Tuesday, April 14, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Amnesty International issues a report on the KRG that is frightening (including a woman whose husband dumps her and she might get to stay on and see her children if she's able to be the household servant),
an Iraqi cartoonist talks about the lack of freedom, Col Gary Volesky tells the press the US may disregard that whole out of Iraq cities on June 30th issue, and more.
Starting with the attacks on Iraq's LGBT community to note some of the press the issue has received. Neal Broverman (The Advocate) covered it noting US House Rep Jared Polis' visit to Iraq and his calling "on U.S. and Iraqi officials to launch an investigation into a spate of recent murders of gay men in Iraq." He quotes Polis stating, "The United States should not tolerate human rights violations of any kind, especially by a government that Americans spend billions of taxpayer dollars each year supporting." Jessica Green (UK's Pink News) covers the story here and quotes Amnesty International's Niall Couper stating, "The gay community in Iraq deserves protection and that means their leaders need to stand up for them. Amnesty International is calling on Nouri al-Maliki to condemn all attacks on members of the gay community, publicly, unreservedly and in the strongest terms possible."
Staying with the human rights organization, today Amnesty International released a report [PDF format warning] entitled "Hope and Fear: Human Rights In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq." The report is 46 pages of text exploring the KRG
The Kurdistan Region of Iraq, unlike the rest of the country, has generally been stable since the 2003 US-led invasion. It has witnessed growing prosperity and an expansion of civil society, including the establishment of numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) active in the promotion and protection of human rights. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has made progress in the field of human rights. In mid-2008 it released hundreds of political detainees, many of whom had been held for years without charge or trial. It has
improved Iraqi legislation; the Press Law of September 2008, for example, expanded freedom of expression, and amendments to the Personal Status Law passed in October 2008 strengthened women's rights. The authorities have also established several bodies to monitor and prevent violence against women, including specialized police directorates and shelters.
Platforms have been established to foster dialogue between the authorities, particularly the Ministry of Human Rights, and civil society organizations on human rights concerns, including violence against women.
Despite these positive and encouraging steps, however, serious human rights violations persist and still need to be addressed. In particular, urgent action by the government is required to ensure that the KRG's internal security service, the Asayish, is made fully accountable under the law and in practice, to investigate allegations of torture, enforced disappearances and other serious human rights violations by the Asayish and other security and intelligence forces. As well, more needs to be done to end violence and discrimination against women, building on the progress achieved so far, and to enhance the standing in society and life choices available to women and girls. Thirdly, the KRG must take steps to
protect and promote the right to freedom of expression, including media freedom, taking into account the vital role of the media in informing the public and acting as a public watchdog.
It is these three areas which form the focus of this report.
Since 2000, thousands of people have been detained arbitrarily and held without charge or trial in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, in some cases for more than seven years. The vast majority were suspected members or supporters of local Islamist organizations, including both armed groups and legal political parties that do not use or advocate violence as part of their political platform. Some were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention.
Invariably, detentions were carried out by members of the Asayish, without producing an arrest warrant, and those detained were then denied access to legal representation or the opportunity to challenge their continuing detention before a court of law or an independent judicial body, throughout their incarceration. Some detainees were subjected to enforced disappearance, including some whose fate and whereabouts have yet to be disclosed -- typically, following their arrest by the Asayish or the intelligence services of the two main Kurdish parties, their families were unaware of their fate and whereabouts and were unable to obtain information about them, or confirmation of their detention from the authorities.
Dozens of other prisoners, meanwhile, are under sentence of death having been convicted in unfair trials.
Despite welcome government efforts to address "honour crimes" and other violence against women, it is clear from comparing survey data on violence against women with the number of police recorded cases of violence against women that the vast majority of such incidents remain unreported. Even when women have been killed or survived a killing attempt, many perpetrators have not been brought to justice -- often because investigations have failed to identify the perpetrators or because suspects remain at large.
