Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


Human Rights Developments
Human rights conditions in the Kurdish controlled region of Iraqi Kurdistan continued to deteriorate during 1995. Thousands of civilians fell victim to the internal fighting that plagued northern Iraq throughout the year.

In December 1994, armed skirmishes between the two principal parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), broke a tenuous cease-fire. Fighting continued into 1995, concentrated around Erbil, seat of the Kurdistan Regional Authority. Eventually Erbil fell entirely under the control of the PUK.

Another cease-fire brought the heaviest fighting to an end in March. In June, both the KDP and the PUK showed some progress in reconciliation, but in July, the cease-fire was broken and armed hostilities resumed.

In March, the Turkish military launched a major operation sending 35,000 troops into northern Iraq in search of rebels of the Turkish Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). This unprecedented deep incursion triggered human rights concerns and a call on Turkey to abide by the standards set out in the Geneva Conventions. Rejecting the applicability of the conventions, Turkey stated it only targeted PKK rebels; however, Kurdish civilians from both Turkey and Iraq were casualties in the fighting. After completing a full withdrawal in May, the Turkish military invaded again in July and withdrew soon afterwards.

Compounding difficulties caused by fighting between the Kurdish parties and the invasion of northern Iraq by Turkey, the Iraqi military launched attacks along the southern area of the "safe zone" in March. In addition, there were persistent reports of Iraqi government agents acting in northern Iraq, using thallium sulfide poison against political opponents. In January, members of the Iraqi National Congress in northern Iraq reportedly became ill from thallium poisoning and one died before receiving sufficient treatment. In August, it was reported that seven persons affiliated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq were poisoned in the village of Maidana; one died.

On February 11, Dr. Sa'di Barzanji, a professor of law at the University of Salahaddin, was physically assaulted and kidnaped by four armed PUK members. He was held in incommunicado detention for two days before Jalal Talabani, the secretary general of the PUK, secured his release. However, he was kept under house arrest in Suleimaniya and was not permitted to return to Erbil.

The Right to Monitor
Although the Kurdish regional authorities have expressed openness to human rights monitoring by international organizations, the volatile atmosphere makes it dangerous and difficult to conduct investigative missions. International relief agencies continue to close their operations in the region due to the severity of the clashes between the parties.

The Kurdistan Human Rights Organization sought to document abuses throughout the region. Its staff have suffered direct threats and intimidations by all the parties to the conflict for their reporting of violations and their cooperation with international human rights organizations. Several Kurdish activists were forced to flee the region in 1995 and seek political asylum because of specific threats against them.

The Role of the International Community

European Union Policy
The European Parliament issued a resolution on the situation in northern Iraq, calling for a cessation of the fighting that brought "grave violations of human rights by both the KDP and the PUK and also by the Islamic Movement" including a bomb explosion in a crowded market in Zakho which killed over seventy people. In another resolution, the parliament "condemned" Turkey's military intervention in northern Iraq and the resulting violation of international law and human rights."

United States Policy
In January, David Litt, a U.S. State Department official visited northern Iraq. In his meeting with the Kurdish leadership, he urged the PUK and the KDP to accept the Iraqi National Congress as the mediator in their conflict and establish a cease-fire.

The U.S. has continued to maintain the no-fly zone in northern Iraq, but stepped aside when Turkey invaded northern Iraq to attack Turkish Kurdish insurgents.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Middle East
On January 9, Human Rights Watch/Middle East sent a letter to Mr. Talabani, leader of the PUK, Mas'oud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Abduallah Rasoul, prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government expressing concern over the fighting in northern Iraq.

On February 21, Human Rights Watch/Middle East sent letters to Talabani, Barzani and Rasoul, regarding the abduction of Dr. Barzanji. It discussed our concerns regarding violations of the laws of war during recent fighting, including the treatment of civilians.

On March 2, Human Rights Watch/Middle East issued a press release and two letters regarding Dr. Barzanji. In a letter to Talabani, we protested Barzanji's continued detention under house arrest. In a letter to Rasoul, we informed him that as the de facto authority it was obligated to protect the rights of civilians, and that the continued detention violated the PUK's obligations under international humanitarian law. To date Human Rights Watch/Middle East has not received a response to either letter.

On April 20, we sent a letter to Erdal Inonu, the Turkish foreign minister, protesting Turkey's denial of the applicability of the laws of war in northern Iraq. The letter outlined Turkey's obligations under the Geneva Convention.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page