of the State." The Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs monitors places of worship, appoints the clergy, and approves the publication of religious literature. Although Shi'a Muslim Arabs, who compose between 60 and 65 percent of the population, are the largest religious group, Sunni Arabs (composing only about 12 to 15 percent of the population) have traditionally dominated economic and political life. Despite legal guarantees of sectarian equality, the regime has in recent years repressed the Shi'a clergy and followers of the Shi'a faith. Security forces have desecrated Shi'a mosques and holy sites, particularly in the aftermath of the 1991 civil uprisings. The security forces reportedly were still encamped in the shrine to Imam Ali at Al-Najaf, one of Shi'a Islam's holiest sites, using it as an interrogation center. The former Shi'a theological school in Al-Najaf, which the Government closed following the 1991 uprising, continues to be used as a public market. Security forces continued to expel foreign Muslim clerics from Al-Najaf, under the pretext that the clerics' visas had expired. The following government restrictions on religious rights remained in effect throughout 1996: a ban on the Muslim call to prayer in certain cities; a ban on the broadcast of Shi'a programs on government radio or television; a ban on the publication of Shi'a books, including prayer books; a ban on funeral processions; and the prohibition of certain processions and public meetings commemorating Shi'a holy days. Moreover, the Government also continued to insist that its own appointee replace the late Grand Ayatollah Abul Qasim Al-Khoei, formerly the highest ranking Iraqi Shi'a clergyman, who died in government custody in 1992 (see Section 1.b.). The Shi'a religious establishment refuses to accept the Government's choice. The Government also continued to harass and threaten members of the late Ayatollah Al-Khoei's family (see Section 1.a. and 1.b.). The Special Rapporteur and others report that the Government has engaged in various abuses against the country's 350,000 Assyrian Christians. Most Assyrians traditionally live in the northern governorates, and the Government often has suspected them of "collaborating" with Kurds. Military forces destroyed numerous Assyrian churches during the Anfal Campaign and reportedly tortured and executed many Assyrians (see Section 4). According to HRW and Assyrian sources, the Government continues to harass and kill Assyrians throughout the country by forced relocations, terror, and artillery shelling.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government controls the movement within the country of citizens and foreigners. Persons who enter sensitive border areas and numerous designated security zones are subject to arrest (see Section 1.d.). Police checkpoints are common on major roads and highways. High-ranking officials and other key supporters of the regime were exempt from these restrictions, but some reports indicate that the Government removed most of these exceptions and tightened internal and border travel controls at times of relative instability, such as reported internal disturbances in May and July. The Government requires citizens to obtain expensive exit visas for foreign travel. Citizens may not make more than two trips abroad annually. Exit from the country requires possession of specific government authorization, and the Government reportedly prohibits some citizens from all international travel. Before traveling abroad, citizens are required to post collateral with the Government which is refundable only upon their return. There are restrictions on the amount of currency that may be taken out of the country. Women are not permitted to travel outside Iraq alone; male relatives must escort them. The Government prohibits the granting of approval for foreign travel to journalists, authors, and all the employees of the Information Ministry. Security authorities interrogate all media employees, journalists, and writers who have traveled outside Iraq about the reasons for their travel and who they met during their trips. Some citizens without personal documents have turned themselves over to Jordanian border posts to avoid paying the departure tax levied on citizens who wish to travel abroad. Most citizens are unable to pay this tax. In addition, the Jordanian Government has asked the Iraqi regime to prevent Iraqi border guards from shooting at Iraqi soldiers who try to flee to Jordan. Iraqi border guards fire at fleeing soldiers even after they cross into Jordanian territory. Students abroad who refuse to return to Iraq are required to reimburse any of their expenses that were paid by the Government. Each student wishing to travel abroad must provide a guarantor. The guarantor and the student's parents may be liable if the student fails to return. Foreign spouses of citizens who have resided in Iraq for 5 years are required to apply for nationality. The requirement is 1 year of residence for the spouses of citizens employed in government offices. Many foreigners thus have been obliged to accept citizenship and are subject to official travel restrictions. The penalties for noncompliance include, but are not limited to, loss of the spouse's job, a substantial financial penalty, and repayment for any governmental educational expenses. The Government prevents many citizens who also hold citizenship in another country – especially the children of Iraqi fathers and foreign-born mothers – from visiting the country of their other nationality. The Government does not provide first asylum or respect the rights of refugees. In northern Iraq, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) worked with the KDP and the PUK on the return of Iraqis who fled into Iran during the September clashes, and along with the Government of Turkey, on the disposition of the Atrush camp. The Government continued to pursue its discriminatory resettlement policies, including demolition of villages and forced relocation of Kurds, Turkomen, Assyrians, and other minorities. Human rights monitors reported that the Government continues to force Kurdish and Turkomen residents of Mosul and Kirkuk to move to other areas in the north or the south. Tens of thousands of refugees fled to Iran from northern Iraq after the Iraqi attack on Irbil and other attacks in early September. Hundreds of thousands of others temporarily fled their residences in these areas, although they did not leave Iraq itself. By December, most of these refugees and displaced persons had returned to their residences. According to the Special Rapporteur, security forces continue to relocate Shi'a inhabitants of the southern marshes to major southern cities. Many have been transferred to detention centers and prisons in central Iraq, primarily in Baghdad, or