This report details the Iraqi government's ongoing campaign of forced expulsion of ethnic minorities from Kirkuk and other oil-rich regions in northern Iraq. Since the 1991 Gulf war, an estimated 120,000 Kurds, Turkomans, and Assyrians have been expelled to the Kurdish-controlled northern provinces, with a smaller number expelled to central and southern regions of the country. The government has resettled Arab families in their place, brought mainly from southern Iraq, enticing them with free housing and other economic incentives. This "Arabization" policy is aimed at bringing about demographic changes designed to reduce the political power and presence of ethnic minorities, thereby consolidating the government's control over this region.
In December 2002, Human Rights Watch published a policy paper, Justice for Iraq, detailing some of the serious crimes perpetrated by the Iraqi government since the 1980s.1 It urged the establishment of an international tribunal to bring to justice the perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. In January 2003, Human Rights Watch published a briefing paper detailing crimes against humanity perpetrated against the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq during the 1990s.2 This report documents another crime against humanity that the Iraqi government continues to perpetrate to this day.
The "Arabization" of Kirkuk and other oil-rich regions is not a recent phenomenon. Successive governments have sought at various times to reduce the ethnic minority populations residing there since the discovery of significant oil deposits in the 1920s. By the mid-1970s, the Ba`th government that seized power in 1968 embarked on a concerted campaign to alter the demographic makeup of multi-ethnic Kirkuk. The campaign involved the massive relocation of tens of thousands of ethnic minority families from Kirkuk, Sinjar, Khaniqin, and other areas, transferring them to purpose-built resettlement camps. Little has changed today. For the past decade, the expulsions have continued unabated, with the victims joining many others as forcibly displaced persons in their own country. They were forced to abandon their homes, stripped of most of their possessions, and deprived of any means of livelihood. Scores of expelled Kurds and Turkomans interviewed by Human Rights Watch during a September 2002 mission to Iraqi Kurdistan described the relentless pressure by the state to drive them from their homes by making their daily lives intolerable.
Human Rights Watch believes that the Iraqi government's systematic and continuing forced transfer since 1991 of an estimated 120,000 Kurds, Turkomans, and Assyrians on the basis of their ethnic identity constitutes a crime against humanity. This forced transfer involved the multiple commission of repressive acts in furtherance of state policy, including systematic deprivation of fundamental rights such as: the right to buy and retain the title deeds to property; the right to have ethnic minority languages taught in schools; the right to retain or adopt names specific to ethnic groups; and the right not to be discriminated against in employment, educational or other opportunities.
Human Rights Watch urges the Iraqi government to stop immediately the continuing forced expulsion of ethnic minority populations from Kirkuk and other oil-rich regions and to take steps to allow for their return. In the event of war in Iraq, there is an urgent need for the intervening military forces to prepare for a crisis as internally displaced persons seek to return to the homes from which they were forcibly expelled by the Iraqi government. In the absence of an orderly mechanism for the gradual return of the internally displaced, the likelihood of inter-ethnic violence erupting as individual families seek to re-establish claims to property and assets is very high. It is equally crucial that the international community provide both financial assistance and expertise for the administration of a mechanism allowing for the orderly return of internally displaced persons. The international community should also take all measures possible to ensure that Iraqi officials implicated in the perpetration of the policy of forced transfer of ethnic minorities-defined as a crime against humanity under international law-be held accountable and brought to justice.
1 Human Rights Watch, "Justice for Iraq," A Human Rights Watch Policy Paper, December 17, 2002.
2 Human Rights Watch, "The Iraqi Government Assault on the Marsh Arabs," A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, January 25, 2003.