Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

Women human rights defenders and journalists in Iraq receive training in Safety and Digital Security

April 29, 2019

To strengthen the resilience of Iraqi women journalists and women human rights defenders against online and offline gender-based attacks, Internews conducts workshops and other activities that focus on digital and physical security:

Iraq is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists according to Reporters without Borders, ranking 160 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. Women journalists and activists in Iraq have a particularly difficult time due to online threats and attacks that adversely affect their ability to express themselves freely and advocate effectively. Women have witnessed an escalation in online abuse over the past few years, not just in numbers, but also in methods and sophistication. The risk of harassment and gender-based attacks online is not limited to the digital space as research has shown that online abuse and stalking often escalate into real world physical violence if left unaddressed.

In an interview with The New Arab, Hala ‘Asif, a 24-year-old journalist working as a correspondent for the channel NRT in Baghdad, noted that, “Foreign journalists often investigate political affairs in Iraq, which sometimes is impossible for us to cover as it would be too dangerous and would prevent us from working safely in our country. I would like to go to other provinces in Iraq and carry out investigations about relevant issues, but as a young woman it would cost too much to take care of my safety.”

To address the issue of women’s safety in Iraq, Internews, with funding from the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), is using a multi-pronged approach – building local networks, coordinating advocacy, and conducting targeted journalism trainings on gender-sensitive issues. Internews’ program, Women Voices (Aswat Al-Maraa), aims to challenge societal attitudes that stigmatize survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) by supporting journalists and women human rights defenders to shed light on sensitive issues through coordinated reporting and advocacy. The program works with female Iraqi journalists and media outlets to create a nationwide coalition of women journalists and human rights defenders to strengthen their resilience against gender-based attacks and build the capacity of journalists to report on sensitive human rights and SGBV.

Within the Women’s Voices project, Internews has conducted so far two training-of-trainers (TOT) workshops that focus on the digital and physical security of the project participants. Through a peer-to-peer program, TOT trainees have trained eighty women from Erbil, Najaf, and Halabja how to protect themselves from threats online and in their everyday lives.

….Another participant, from the Erbil workshop, said, “Females often have to face extreme scrutiny of their presence online, and are threatened with death in some instances for photos posted online without family consent or that are considered inappropriate; these kinds of workshops are incredibly important for every female in this country.”

To support the voices and participation of women in some of the world’s most challenging places, Internews’ MENA team ensures the implementation of digital as well as a physical security trainings in all of its projects across the region. ​

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/09/defenddefenders-launched-new-security-manual-for-human-rights-defenders-in-africa/

https://reliefweb.int/report/iraq/uplifting-voices-women-supporting-their-physical-safety-and-digital-security

Human Rights Council: Reprisals instead of responses is the answer by many States

March 21, 2019

Room XX of the Human Rights Council

In two statements delivered to the 40th Session of the Human Rights Council, ISHR and Amnesty International reacted to the latest Joint Communications Report of the UN Special Procedures – independent human rights experts, appointed to monitor and report on human rights violations and to advise and assist in promoting and protecting rights. The report cites nine cases of reprisals against human rights defenders cooperating with the UN, and reveals that 95 states have not responded to letters from the UN experts concerning human rights violations.

There are two, related issues at stake here: (1) non-response to letters from the UN, and even worse (2) reprisals against human rights defenders who cooperate with the UN.

When I started my blog in 2010 (and one of the motivations) a main concern was the lack of response and enforcement [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2011/03/20/taking-on-non-response-this-bloggers-lone-response/ and : https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140603192912-22083774–crime-should-not-pay-in-the-area-of-international-human-rights ].

