In early February, Human Rights Watch published evidence suggesting Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) security forces carried out mass executions of possibly hundreds of Islamic State (also known as ISIS) suspects who surrendered to military forces in August 2017. The KRG has responded with a 24 page denial of our findings.
The KRG’s response is welcome and stands out in a region where many governments block access to human rights investigators, and refuse to engage with human rights groups. But the KRG ignores key aspects of our report and so far refuses to engage meaningfully with our findings.
For example, dozens of Iraqi families and 27 foreign women told us that between August 22 and 29, thousands surrendered to Peshmerga forces near Sahil al-Maliha. A video posted on various media outlets on August 30 shows Peshmerga forces lining up men and gathering women and children to the side in a desert area. Our report documents evidence – witness statements, satellite imagery, videos, and photographs – that at least some of the men who surrendered to the Peshmerga were later executed.
But the KRG flatly denies any ISIS fighters surrendered to Peshmerga forces in the area in late August, saying, “[t]he identified graves that the HRW report mentions in Badriya village are most likely the bodies of the ISIS fighters who were killed during war operations.”
Badriya village, however, is 33 kilometres from the nearest battleground at that time. And the response also ignores photographic evidence showing at least 20 bodies of men – all shot in the head, according to the photographer. Based on metadata, we were able to confirm the photos were taken on August 29, 460 meters from the mass grave we uncovered near Badriya village.
The KRG has taken the positive step of establishing a committee to investigate our findings, but they haven’t responded to our offer to meet with the group. And no apparent steps have been taken to protect the evidence in the mass grave near Badriya from the threat of seasonal flooding.
If the KRG’s willingness to respond to our reports represents a genuine interest to investigate abuses, this committee should be willing to meet with us and other parties with evidence related to these killings and publicly report on their findings – including what punitive measures, if any, have been taken against perpetrators. It should also push for exhumations by international forensic experts to determine the fate of the buried men.