Human Rights WatchWorld Report ContentsDownloadPrintOrderHRW Homepage

World map Iraq
Iraq - HRW World Report 99 in Arabic



Europe and Central Asia

Middle East and North Africa

Special Issues and Campaigns

United States


Children’s Rights

Women’s Human Rights


Human Rights Developments
The Iraqi government continued to engage in a broad array of human rights violations, including mass arrests, torture, summary executions, “disappearances,” and forced relocations. In Iraqi Kurdistan armed Kurdish political parties and Iraqi security forces were also responsible for a wide variety of human rights violations, including the arbitrary detention of suspected political opponents, torture, and extrajudicial executions. The United Nations economic sanctions against Iraq entered their ninth year. The Security Council’s resolution 1153 increased the amount of oil Iraq could export to meet humanitarian needs, but the public health crisis facing the Iraqi population continued.

Human Rights Developments in Government-Controlled Iraq
Opposition groups in exile and the U.N. reported mass arrests and summary executions of detainees. U.N. Special Rapporteur for Iraq Max van der Stoel reported that in November and December 1997 the government executed more that 1,500 political detainees in Abu Ghraib and Radwaniyah prisons as part of the “Prison Cleansing Campaign” following visits there by Qusay Saddam Hussein, the president’s son. All prisoners with sentences of more than fifteen to twenty years were reportedly summarily executed and some of the bodies returned to families were said to have shown signs of torture. The Tehran-based Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) reported a mass execution of sixty people in February and claimed one hundred detainees at Radhwaniya prison were “buried alive,” but did not identify any of the alleged victims by name or provide other information to support the charge. The London-based Iraqi Communist Party reported the execution in May of thirty-five Shi’a prisoners, originally arrested during a failed uprising in 1991. These and similar reports could not be verified due to Iraqi’s restriction on travel, free expression, and contacts with foreigners.

No details were available about the fate of the approximately 16,500 people reported “disappeared” in the last ten years, mainly ethnic Kurds and Shi’as but including the approximately 600 Kuwaitis reported to have been in Iraqi custody but unaccounted for since the 1991 Gulf War. Although the Iraqi government claimed that it had established a committee to deal with the issue, little information was available about its activities and Iraq did not allow the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to visit the country.

The repression of the southern Shi’a population continued. Tehran-based SCIRI reported a government campaign of house burning intended to suppress resistance in the southern marshes. Two Shi’a clerics, one an Iranian, were killed in April and June. The Iranian, Ayatollah Ali al-Gharavi, had an extensive following in the southern region, and had been threatened by government officials in the past. The government conducted no public investigation and prohibited a funeral procession or any public mourning.

Freedom of the press and expression were suppressed. Iraq’s major media outlets, including national television, radio, and the main newspapers were government owned and private media was subjected to strict control and severe penalties. Dawoud al-Farhan, a prominent journalist, was arrested in August and detained for two months after writing columns that hinted at government corruption. Most foreign publications and the ownership of satellite dishes were banned.

The U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 (1991) sustained the economic sanctions against Iraq, now in their ninth year following Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Sanctions remained in the face of Iraq's refusal to comply with conditions for their lifting made in the resolution, including the destruction of its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons program and allowing unobstruced investigations of possible weapons sites. In September the Security Council’s resolution 1194 responded to Iraq’s suspension of cooperation with the United Nations Special Commission and International Atomic Energy Agency weapon’s inspectors by removing the periodic sixty day review of Iraqi compliance with U.N. conditions for the lifting of sanctions, rendering them effectively indefinite. The sanctions contributed to a massive public health crisis, marked by malnutrition, increasing levels of infant mortality, and the reemergence of eradicated diseases.

The approval process for humanitarian contracts under resolution 986 (1995), which allowed the annual sale of $4 billion of oil for the purchase of food supplies, continued to be problematic, with the Iraqi government maintaining its opposition to U.N. conditions. In September, the executive director of the U.N. Office of the Iraq Program, Benon Seran, reported that the calorie level of foodstuffs per day was 2,000, up from 1,300 to 1,400 calories per person when the enhanced distribution program started in 1995. Denis Halliday, the U.N. relief coordinator for Iraq, resigned in July and made statements highly critical of the long-term sanctions policy. In September, at a news conference in the U.S., Halliday said he felt unhappy that the U.N. was responsible for implementing trade sanctions at the same time it operated a humanitarian programme, and that the imposition of sanctions does not impact on governance effectively and instead it damages the innocent people of the country.”