As Helen Nolan of ISHR explains, 35 States have recently failed to respond to two or more of these letters. 13 of these nations are members of the Council. ‘Repeat offenders are a particular concern,’ says Nolan. India has failed to reply to a staggering 8 communications, Mexico 6, Italy 5, and Bangladesh and Nepal 4 each.’ Nolan emphasises that a failure to reply is a failure to cooperate, and welcomes the fact that the recently published report of the Annual Meeting of Special Procedures focuses on non-cooperation, including ‘more subtle forms’, such as selective cooperation with particular mandates. ‘To encourage cooperation, the Council must make non-cooperation more costly,’ says Nolan. ‘We urge the President of the Council to work closely with the Coordinating Committee of the Special Procedures to find ways to do this,‘ adds Nolan.

ISHR and Amnesty International’s second statement noted that under GA Resolution 60/251, Council members must ‘fully cooperate with the Council.’ Yet, the report cites nine cases of reprisals involving these members:

  • China sought to revoke the Society for Threatened Peoples’ ECOSOC status after vexatiously alleging that a person accredited by them, Dolkun Isa, participated in incitement and funding of separatism and terrorism, in retaliation for cooperation with the UN;
  • Egypt carried out forced evictions, and violations of the rights to physical integrity, liberty and security against individuals who cooperated with the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing during her recent visit;
  • Iraq carried out unlawful arrest, enforced disappearance and torture against Imad Al Tamimi and intimidated and threatened Israa Al Dujaili for cooperating with the UN;
  • Libya arrested an individual in retaliation for taking steps to clarify the fate and whereabouts of his father, including with UN mechanisms;
  • The Philippines labeled defenders “terrorists” in reprisal for their engagement with the UN;
  • Russia surveilled, intimidated and harassed Yana Tannagasheva and her husband, for speaking out about impacts of coal mining on indigenous people in Siberia and in possible reprisal for their communication with UN mechanisms;
  • Turkmenistan carried out reprisals against a defender and her husband for her cooperation with the UN; and
  • In Yemen, forces loyal to President Hadi and the Saudi-led coalition detained human rights defenders Radhya Al-Mutawakel and Abdulrasheed Al-Faqih for cooperating with the UN.

‘We call on the President of the Council to request updates on the cases from Iraq, Libya, Russia, Turkmenistan and Yemen, as there has been no response from the States concerned,’ said Nolan. For an older post on reprisals, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/

Full text of the first statement (on failure to reply) available here.

Full text of the second statement (on cases of reprisals) available here.

You can also watch the videos of the statements via the link below:

Women Human Rights Defenders in Iraq have to live dangerously

January 7, 2019

Activist Hana Adwar speaks as she follows online news of the the assassination of Tara Fares in Baghdad. (AP)
Activist Hana Adwar (AP)

Human rights activism is a risky business in the Middle East in general but it is more so in Iraq where female activists have been targeted, wrote Oumayma Omar on 6 January 2019, based in Baghdad for the Arab Weekly. A series of killings in 2018 sparked fears of a coordinated campaign to silence successful and outspoken women in Iraq. In August and September 2018, four prominent women were assassinated, including activist Soad al-Ali in Basra and Tara Fares in Baghdad. They had campaigned for women’s freedoms and rights in a conservative, tribal society.

The new political situation in Iraq has been detrimental on all Iraqis, especially women,” said Yanar Mohammed, president of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) from self-exile in Canada.. “After the US-led invasion (2003), a new political system was created leading to a most sectarian, tribal and religious society where women’s lives don’t have much weight.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/01/iraqi-human-rights-defender-yanar-mohammed-laureate-of-2016-rafto-prize/]

Discriminatory practices against women have become a fait accompli and the norm in Iraqi families in rural areas as well as big cities, including Baghdad, after the rise to power of Islamist parties. “They introduced extremist religious ideas based on hatred for women and viewing them as sexual and reproductive tools,” added the human rights defender…Despite intimidations and accusations of promoting secularism and encouraging women to go against their families, OWFI, which provides shelters for women who survive domestic violence, has been expanding since it was established in 2003.