even to northern cities like Kirkuk, as part of the Government's attempt to "Arabize" traditionally non-Arab areas. According to the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees remain abroad – mainly in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, and Jordan. Apart from those suspected of sympathizing with Iran, most fled after the Government's suppression of the civil uprising of 1991; others are Kurds who fled the Anfal Campaign of 1988. Of the 1.5 million refugees who fled following the 1991 uprisings, the great majority, particularly Kurds, have repatriated themselves to northern Iraq, in areas where the allied coalition has prohibited overflights by Iraqi aircraft. Several hundred thousand Kurds remain unsettled in northern Iraq because political circumstances do not permit them to return to their former homes in government-controlled territory. Both the KDP and the PUK fulfilled security guarantees and provided assistance in evacuating more than 6,000 relief workers and Iraqi oppositionists perceived to be affiliated with the United States. Approximately 14,000 Turkish Kurds remain in the north who have fled civil strife in southeastern Turkey. The UNHCR is treating these displaced persons as refugees until it reaches an official determination on their status. In late 1996, the UNHCR and the Government of Turkey began implementing a plan to close the Atrush refugee camp and conduct voluntary repatriation of the refugees to Turkey.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens do not have the right to change their government. Although the Government has taken steps to provide an increased appearance of democracy, the political process is still controlled by the State. There are strict qualifications for candidates; candidates to the National Assembly, by law, must be over 25 years old and "believe in God, the principles of the July 17-30 revolution, and Socialism." In the 250-seat National Assembly 160 deputies reportedly belong to the Ba'ath Party and 60 are independent, Saddam Hussein appointed 30 deputies to represent the northern governorates. According to the Special Rapporteur, the Ba'ath Party allegedly instructed a number of its members to run as nominally "independent" candidates. Full political participation at the national level is confined to members of the Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party, estimated at about 8 percent of the population. The political system is dominated by the Party, which governs through the Revolutionary Command Council, headed by President Saddam Hussein. However, the RCC exercises both executive and legislative authority. It overshadows the National Assembly, which is completely subordinate to it and the executive branch. The President wields decisive power over all instruments of government. Almost all powerful officials are either members of his family or are family allies from his hometown of Tikrit. Opposition political organizations are illegal and severely suppressed. Membership in certain political parties is punishable by death (see Section 2.b.). In 1991 the RCC adopted a law that theoretically authorized the creation of political parties other than the Ba'ath; in practice the law is used to prohibit parties that do not support Saddam Hussein and the current Government. New parties must be based in Baghdad and are prohibited from having any ethnic or religious character. The Government does not recognize the various political groupings and parties that have been formed by Shi'a Muslims, as well as Kurdish, Assyrian, Turkomen, and other Iraqi communities. These political groups continued to attract support notwithstanding their illegal status. Women and minorities are underrepresented in government and politics. The law provides for the election of women and minorities to the National Assembly, but they have only token representation. In northern Iraq, all central government functions have been performed by local administrators, mainly Kurds, since the Government withdrew its military forces and civilian administrative personnel from the area after the 1991 uprising. A regional parliament and local government administrators were elected in 1992. These were the only free and open elections held in Iraq in recent decades, and those only for local officials and institutions. This parliament last met in May 1995. Discussions among Kurdish and other northern Iraqi political groups continue on the reconvening of parliament, but the tensions and maneuverings by both the PUK and KDP continue to prevent parliamentary activity.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government does not permit the establishment of independent human rights organizations. It operates an official human rights group that routinely denies allegations of abuses. Citizens have established several human rights groups abroad and in northern areas not under government control. As in 1995, the Government did not allow the U.N. Special Rapporteur to visit Iraq, nor did it respond to his requests for information on several cases. The Government continued to defy various calls from U.N. bodies to allow the Special Rapporteur to visit the southern marshes and other regions. In 1996 the U.N. Human Rights Committee and the U.N. Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities adopted resolutions condemning the Government's human rights violations. For the fourth consecutive year, the UNHRC passed a resolution calling on the U.N. Secretary General to send human rights monitors to "help in the independent verification of reports on the human rights situation in Iraq." The U.N. Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities adopted a resolution reiterating the UNHRC request for the deployment of monitors. The Government has continued to defy these calls for the entry of monitors. The Special Rapporteur nonetheless was able to gather more evidence, in part due to interviews with current and past government officials who shed new light on the systemic nature of human rights violations. The Special Rapporteur dispatched members of his staff to Jordan and other locations to interview victims of Iraqi human rights abuses. The Special Rapporteur repeatedly has asserted the need for further resources to carry out his mandate, while recalling that appropriate action on major issues like the Anfal Campaign are beyond the scope of his potential resources (see Section 1.g.). The Government continues to fail to accept U.N. Security Council Resolution 688, which insists that the Government afford immediate, unrestricted access by humanitarian workers to all those in need of assistance in all parts of Iraq. Throughout 1995 the Government threatened, harassed, and assaulted employees of the U.N. and nongovernmental organizations working in Iraq (see Sections 1.g. and 2.a.).