Freedom of expression continues to be severely curtailed in practice, despite the recent abolition of imprisonment for publishing offences. Journalists have been arrested and sometimes beaten, particularly when publishing articles criticizing government policies or highlighting alleged corruption and nepotism within the government and the dominant political parties. Again, the hand of the seemingly all powerful and unaccountable Asayish and other security agencies is alleged to be behind a number of these attacks. One journalist was killed in July 2008 in suspicious circumstances.
This report details a wide range of human rights violations committed in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in recent years. In particular, it sheds light on violations such as arbitrary and prolonged detention without charge or trial, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill treatment, the death penalty, unfair trials, discrimination and violence against women, and attacks on freedom of expression. It includes case studies to illustrate these abuses. The report also puts forward numerous recommendations which, if implemented, would go a long
way towards reducing such violations.
Much of the information contained in this report is the outcome of a fact-finding visit conducted by Amnesty International in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq from 23 May to 8 June 2008, the first such visit by Amnesty International for several years. Amnesty International submitted its findings, in the form of two memoranda on human rights concerns, to the KRG in August 2008 and sought its response. The responses received in communications from the KRG Ministry of Human Rights at the end of 2008 are reflected in this report.
The reports notes the issues of difference between the KRG and Nouri al-Maliki's Baghdad government including oil-rick Kirkuk (which both want) "and certain towns and villages in the governorates of Diyala, al-Ta'mim and Ninawa (Mosul)". They note the 2005 Consitution required a December 2007 referendum was supposed to be held to determine the fate of Kirkuk but it has still not taken place. The report explains, "The Iraqi central government and the KRG have also had major disagreements about control of oil revenues and oil exploration. After months of negotiation and amendment in various committees, a national oil and gas draft law is now reported to have been submitted to the Iraqi Council of Represenatiaves for approval. However, an oil and gas law has already been introduced in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and the KRG has issued oil and gas exploration contracts" for some time now leading to more tensions between Baghdad and Kirkuk.
The peshmerga is the KRG security force that is most often covered in the press. In addition there is "the official security agence" for the KRG, Asayish. Due to intra-ministry conflicts within the KRG, Asayish was taken out of ministry control and placed under the president -- president of the KRG (Masoud Barzani) not president of Iraq (Kurdish Jalal Talabani). Conflicts still remain between the two dominant political parties of the region (KDP and PUK) so "there are still two separate Asayish entities" and each party controls their own intelligence agency with the KDP having the Parastin and the PUK having the Dezgay Zanyari. In addition, the agency spoils are divied up as well: Jalal's son, Pavel Talabani, heads the Dezgay Zanyair and Masoud's son, Masrour Barzani. Not only is nepotism practiced, there is no accountability. Each city and town has an Asayish prison. The imprisonments have been arbitray and often taken place without either charges being pressed or trials being held. Responding to Amnesty's earlier concerns, "the KRG Ministry of Human Rights informed Amnesty International on 19 October 2008 that the authorities had released more than 3,000 detainees from the detention centres of the security forces during 2007 and the first half of 2008." Despite this, when Amnesty toured "the Kurdistan Region in May - June 2008, hundreds of detainees were still being held without charge or trial, most of whom had spent years in prison." Of those Amnesty were told had been released, it turns out many of the releases can be considered "conditional" and prisoners are "required to report to the nearest Asayish office every week." Despite having prisons in every city and town, the imprisoned are often held in secret prisons. Prisoners are regularly denied contact with attorneys and with their families. Reports of torture are common.
The study then turns to the disappeared and specifically notes some of them. 33-year-old Badran Mostafa Mahmoud had been praying at a mosque when he was seized, never to be seen again. 35-year-old Hedayat 'Aziz Ahmad Karim was seized Feb. 10, 2007 (apparently by Dezgay Zanyari forces) and he has not been seen since (one person states he saw Hedayat in a prison). 41-year-old Wahed Hussain Amin worked at a water treatment plant and is the father of four children. He was taken outside his home June 28, 2006 (by Asayish) and has not been heard from since. 33-year-old Farhang Ahmad 'Aziz was taken outside his home August 27, 2003 and not been seen since. 31-year-old Hoshyar Saleh Hama 'Aref was taken from his home September 10, 2003 (by Asayish). His family was twice allowed to visit him in prison, once in March 2004 and again in October of the same year but not since then and they cannot find out his current location or any information. Karim Ahmad Mahmoud disappeared after being taken outside his house May 15, 2000. 'Abd al-Jabbar Qadir Hassan was taken by Asayish on September 1, 2001 and has not been since.