Activist Hana Addour, president of Al-Amal organisation, said entrenched tribal values are still largely applied although Iraq has endorsed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stipulates freedoms of expression, movement, opinion and the right to choose a partner without force or intimidation……She refuted as “baseless” accusations that activists were provoking women against social traditions. “We did not import our ideas and we do not contest customs or religious texts,” Addour said. “We only seek to implement the constitution by rejecting forced and early marriages and many other matters that we cannot accept under any pretext.”

Breaking News: see which other awards the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates won already

October 5, 2018

The Nobel Prize for Peace 2018 winners: Yazidi survivor Nadia Mural (L) and Denis Mukwege
Nobel Peace Prize for anti-rape activists Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege – Image copyright EPA

You do not have it hear it through me as most mainstream media carry the news (here the BBC with elaborate information) that the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize has gone to campaigners against rape in warfare, Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege. After the controversy created around some of the recent laureates, these two are safe bets as both have been recognized widely:

Ms Murad is an Iraqi Yazidi who was tortured and raped by Islamic State militants and later became the face of a campaign to free the Yazidi people. She found recognition from at least two earlier awards:

Dr Mukwege is a Congolese gynaecologist who, along with his colleagues, has treated tens of thousands of victims. He received wide recognition with 8 international human rights awards:

  • 2008   United Nations Prizes in the Field of Human Rights
  • 2009   Olof Palme Prize
  • 2010   Wallenberg Medal (University of Michigan)
  • 2011   King Baudouin International Development Prize
  • 2013   Civil Courage Prize
  • 2013   Human Rights First Award
  • 2013   Right Livelihood Award
  • 2014   Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/04/12/profile-denis-mukwege-democratic-republic-of-congo-courageous-doctor-rape-women/

Ms Murad, 25, dedicated the award to her mother, who was killed by the Islamic State (IS) militants who overran their home in 2014. Ms Murad described her escape in a BBC interview in 2016, detailing how the women who were held captive were treated by IS.

Dr Mukwege was operating at his hospital when he heard he had won the prize. He dedicated his award to all women affected by sexual violence. He lives under the permanent protection of UN peacekeepers at his hospital and has also previously called for a tougher line on rape as a weapon of war.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45759221

 

see also: https://dansmithsblog.com/2018/10/08/the-nobel-peace-prize-and-sexual-violence-in-war/

Collecting human rights prize, Yazidi lawmaker calls Trump’s travel ban ‘unfair’

February 9, 2017

Iraqi lawmaker Vian Dakhil speaks after receiving the Lantos Human Rights Prize at a Capitol Hill ceremony on Feb. 8, 2017. RNS photo Adelle M. Banks

Iraqi lawmaker Vian Dakhil at the Lantos Human Rights Prize ceremony, 8 February  2017 – RNS photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last week I wrote about an award-winning human rights defender not being able to come and collect her award in the USA [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/01/yazidi-human-rights-laureate-may-be-banned-from-coming-to-washington-to-accept-award/].  Vian Dakhil made it to Washington in the end. She had already received a visa to come to Washington to accept an award from the Tom Lantos Foundation when President Donald Trump’s executive order pausing immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq, was issued. After an arduous process involving the State Department and the Iraqi Embassy, she was granted an exemption to the travel ban so she could attend the award ceremony on 8 February. Her sister and translator was able to get a visa after a federal judge temporarily halted the implementation of the executive order. Read the rest of this entry »

Sakharov Prize 2016 went ultimately to two Yazidi women

November 1, 2016

 On 26 October it was announced that Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar are the 2016 laureates of the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought although Crimean Tatar Mustafa Dzhemilev was in the lead.

Nadia Murad Basee Taha and Lamiya Aji Bashar are survivors of sexual enslavement by Islamic State (IS) and have become spokespersons for women afflicted by IS’s campaign of sexual violence. They are public advocates for the Yazidi community in Iraq, a religious minority that has been the subject of a genocidal campaign by IS militants.