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution and legal system provide for some rights for women, chldren, and minorities. However, in practice, the Government systematically abuses these rights.


Domestic violence against women occurs, but little is known about its extent. Such abuse is customarily addressed within the tightly knit family structure. There is no public discussion of the subject, and the Government issues no statistics. Spousal violence constitutes grounds for divorce and criminal charges, but suits brought on these charges are believed to be rare. Men who kill female family members for "immoral deeds" may receive immunity from prosecution under a 1990 law (see Section 1.c.). The Special Rapporteur has noted that there is an unusually high percentage of women in the Kurdish areas, purportedly caused by the disappearances of tens of thousands of Kurdish men during the Anfal Campaign. The Special Rapporteur has reported that the widows, daughters, and mothers of the Anfal Campaign victims are economically dependent on their relatives or villages because they may not inherit the property or assets of their missing family members. Other reports suggest that economic destitution has forced many women into prostitution. Evidence concerning the Anfal Campaign indicates that the Government killed many women and children, including infants, by firing squads and in chemical attacks. Government forces also raped many women during the Anfal campaign as well as during the occupation of Kuwait. Reports indicate that women are raped in custody, but the Government takes no action against the abusers (see Section 1.c.). The Government claims that it is committed to equality for women, who make up about 20 percent of the work force. It has enacted laws to protect women from exploitation in the workplace and from sexual harassment; to permit women to join the regular army, Popular Army, and police forces; to require education for girls; and to equalize women's rights in divorce, land ownership, taxation, suffrage, and election to the National Assembly. It is difficult to determine to what extent these protections are afforded in practice. Reports indicate, however, that the application of these laws has declined as Iraq's political and economic crisis persists. Women are not allowed to travel outside Iraq alone (see Section 2.d.).


No information is available on whether the Government has enacted specific legislation to promote the welfare of children. However, the Special Rapporteur and several human rights groups have collected a substantial body of evidence pointing to the Government's continuing disregard for the rights and welfare of children. The Government's failure to comply with relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions has led to a continuation of economic sanctions. As a result, general economic and health conditions have deteriorated dramatically. Children have been particularly susceptible to the decline in the standard of living. Increases in child mortality and disease rates have been reported. There were continued accounts of aggressive government action against youths. In February security forces launched an arrest campaign against youths who frequented the Al-Tali'ah Youth Center in Baghdad, after the discovery of leaflets denouncing the ruling regime. In another report, three Jordanian youths, who were on their way to Baghdad aboard a truck laden with sugar, were killed by a gang led by an army midlevel officer. The gang reportedly killed the young men, hacked their bodies into pieces, and scattered them in the desert. In late July, opposition sources reported that more than 300 children had died while undergoing compulsory training in Fedayeen camps. The Fedayeen system was widely reported by opposition and other sources as another systematic regime effort to extend and solidify its control through forced indoctrination of Iraqi youth.

