Wednesday, July 04, 2007


"Human Rights Watch has long urged political leaders and officials of both the KDP and PUK administrations to allow criminal prosecution of law enforcement officials accused of abusing detainees. In practice, criminal prosecutions of this kind in the Kurdistan region have been the exception rather than the rule, and the absence of political will in this regard has encouraged a climate of impunity in which security forces are able to commit abuses without accountability."
~ Human Rights Watch, "Caught in the Whirlwind: Torture and Denial of Due Process by the Kurdistan Security Forces".

Good news. HRW has issued a report on torture, detention, and related issues in South Kurdistan. The summary of the report can be read here, or you can browse your way through the entire report.

Why is this good? Well, because HRW admits that the two main Kurdish parties and the KRG were cooperative, and as this kind of information is publicized, we can hope that the human rights situation will improve in South Kurdistan. HRW notes the cooperation of Kurdish authorities, in contrast to the cooperation, or lack thereof, of the Baghdad government as well as of the US and UK military forces in country:

The Kurdistan authorities from both the KDP and PUK gave Human Rights Watch access to all Asayish detention facilities and allowed unannounced visits at times of our own choosing. With the exception of detainees undergoing interrogation or held in solitary confinement, Human Rights Watch received the full assistance of prison officials to interview any of the other inmates held at these facilities in conditions that allowed for confidential interviews. The Kurdistan authorities also facilitated the organization’s access to Asayish officials, prison directors, legal advisers and other relevant actors. This cooperation was in stark contrast to the approach of the Iraqi Ministries of Interior and Defense, and to the US and United Kingdom (UK) military forces in Iraq, which since April 2003, have repeatedly denied Human Rights Watch’s requests for access to their detention facilities.

In spite of "severely overcrowded and unhygienic" conditions in Kurdish detention facilities, South Kurdistan would appear to remain a dumping ground for those detained by the Americans in other parts of Iraq. You would think the US could use it's worldwide network of rendition facilities to hold those they take into custody from Arab Iraq, instead of sending them to Kurdistan. Or perhaps they should consider building new detention facilities in the billion dollar permanent military facilities that the US is constructing in Iraq.

What appears to be problematic from the Kurdish side is the fact that, although Kurdish authorities indicate a certain level of cooperation, it seems that they are failing to follow through with corrections. In that case, it's obvious that more will have to be publicized about the situation in order to shame the leadership into actually cleaning up on the issues brought out by the report.

Now, I'll tell you what hacks me off about this report. There is no mention of what the situation is regarding political prisoners. If detention conditions so closely resemble those which characterized detention under the Saddam regime, or conditions which detainees and prisoners suffer in Turkish prisons, then the probability is high that political prisoners do exist in South Kurdistan. What is their number? For what reasons are they detained? Are they tortured? Do they simply "disappear"? Instead of including an investigation on this subject, the report appears to focus in its majority on Arab detainees.

Since the detention of Kamal Sayid Qadir, we know that there have been detentions of journalists and other dissenters or those critical of the situation in South Kurdistan. For that reason, HRW should have also investigated the question of political prisoners. If there is nothing negative to report on this subject, HRW could have verified the fact.

The publication of this report should also cause us to ask what HRW is doing, if anything, about documenting other abuses. What is HRW doing to investigate the situation of women and youth in South Kurdistan, or the very serious and widespread fact of political corruption? Are there other organizations that should be investigating these issues? Is someone going to document the scandal of the lack of basic services?

It is only when these kinds of problems become cases of public and international shame for the KDP and PUK that there is hope for the slightest improvement for the long-suffering people of South Kurdistan. It's time that HRW and other international organizations raised a ruckus about them. If not, these organizations run the risk of appearing to bash the American administration as an end in itself with no real concern for the Kurdish people. If that is the case, the credibility of organizations like HRW will fall like a GBU 28 falling toward its target through the clear blue sky.

Bombs away!

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