On 3 August 2014, IS slaughtered all the males in the village of Kocho, Aji Bashar and Murad’s hometown in Sinjar/Iraq. Following the massacre, women and children were enslaved: all young women, including Aji Bashar, Murad and their sisters were kidnapped, bought and sold several times and exploited as sex slaves. During the Kocho massacre, Murad lost six of her brothers and her mother, who was killed along with 80 older women deemed to have no sexual value. Aji Bashar was also exploited as a sex slave along with her six sisters. She was sold five times among the militants and was forced to make bombs and suicide vests in Mosul after IS militants executed her brothers and father.

In November 2014, Murad managed to escape with the help of a neighbouring family who smuggled her out of the IS-controlled area, allowing her to make her way to a refugee camp in northern Iraq and then to Germany. A year later, in December 2015, Murad addressed the UN Security Council’s first-ever session on human trafficking with a powerful speech about her experience. In September 2016, she became the first United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking, participating in global and local advocacy initiatives to raise awareness around the plight of the countless victims of trafficking. In October 2016, the Council of Europe honoured her with the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/yazidi-survivor-nadia-murad-wins-vaclav-havel-human-rights-prize-2016/]

Aji Bashar tried to flee several times before finally escaping in April with the help of her family, who paid local smugglers. On her way over the Kurdish border, and while racing towards Iraq’s government-controlled territory with IS militants in pursuit, a landmine exploded, killing two of her acquaintances and leaving her injured and almost blind. Luckily she managed to escape and was eventually sent for medical treatment in Germany, where she was reunited with her surviving siblings. Since her recovery Aji Bashar has been active in raising awareness about the plight of the Yazidi community and continues to help women and children who were victims of IS enslavement and atrocities.

However, UNPO reports that there is some controversy over the decision as Crimean Tatar politician and human rights activist Mustafa Dzhemilev seemed to have had a majority in the first round.  This may lead to questions about interpreting its procedures (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sakharovprize/en/home/how-it-works.html). See also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/european-parliaments-sakharov-prize-2016-nominees-announced/

Sources:

Sakharov Prize

http://www.unpo.org/article/19602

Yazidi survivor Nadia Murad wins Vaclav Havel human rights prize 2016

October 18, 2016

Nadia Murad in Strasbourg accepting her award from the Council of Europe

  • Nadia Murad was one of thousands of Yazidi women and girls captured and enslaved by Islamic State in August 2014 – copyright EPA

Iraqi human rights defender Nadia Murad was awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize by the Council of Europe (prize money 60,000 euro). She is a Yazidi woman who was tortured and raped by Islamic State (IS).  The 23-year-old was bought and sold several times, and subjected to sexual and physical abuse at the hands of the jihadists.

Nadia Murad became the face of a campaign to free the Yazidi people and stop human trafficking after escaping IS in November 2014. Miss Murad, who was named a United Nations goodwill ambassador in September, called for the creation of an international court to judge crimes committed by IS extremists in her acceptance speech in Strasbourg. She went on to brand IS’s attack on the Yazidi a “genocide“, adding: “The free world is not reacting.”

 see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/05/19/conversation-yanar-mohammed-trafficking-iraq-global-fund-for-women/

and

https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/10/02/88-year-old-russian-human-rights-defender-received-2015-vaclav-havel-prize/

Source: Yazidi survivor Nadia Murad wins human rights award – BBC News

Conversation with Yanar Mohammed on trafficking in Iraq

May 19, 2016

The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq focuses on protecting women’s human rights, including fighting against trafficking of women and girls, and operates six safe houses for women survivors of violence. The Global Fund for Women interviewed its President, Yanar Mohammed who speaks about her work and the impact from the conflict with ISIS.

Yanar, you’ve been an activist and a defender of women’s rights in Iraq for over 13 years. What do you think are the main challenges women in Iraq are facing right now?
We focused in the last year on working against trafficking in women and girls and expanding a new network, the Network of Anti-Trafficking of Women in Iraq. We started the network in 2013, barely nine months before ISIS began gaining ground in Iraq. As ISIS grew, they started their attacks against women in the north of Iraq, including against the women of Yazidi faith. They trafficked them in broad daylight.

