ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Human rights concerns in the Kurdistan Region were flagged in the areas of freedom of movement, freedom of expression, the detainment of terrorism suspects and capital punishment by Amnesty International in its 2016-17 annual report.
Press and freedoms of expression in the Kurdistan Region were under the scrutiny of politicians last year, according to the Amnesty report published on Wednesday.
“Media workers, activists and politicians critical of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) faced harassment and threats and some were expelled from Erbil governorate,” Amnesty stated.
Additionally, the report pointed to the death of Wedad Hussein, a journalist working for a publication supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the European Union, Turkey and the United States.
Rudaw was told by his family that Hussein had been questioned by Kurdish security forces, the Asayesh, several times because of his alleged affiliation with the PKK.
“The body bore injuries indicating that he had been tortured, including deep lacerations to the head,” Amnesty reported.
Ali’s family wrote a letter in September asking the United Nations and the international community to look into the allegations of torture.
Duhok security services have denied any connection with Hussein’s murder.
“We have no connection with that incident whatsoever,” a Duhok security official told Rudaw in August. “On the contrary, we are very concerned about what happened because it affects the security situation here.”
The report also listed the detention of Bassema Darwish as a concern. Darwish had been jailed by Kurdish security forces since October 2014 after suspicion of complicity in the killing of the three Peshmerga fighters in 2014 by ISIS while she was held in captivity by the militants.
On Tuesday, Darwish was released from custody after a judge ruled that her earlier statements had been taken under duress from the Kurdish security forces, and were therefore inadmissible.
Amnesty said Kurdish security forces have prevented in particular Sunni Arabs from travelling freely.
“Relatives of suspected IS fighters were barred from returning and some had their homes deliberately destroyed or appropriated,” cited the report by Amnesty, which aims for all people “to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.”
The Kurdistan Region and its Peshmerga forces have been defending its areas against ISIS fighters, who were only kilometers away from entering the capital city of Erbil in 2014.
“Peshmerga and other Kurdish security forces also prevented tens of thousands of Arab residents of KRG-controlled areas, displaced by the conflict, from returning home,” according to the report.
On the topic of capital punishment, Amnesty noted that courts in Kurdistaan “continued to pass death sentences for terrorism-related offences; no executions were carried out.”
Dindar Zebari, chairperson of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports, told Rudaw on Wednesday he would respond to Amnesty’s report within 24 hours.
For the rest of Iraq, whose security forces have also been in conflict with ISIS, Amnesty fingered government forces, ISIS itself, and PMUs for human rights abuses.
“Government forces, paramilitary militias and the armed group Islamic State (IS) committed war crimes, other violations of international humanitarian law and gross human rights abuses in the internal armed conflict,” the report stated.
The mostly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries were officially brought under the umbrella of the Iraqi army in December. They were established under a religious decree by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country’s top Shiite cleric in the summer of 2014 when ISIS captured several provinces.
Amnesty cited a June 3 incident in which PMUs were alleged to have abducted an estimated 1,300 men and boys north of Fallujah, adding that an investigative found 49 had been killed “by being shot, tortured or burned to death.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi established a committee to investigate the alleged abuses, but the outcome has not been disclosed.
Another organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW), sent a letter to the prime minister urging him to prevent the PMUs in the offensive to liberate Mosul last fall, citing the Fallujah abuses in June. HRW also asked for accountability on behalf of arms suppliers including the United States.
Hashd has primarily been involved in recapturing areas surrounding the city of Mosul since the offensive began on Oct. 17.
Discrimination against women in Iraq was described by Amnesty as “in law and practice,” and many males of fighting age were “held for days or months often in dire conditions.”
The whereabouts of thousands Yezidis, including women and girls, in ISIS captivity was highlighted by Amnesty.
“An estimated 3,500 Yazidis captured in Iraq remained in IS captivity in Iraq and Syria and were subjected to rape and other torture, assault and enslavement,” the report summarized.
“We have confirmed knowledge of 1,597 females and 1,986 males who are still in ISIS captivity and who are identified as Yezidis,” said Boshra Ubaidi, the Iraqi Human Rights Committee spokeswoman said in 2014.
Rudaw has reported on ongoing efforts by the Kurdistan Regional Government and the mayor of the Yezidi epicenter of Shingal to return home those Yezidis displaced by ISIS violence, including a planned conference next month in Duhok.
The report described Turkey over the past year as where “the region’s most tumultuous developments took place.”
It highlighted that after the coup attempt in July, “Hundreds of media outlets and NGOs were closed down and journalists, academics and MPs were arrested as the crackdown progressively moved beyond the nexus of the coup and weaved in other dissenters and pro-Kurdish voices.”
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that it was important to distinguish between those journalists who were being "critical" versus "getting involved in the coup plot” earlier in February.
"So many people have been arrested [in Turkey] because they actively supported the [July 15] coup attempt, and some people used the media as a propaganda tool,” he added.
For Iran, the report highlighted “Floggings, amputations and other cruel punishments continued to be applied. Members of religious and ethnic minorities faced discrimination and persecution.”
A Rudaw columnist described the situation of imprisoned Kurdish human rights activist Mohammad Seddigh Kaboudvand in January 2016 after images emerged of him on a hunger strike.
“He has been summoned to the Judiciary thrice and each time charged with a new accusation,” his wife Parinaz Baghban Hassani said.
Kabouvand was imprisoned in 2007 and sentenced to 10 years and half on the charge of posing “a threat against national security and publication of a magazine entitled Payam e Mardom “the Message of People.”
The report labelled human rights abuses in war-torn Syria as "gross" and "without impunity."
Non-state armed groups backed by the Syrian government, Russia, Turkey, the United States, Iran, and other countries were all flagged for reported abuses in Syria.
Additionally the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its winged arm of the People's Protoction Units (YPG) were highlighted for alleged abuses including "the forced recruitment of 12 children by the Asayesh."
Source : Rudaw