In February the Security Council passed resolution 1153, allowing Iraq to export $5.26 billion in oil every six months, up from the previous $2 billion under the original “oil-for-food” resolution 986 (1995). However, Iraqi oil fields, already derelict and damaged during the Gulf War, reportedly could not produce more than $3 billion of oil during a 180-day period. In late June the Security Council authorized Iraq to import the parts and equipment needed to increase its exports to meet the $5.26 billion target. A group of U.N.-sponsored oil experts surveyed Iraqi oil fields during this time and reported that even if the spare parts were ordered immediately, Iraq would not be able to increase its export capacity until December 1998, and only then to $3.9 billion every six months. Iraq had not received any of the spare parts required by September. The low price of oil compounded Iraq’s difficulty in increasing its export revenues.

The limited number of U.N. monitors allowed into the country, as well as infrastructural problems such as fuel shortages, made it difficult for monitors to determine if distribution of humanitarian supplies was equitable. In some instances, the government used rations as a tool of political leverage upon the population. Male citizens were required to attend Ba’th Party “training centers” or forgo their food rations; one U.N. official described the purpose of the centers as creating “battalions of fighters.” In the southern marshes thousands of people were reportedly denied rations for alleged cooperation with the opposition.

UNICEF reported in October 1997 that one million children were chronically malnourished and that the death rate of children under five in 1996 was eight times greater than before the Gulf War. “What we are seeing is a dramatic deterioration in the nutritional well-being of Iraqi children since 1991,” said Philippe Heffinck, UNICEF representative in Baghdad. “And what concerns us now is that there is no sign of any improvement since Security Council resolution 986 came into force.” In September, former U.N. coordinator Denis Halliday observed that “4,000 to 5,000 children dying unnecessarily every month due to the impact of sanctions because of the breakdown of water and sanitation, inadequate diet and the bad internal health situation.”

According to Amnesty International the government’s “Arabization” policy in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk continued, as 1,468 Kurdish families were expelled to the Kurdish-controlled region in the north between 15 April and June. A number of relatives of the targeted families were apparently detained in preparation for the expulsion and the food rationing tickets as well as properties of the target families were reportedly confiscated by the Iraqi authorities.

Human Rights Developments in Iraqi Kurdistan
Iraqi Kurdistan remained under the control of the two main political factions, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Jalal Talabani, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, (KDP) headed by Masoud Barzani. The PUK-KDP rivalry and conflict increasingly hobbled the Kurdish-controlled region, which was also wracked by frequent Turkish military incursions targeting the bases of Workers Party of Kurdistan (PKK), in northern Iraq. The northern airspace was patrolled by the U.S. and the U.K. as part of the “no-fly zone” established after the Gulf War.

In November, undeterred by the U.S. policed no-fly zone, 2,000 Turkish troops launched an attack against the PKK, in KDP-controlled areas killing over 1,200 people and displacing thousands of civilians from their homes. Both Iraq and the PUK alleged that Turkey dropped napalm bombs in indiscriminative attacks on PUK areas during the offensive, resulting in civilian casualties. The Turkish army continued to attack the region at will during 1998.

The PUK-KDP fighting and Turkish military offensives resulted in a significant displacement of civilians, aggravating the region’s chronic humanitarian crisis. In one month alone at the end of 1997, 23,000 Kurds fled from the “safe-haven” into Turkey. Many ethnic Kurds were expelled from their homes because of presumed support for one party or the other or displaced from government-controlled Iraq due to the government’s “Arabization” policies. In August, institutions belonging to the Turkman minority in Irbil, including NGO and political party offices, were attacked by KDP fighters. Turkmen groups allege that these attacks were part of what they describe as “ethnic-cleansing” directed against this minority by the KDP. Relations between the Turkmans and the KDP were reported to improve after the KDP permitted Turkman institutions to reopen in early September and paid compensation for damage caused in the attacks. On September 18, Barzani and Tallabani met in Washington D.C. and agreed to new power sharing arrangements designed to put an end to factional fighting in the north.







Israel, The Occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Palestinian Authority Territories

Saudi Arabia





Copyright © 1999
Human RIghts Watch