Trafficking in women and girls is now a tactic used by opposing groups in instances of sectarian violence in Iraq. Women and girls are looked upon as the representatives of a community’s honor, and so the sexual exploitation of women and girls belonging to a certain community is seen as the most effective way to humiliate and break it. Unfortunately, it is therefore not a surprise that the so-called Islamic State, ISIS, as a Sunni group, has targeted non-Sunni Muslim women and girls such as Shi’a Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis. Retaliations ensue and wars are led on women’s bodies.

When ISIS began to enslave women, we found that this was the time when we should rise to the occasion and highlight the issue of trafficking in society and the government. This is an issue that needs to be addressed by laws, practices, programs, and by some understanding from the society as to what it means that a woman gets compromised, gets exploited, and gets enslaved. So we set up this network, which is now about 40 NGOs working together on the issue. We began to talk about trafficking in women and girls, especially sexual exploitation, and address it as something that’s not only happening under ISIS but also happening in Iraq more broadly, without anybody daring to give it any importance.

Beyond ISIS, orphans and widows of war in Iraq who are extremely impoverished have fallen prey to sexual exploitation. They are being used and exploited and violated daily in Iraq, without anybody thinking of it as a human rights issue. So this is our focus; we have decided we will work on this until we get the government to pass laws that make the suffering of these women less, and also that open the way for us to protect the women from this kind of violence.

Is there any legislation right now against trafficking?
We demanded that the government pass a law for the financial support of Yazidi women when they step out of their enslavement. When they come back to areas of Iraq that are not under ISIS control, they should be compensated just like prisoners of war for the sufferings they went through. And we were so happy when it took only a few months and the Iraqi government decided to give monthly stipends for survivors in May 2015. That was the first success of the network. At the time nobody else had demanded this kind of support for ISIS survivors, so we felt that we were on the right track and that we should proceed to the rest of our demands that we needed in order to address violence against women.

What would you say is the level of public awareness around the issue of trafficking?
We have struggled a lot to make many words and terms debatable in our society—to remove the taboo. I will give you an example: in 2003 when we began to talk about honor killings and how it needs to stop, everybody was disgusted with us and saying that women’s groups should refrain from speaking about taboo and sexual issues, and that we do not address women’s rights in a way that they find acceptable. It took us almost 5 years to make discussion of honor killings a mainstream argument. Now when you go to Iraq, the issue of honor killing has become such a regular thing to talk about. There are so many NGOs that are standing against it, talking about it, are lobbying against it. Whenever we have an issue like this, we find ourselves the first ones on the front lines to address it until, it becomes a mainstream argument. Now as we talk about trafficking and discuss sexual exploitation of women and girls this issue is a very taboo and difficult issue to address.

How many women and girls in Iraq are at risk of being trafficked?
The dilemma of displacement in Iraq is huge because of ISIS. The number of displaced people is two million, going to three million. Most of these are women, because the men are either in the Iraqi army fighting ISIS or have been recruited into militias also heading to fight ISIS, or stuck in the cities defending them. It may be impossible to give the exact number, but we can estimate that out of the 1.5 million women who are displaced, half of them are between ages 16 and 30—the biggest age group at risk of trafficking. So I would say not less than 100,000 women are being trafficked at this point in Iraq.

So the political instability caused by ISIS is increasing the threat of trafficking for women and girls, even if ISIS is not doing the trafficking directly.
Yes. ISIS has created the most ugly reality of trafficking, where they defend it as a religious right. They say it is their right to enslave the “spoils of war” who are not of Muslim faith. They describe them as faithless and as less of human beings whose enslavement makes them better, makes them closer to Islam. ISIS has brought an example that has totally shocked the region and shocked it in a way as to taking us back to a time when people had no human rights, basically. And they are trying to make it a fact to force on the people of Iraq, Syria, and maybe other places if they are allowed to expand.