People with Disabilities

No information is available on the Government's policy towards people with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Kurds, who make up approximately 20 percent of the population, historically have suffered political and economic discrimination, despite the token presence of a small number of Kurds in the national Government (see Sections 1.a., 1.b., and 1.g.). Assyrians and Chaldeans are ethnic groups as well as separate Christian communities (see Section 2.c.). Assyrians speak a distinct language – Syriac. Public instruction in Syriac, which was to have been allowed under a 1972 decree, has never been implemented. Numerous reports indicated continued systematic discrimination against Assyrians throughout 1996, especially in terms of forced movements from northern areas and repression of political rights there. Citizens considered to be of Iranian origin must carry special identification and are often precluded from desirable employment. Over the years, the Government has deported hundreds of thousands of citizens of Iranian origin (see Section 2.d.).

Religious Minorities

Iraq's cultural, religious, and linguistic diversity are not reflected in the country's political and economic structure. Various segments of the Sunni Arab community, which itself constitutes a small minority of the population, have effectively controlled the Government since independence in 1932. Shi'a Arabs, the overwhelming majority of the population, have long been economically, politically, and socially disadvantaged. Like the Sunni Kurds and other ethnic and religious groups in the north, the Shi'a Arabs of the south have been targeted for particular discrimination and abuse, ostensibly because of their opposition to the Government.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Although Iraq is a party to the 1919 Constitution of the International Labor Organization (ILO), which provides for the freedom of association, trade unions independent of government control do not exist. The Trade Union Organization Law of 1987 established the Iraqi General Federation of Trade Unions, a government-dominated trade union structure, as the sole legal trade federation. The General Federation is linked to the Ba'ath Party, which uses it to promote party principles and policies among union members. Workers in private and mixed enterprises – but not public employees or workers in state enterprises – have the right to join local union committees. The committees are affiliated with individual trade unions, which in turn belong to the General Federation. The Labor Law of 1987 restricts the right to strike. No strike has been reported over the past two decades. According to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the severe restrictions on the right to strike include penal sanctions. The General Federation is also affiliated with the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions and the formerly Soviet-controlled World Federation of Trade Unions.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right to bargain collectively is not recognized. Salaries for public sector workers (the majority of the employed) are set by the Government. Wages in the much smaller private sector are set by employers or negotiated individually with workers. The Labor Code does not protect workers from antiunion discrimination, a failure that has been criticized repeatedly by the ILO's Committee of Experts. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Compulsory labor is theoretically prohibited by law. However, the Penal Code mandates prison sentences, including compulsory labor, for civil servants and employees of state enterprises accused of breaches of labor "discipline," including resigning from a job. According to the ILO, foreign workers in Iraq have been prevented from terminating their employment to return to their native countries because of government-imposed penal sanctions on persons who do so.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The employment of children under the age of 14 is prohibited except in small-scale family enterprises. Children reportedly are increasingly encouraged to work in order to support their families, given the country's harsh economic conditions. The law stipulates that employees between the ages of 14 and 18 work fewer hours per week than adults.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Theoretically, most workers in urban areas work a 6-day, 48-hour workweek. Hours for government employees are set by the head of each ministry. In practice, the rate of absenteeism has likely increased with the deterioration of socioeconomic conditions. There is contradictory information on whether laws and regulations mandate a minimum wage, but the Government makes no effort to protect this or other worker entitlements. Working hours for agricultural workers vary according to individual employer-employee agreements. Occupational safety programs are in effect in state-run enterprises. Inspectors theoretically inspect private establishments, but enforcement varies widely.

[1]* The United States does not have diplomatic representation in Iraq. This report draws to a large extent on non-U.S. Government sources.

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.