Human Rights Watch account: Kurds in 2011, Part I


Every year, Human Rights Watch publishes a world report (HRW World Report) which accounts for human rights conditions all over the globe in the previous year. Their investigation is often done “in close partnership with domestic human right activists” as they express it themselves. The report is free to download on their website. From the HRW World Report and other reports, it is possible to create an account of Kurdish human rights violations in Kurdistan, Iran, Syria, and Turkey up to 2011.

In Kurdistan (Kurdish dominated Northern Iraq) it is the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) who is responsible for the protection of human rights. In line with the Arab Spring, Kurds tried to ignite a Kurdish Spring in Kurdistan. Protests started on February 17 in Sulaimaniya and were responded with violence. Security forces killed at least ten protesters and injured more than 250 others. Masked assailants attacked and burned down protestors’ tents in Sara Square, the center for demonstration in Sulaimaniya. Two months after the protests begin, on April 27, the KRG released a report stating that both security forces and protestors were responsible for the violence. On April 20, thousands of Peshmergas and Iraqi Army forces were dispatched to Sulaimaniya to impose order and prevent further demonstrations. Since then the protests died out.

Freedom of expression was also extensively violated in Kurdistan during and after the protests. Masked men attacked a private television station, Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) in Sulaimaniya, on February 20, wounding one guard. Afterwards, according to the station’s staff, the building was doused with gasoline and burned down. Just two days before the attack on the station, NRT had begun its broadcast of footage of the protests. Furthermore, more than 20 journalists covering the protests said they had been threatened and their equipment was broken by security forces. “After quashing the daily protests in Sulaimaniya in April, KRG officials and security forces expanded their suppression of journalists through libel suits, beatings, detentions, and death threats. The threat of attacks and arrests sent some journalists into hiding.” the report says.

However, freedom of assembly and of speech are not the only human rights being violated in Kurdistan. Honor crimes and domestic abuse remain a threat to women, not only in Kurdistan but all over Iraq. According to several non-official and non-governmental studies the practice of female genital mutilation is generally widespread in Kurdistan. The prevalence of this practice among Kurdish girls and women is at least 40 percent. On June 20, the Kurdish parliament passed the Family Violence Bill, outlawing the practice, along with forced and child marriages and verbal, physical and psychological abuse of girls and women.

Kurdish women are, according to the report, victims of a double oppression; gender based oppression and ethnic oppression. The gender based oppression is not only conducted by the regime, but also by the males in their environment. “The man decides whether or not his daughter, sister, or spouse attends school, goes to work or any other place for that matter. (…) discrimination and violence against women in Kurdish areas is both pervasive and widely tolerated” the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women wrote in 2005. Social codes, invoked in the name of religion and culture, are used to justify the denial of human rights to women. Some Kurdish girls and women resort to the most extreme of self-harm, suicide by self-immolation. As of 2008, according to Amnesty International, forced marriages at a young age had become common for Kurdish girls in Iran. Iranian law forbids marriage for girls under the age of 13 and for boys 15, although marriage can legally be contracted by the consent of their fathers.

The HRW 2012 World Report has a very limited amount of information concerning human rights abuses against Kurds in Iran. Amnesty International, however, published a 61-page report in 2008 on the treatment of Kurds by the Iranian regime. HRW states that, “as of October 2011 at least 16 Kurds were on death row, many of them alleged for national security crimes and moharebeh [enmity against God].” Furthermore, the report briefly mentions, that, as a result of an Iranian and Turkish cross-border military attacks against rebels in Kurdistan, at least 10 people had been killed, dozens injured and hundreds of civilians have been displaced.

The Amnesty report states that Kurds in Iran are victims of cultural, religious, employment and housing-related and educational human rights violations. Kurds are for example not allowed to give their children certain names, such as Soran (one of the two main dialects spoken by Kurds), Rizgar (free), Khabat (struggle), Âla (flag), Ajin (equal) and Firmesk (tear).

Kurds in Iran are forcefully evicted from their homes and denied employment in both the state and private sector. In February 2008 at least three Kurdish directors of pre-school childcare facilities were summoned to the security advisor’s office on grounds that they had permitted the teaching of a “non-governmental language.” Kurdish students held an event at Tehran University, in which they called for teaching of Kurdish in Iran’s education system, including universities. The event resulted in numerous arrests of organizers and participants facing long-term detentions.

Kurds in Iran suffer from unlawful killings by security forces such as the killing of opposition leader Shawan Qaderi, whose body then was tied to a jeep and dragged through the streets of Mahabad, and two other men in 2005, resulting in mass protests by Kurds that were responded harshly by security forces. During the protests many Kurds were arrested, tortured and imprisoned.