Can you tell me about the shelters that your group runs?
Our shelters are currently keeping safe women who survive trafficking. They are also getting educated; our shelters are not only a place for women to rest and be safe, they are also schools for social transformation for women to turn from victims into defenders of women. We only had one shelter until 2008; since then we have expanded to have six shelters all over the country. We also have a pipeline from the southern city of Busra, to direct violated women to our shelters in Baghdad. And we have many supporters in the network of the 40-plus NGOs, who are our eyes and ears in more than nine cities in Iraq and are guiding women who are in need of shelter to us. I like to put it in a very short story: our organization was able to spread its wings over most of the Iraqi cities in the last few years.

However, the Iraqi government is not facilitating our undertaking of women into our shelters. And it boils down to one point—we need a piece of legislation from the Iraqi government to provide legal status to shelters that are run by NGOs or other private sector groups. Although the government does not have a law that says that our shelters are illegal, they do have a law that allows the ministry of social affairs to determine if they should stay open. So some of the tribal and misogynist officials did tell us in the past that we are doing an illegal thing, but they did not shut us down.

So, although we are protecting women from trafficking and domestic violence and all that—although we are doing the duty of the government, the duty the government is not taking seriously and do not want to move on, and although they should be supporting us and applauding us for doing their job, in reality they confront us, telling us that our sheltering of women is promoting promiscuity, that it is encouraging women to go against their families and have full sexual freedoms and come stay in our shelters. So some governmental officials have intimidated us in the past, telling us we are doing something illegal, when we are protecting women.

What can the international community do to help Iraqi women be empowered and experience less violence?
We are asking the international community to ask the legal committee in the Iraqi parliament to legislate for the legal status of our shelters. Letters that are addressed to the Iraqi parliament—and specifically to the legal committee of the Iraqi parliament—asking them to legislate for the legal status of women’s shelters that are run by the NGOs. This would be a great help to us.

Would you say that action now is especially important to protect women? Is right now a critical moment?
Right now is a very critical moment because ISIS is at the point where it can be defeated. It has lost the social support of those among the Sunni groups in Western Iraq that were supporting it because people saw the atrocities that ISIS can commit against them. It is a very special moment in time to act against ISIS, but is the kind of action we are seeking a military one, where we have more US army in Iraq? No.

Our experiences of the last 13 years tell us that US intervention in Iraq never brought us anything good. It always has caused more deterioration. Now is the time to have a political intervention, and to ask the Iraqi government to stop its sectarian, politics that gave way to ISIS, as well as empower the Iraqi army so that they can regain the cities that were taken by ISIS.

What are some of the other forms of violence that women come up against in Iraq?
We have many kinds of violence we undergo, and we know what is making this kind of violence worse, which is Islamist extremist parties reaching power. Some of these parties have shown us a terrible example of what they want to bring to Iraq, including legislating for Jaafari law. This law allows the marriage of a 9-year-old girl to an adult man—in other words it legalizes pedophilia in Iraq. It also allows men to be polygamous, and allows for getting rid of wives if they are not sexually pleasant for husbands.

The amount of humiliating material in this law against women is incredible, and out of this era. It’s something that modern humanity cannot even bear to hear of. We must keep this legislation outside of parliament, because the law was not passed, but it is still waiting for us. The Islamist political parties are just waiting for some stability and for the moment when they feel stronger to bring back this legislation. And that would really be the end for Iraqi women.

