Northern Iraq as “an island of democracy and peace”

It seems that wherever there is fighting in the Arab world, somehow you see French Bernard-Henri Levy. One is tempted to think that Levy is a man interested in visiting conflict zone to advocate for human rights and rally support for those rising against authoritarian regimes.  Not so.

In a column in the Wall Street Journal of 10/10/2017 Levy writes* defending the Kurds right to secede from Iraq. He wrote that the Iraqi Kurdish Northern region is being denied the right to “be free, to flourish as an island of democracy and peace.” This is after the Kurdish Iraqi separatists have engaged in a violent land grab and ethnic cleansing of territory clearly beyond the boundaries of the Kurdish-controlled province. [Not too long ago a writer in the Wall Street Journal wrote a column critical of Catalonia’s referendum on secession. That writer made a compelling argument against secession. That very same paper provided space for Levy to advocate for Kurdish separatism.]

No serious person would call Northern Iraq’s Kurdish province “an island of democracy and peace.” There is overwhelming evidence of the authoritarian rule of the Barzani faction and the Talabani faction that divide among themselves the spoils of the Kurdish province. Barzani’s term has long expired and was extended making him a de facto president for life. Barzani has announced that he would not run for president in the upcoming election this November. We will see. If he does not run again, he will probably have another Barzani lord over the Northern fiefdom.

So much for democracy, as to human rights, there is an ample record of human rights abuses and authoritarian rule as documented by the US State department, human rights organizations and others. Excerpts and links below:

I.                  On unlawful detentions without any fair process:
Human Rights Watch:
The authorities should release all children who have not yet been formally charged, as international law allows authorities to detain children before trial only as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time, and only if they have formally charged the child with committing a crime. Authorities should ensure that children detained solely for suspected ISIS affiliation are rehabilitated and reintegrated. KRG authorities should ensure prompt independent judicial review of detention and allow detainees to have access to lawyers and medical care and to communicate with their families.

II.               On ethnic cleansing of non-Kurds in areas Kurds take over and the destruction of the property of non-Kurds to destroy their hopes of return to the homes the Kurds want to incorporate into their future state.
Human Rights Watch:
“In village after village in Kirkuk and Nineveh, KRG security forces destroyed Arab homes – but not those belonging to Kurds – for no legitimate military purpose,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “KRG leaders’ political goals don’t justify demolishing homes illegally.”  

III.           The US State department 2017 Country also criticized the human rights record of the Kurdish-controlled region and outlined the violations of the human rights of detainees and the rights of journalists, among other violations. Excerpts from the report:

Abusive interrogation under certain conditions reportedly occurred in some detention facilities of the KRG’s internal security unit, the Asayish, and the intelligence services of the major political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) Parastin and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s (PUK) Zanyari. During monitoring visits to IKR prisons and places of detention between January 2015 and June 2016, UNAMI reported 70 detainees had raised allegations of torture or other ill treatment during the interrogation phase, or both.

Both the government and the KRG operated secret detention facilities during the year, according to international observers and to the head of the KRG parliamentary Human Rights Committee. There was no information available to verify whether--or the extent to which--they remained in use.

The two main Kurdish political parties, the KDP and PUK, had their own security apparatuses. Under the federal constitution, the KRG has the right to maintain regional guard brigades, supported financially by the government but under the KRG’s control. Accordingly, the KRG established a Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs. There are 14 infantry brigades and two support brigades under the authority of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs, but the PUK and KDP controlled tens of thousands of additional military personnel. The KDP had its own internal security unit, the Asayish, and its own intelligence service, the Parastin. The PUK also maintained its own internal security unit, known also as the Asayish, and its own intelligence service, the Zanyari. While the PUK and KDP took some nominal steps to unify their internal and external security organizations, they remained separate, since political party leaders effectively controlled these organizations through party channels. The KRG Independent Human Rights Commission routinely notified the Kurdistan Ministry of Interior when it received credible reports of police human rights violations. Local NGOs reported a sense of impunity among KRG security force officials; local human rights monitors reported an allegation of rape and manslaughter by mid-ranking officers during the year

KRG authorities also reportedly held detainees for extensive periods in pretrial detention. According to local NGOs and the head of the Iraqi Kurdistan parliamentary Human Rights Committee, prisoners held in regional governmentadministered Asayish prisons sometimes remained in detention for more than six months without trial. According to IKR judicial officials, IKR law permits extension of pretrial detention of up to six month under court supervision.

KRG officials noted that prosecutors and defense attorneys frequently encountered obstacles in carrying out their work and that prisoners’ trials were unnecessarily delayed for administrative reasons. According to the IKR’s Independent Human Rights Commission, detainees have remained in KRG internal security service facilities for extended periods even after court orders for their release.

On April 9, security forces wearing civilian uniforms reportedly attacked a Kurdistan News Network (KNN) cameraman in an Erbil mosque while the KNN crew was covering a protest there. As the cameraman attempted to film the protest, one of the uniformed security force members placed a weapon against the cameraman’s head to force him to stop. In the IKR, government authorities continued to try, convict, and take legal action against journalists, despite a 2008 law that decriminalizes publication-related offenses. According to Kurdistan Journalist Syndicate officials, the 2008 law is the sole basis for prosecution of journalists for publication offense under the regional counterterrorism law, for public morality violations and other crimes. While in December 2015 the KRG reopened Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) offices that it originally closed in October 2015, Gorran-affiliated KNN offices in Erbil and Dahuk Governorates remained closed because of KRG pressure.


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