Source: In Conversation: Yanar Mohammed on trafficking in Iraq – Global Fund for Women

Preview of Human Rights Defenders stuff at the upcoming Human Rights Council starting 15 June

June 12, 2015

The UN Human Rights Council will hold its 29th regular session at the United Nations in Geneva from 15 June to 3 July. Courtesy of the International Service for Human Rights, here is my selection of what is directly relevant to Human Rights Defenders: ISHR-logo-colour-high

– During the session, Norway, along with other States, will deliver a statement calling on all States to ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their vital work free from arbitrary detention and other restrictions. Read the rest of this entry »

Evîn Bagdu, international human rights expert, discusses Kurdish genocide claims

May 13, 2015

Rudaw is a Kurdish media network funded and supported by Rudaw Company. The network aims to impart news and information about Kurdistan and the Middle East in a professional manner.  Evîn Bagdu is  being interviewed about the issue of genocide and how the Kurdish case fits into this. A long but interesting read:

Evîn Bagdu, an international human rights  law expert.
Evîn Bagdu, an international human rights law expert.

“Rudaw: Why did the Halabja and Garmiyan mass murders not get the attention from the international community as much as the recently discovered Yezidi mass graves did?

Bagdu: In the history of the human rights movement, the issue of not getting enough attention for the suffering of victims of gross violations has always been a challenge, regardless of the character of the groups or scale of the suffering.  For instance, in Sierra Leone, the news items on the widely practiced mutilation of limbs by the child soldiers couldn’t make it to the big news agencies as it “was too difficult to watch.”

On the other hand, in many cases—historically speaking—while these gross violations and atrocities took place, the victims sometimes have been isolated from the rest of the world as the matter was considered an “internal issue.” So, the doctrine of state sovereignty is frequently used as a shield in such cases.  Examples include the Armenian case in 1915, Jewish case in 1940s, Kurdish case in the Saddam Era—all have this factor in common.

This was the case when the world was unaware of what was happening in these cases. Once a case does become known, the next challenge is how to get a reaction to stop the atrocities.  And, this is the part that is immensely frustrating not only to the human rights defenders alone, but to every human being with a clear conscience. The arguments often put forward are typically:

-The reaction would aggravate the situation and cause more severe suffering for the victims;

-It would be futile;

-It is not the right time for a reaction to the event in question;

-It is not in the national interest of state actors, or against the security of their people.

In fact, prior to the Nuremberg Trials, such systematic and purposeful killings did not even have the name “genocide,” let alone codification of it, as an international crime.

At this point, I believe it is necessary to see the difference between a couple concepts which are important to consider when discussing widespread human rights abuses.  Do the issues pose a moral, political or legal challenge?  As the nature of the issue is gravely inhumane, the first instinct is to approach the issue from the moral stand point.  This usually leads to a disappointment mentioned earlier.

In comparison of the Anfal campaign of 1986-89 to the recent atrocities of 2015 against the Yezidi population, we may also consider the political dimension.  There are undeniable political aspects at stake. But, when we think of other similar incidents of such massacres, the political environment surrounding the situations always differs.

In the Saddam era, there was an Iran/Iraq War, Saddam was a head of state enjoying certain immunities, and holding immense power to control any communication with the outside world.  Today, however, Iraq has a lot more international presence in the country, and media coverage is much more widespread. Therefore, flow of information regarding the facts of the case is easier.

In the Yezidi case, there is an international conflict carried out by a non-state actor against more than one state and the citizens thereof.  It is a conflict that many of the nations of the world see as a global threat to their common peace and security. So, the attention of the international community is more intense in the Yezidi case.  But this was the case in Srebrenica as well.

This brings us to the last concept; the legality.  There is a historic lesson for the Kurds too that needs to be taken from each one of the past gross human rights violations against civilian populations. Other nations have used international legal mechanisms to address the harm done in the past.  It of course is important to get political recognition by states, and in the Anfal case Iraq itself recognized the case as genocide.

But genocide is a crime under international law and such recognition must come from the international courts.  It needs to be investigated, evidence that could clearly substantiate the facts needs to be obtained and then utilized by the court.   But if not proven through the standard, fair, legal processes, by impartial courts, all these events will continue to be referred to as alleged “atrocities,” “campaigns,” and “gross human rights and humanitarian law violations.”  If not thoroughly dealt with, the perpetrators will go free and there will always be a lesson for them that they could get away with it.  The phrase “never again” will turn into “always possible.” This is important, because it relates to the rule of law commitments, it sheds unbiased light on history and more importantly it brings justice therefore some closure to the survivors of such horrible events.
   
Rudaw: Could these mass graves serve as something Kurds could use to get attention to their identity and issues revolving around recognition of their identity?

Bagdu: I will hold my criticism of the usage of terms such as “mass graves” or “martyrs” to refer to certain topics in Iraq for another time (I am saying in Iraq because such usage is not specific to the Kurds only).  What you are asking me is I believe, if Kurds could change the game in their favor by bringing these issues to international attention.  My answer is, absolutely yes! 

The reason there is such an emphasis on proving the genocide is that it is an internationally recognized form of a crime that could only be committed against a group because of the group’s identity.  It does provide a picture to the background of these identity issues, for example: 
 
-how difficult it is to have such identity under regimes which violate their citizens’ human rights (and especially minorities’ rights);

-how to properly observe rights based on group identity;

-to what degree safeguards are provided and needed for the protection and continuity of these identities, and so on and so forth.
 
The current conflict itself is telling so much about this.  While the whole world “absolutely again” is watching or passing resolutions, or in better cases “providing support” while this armed group was making advances into what is called “Iraqi cities,” in the north, it was the Peshmerga and the Kurdish fighters that were defending the civilians and the land. Other armed forces in Iraq simply fled, leaving even their arms behind.

When studying the subject of “indigenous populations’ rights,” the idea of attachment to the land was one element that captured my attention that differed from the ties citizens of modern states hold to the land they live on. To me, these things we have seen in the most recent conflict have demonstrated this phenomenon very well.

Rudaw: Jewish people were also the victims of the genocide by the Nazis and this helped them to get support from the world to help realize their cause.  Why couldn’t the Kurds turn these mass murders into an element to help their suffering get recognition?

Bagdu: To be fair to the Kurds, once there was an opportunity to act, they have done almost everything in their capacity to address their issues.  For instance, regarding Anfal and Halabja after the fall of Saddam, and the emergence of post-Saddam Iraq, Kurds have invested in every aspect of addressing the mass killings and the missing person issue throughout Iraq as a whole. At the time of the Coalition Provisional Authority, they assisted with reconnaissance and exhumation of mass graves and the identification of remains. 

There was a law necessary to address the issue, and they drafted a simpler version of the missing persons law (The Law on Protection of Mass Graves).  A ministry needed to serve as a leading institution, and they held two important ministry seats (namely, the human rights ministry and the foreign ministry) in the national parliament.  They worked with the leading international organization on missing persons issues to duplicate successful practices around the world, (a work still in progress as we speak).

But since you are making a comparison between the Kurdish efforts and the Jewish efforts in addressing the mass murders against their populations, allow me to highlight a couple differences. 

The Jewish Diaspora consisted of very well educated, very committed individuals who did everything in their personal capacity to inform the world of what happened to their people.  In fact, it was because of work done by a Jewish lawyer that genocide took a codified form in statutes.  Even the word genocide was pioneered by Raphael Lemkin. Also, after the atrocities ceased, many of the survivors personally got involved in the hunt for concentration camp guards, military commanders and decision makers in the Nazi army in order for them to be tried before national and international tribunals.

Kurds also have a diaspora scattered around the world.  So, in this sense I believe while the Kurds on the ground are fighting to stop the atrocities, the Kurdish diaspora must assume responsibility to inform the world of the wrong done to their people, as well as documenting and investigating the cases as much as possible.  In the Kurdish case it is worth noting that such efforts have been undermined in the past by states that oppressed their Kurdish populations, and neighboring countries where Kurds live in large numbers. This might remain the case for future attempts as well.”

Rudaw interview with Evîn Bagdu, an international human rights.