Those who are imprisoned and are not disappeared share gruesome details. Aras 'Omar Faqih Farah was held in Erbil at an Asayish prison from 2004 through 2008 and was tortured with "electric shocks on different parts of the body, especially his back, and left naked while exposed to extreme heat in the summer and extreme cold in the winter. Najat 'Abdel-Karim Hamad was impsioned by Parastin at Salahuddin from 2004 to 2007, then transfered to Asayish prison until spring 2008. He was tortued so badly he was left with a broken rib and hearing loss. One who remains impisoned is Srood Mukarram Fatih Mohammed who is a journalist with al-Sumarriya:
He told Amnesty International that he was arrested on 17 April 2007 from his home in Erbil by around 20 people who were armed and wearing uniforms. The men searched the house, arrested him without an arrest warrant, and confiscated some books, CDs and a computer. They blindfolded him and forced him into the boot of one of the cars. For 53 days the familly did not know his fate and whereabouts. Eventually, his mother received information that he was being hled at the Asayish prison in Erbil and then was able to visit him, although Asayish guards watched throughout and remained within earshot.
Srood Mukarram Faith Mohammad was brought before an investigation judge two months after his arrest, by which time he had "confessed," under torture, that he was a member of a terrorist group. During his first two months in detention, he said, he was kept blindfolded in solitary confinement, beaten with a cable on different parts of the body and threatened that his wife would be detained and raped by guards in front of him. The family engaged a lawyer at the beginning of of 2008 but he was prevented from visiting Srood Mukarram Fatih Mohammad on several occasions. Srood Mukarram Faith Mohammad was charged with having contacts with terrorists and the case was sent to Erbil Criminal Court; however, the court is reported to have returned the dossier to the investigative judge on three separate occasions on the grounds that the information was not complete. Srood Mukarram Fatih Mohammad is said to be still detained in Erbil.
If you make it through all of that and actually get a hearing, expect new problems. You may learn you're going a trial less than an hour before you do. Don't worry though, the court appointed attorney will have just enough time to shake your hand in the courtroom as you meet before the trial starts, just enough. And the courtroom? It may be a real courtroom but, more likely, you may get to 'enjoy' the maze of 'secret' courtrooms.
The report then moves to the issue of violence against women. Hey, remember when 'reporter' Kevin Peraino (Newsweek) was telling us all about the groovy new trend, the must have for all Kurdish teen girls of burn scars? (Yes, Kevin Peraino is such an extreme idiot that he actually wrote a report -- "Why Are Kurdish Women Dying of Burns?" -- where he floated his theory that setting yourself on fire was the 'in' thing to do and highly popular.) Over a 12 months period (July 2007 to June 2008) Amnesty found 102 women and girls listed as "killed" by "official records". The actual number is probably much higher and the official records do not note which are "honor" killings. The report notes, "In addition to the 102, a further 262 women and children died or were severely injured in the same period due to intentional burning, including suicides. Some women were reported to have been burned to disguise a killing." 23-year-old Cilan Muhammad Amin was murdered at the age of 23 (March 8, 2008), apparently because her brother thought she had a 'secret relationship'. After which her sister and her sister's husband set Cilan's corpse on fire in an attempt to hide the fact that she'd been strangled. From the report:
In May and June 2008 Amnesty International delegates interviewed 16 women and girls staying in shelters and 16 women and girls held in detention centres in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. This random sample included 20 interviewees who were or had been married. Of these, 12 said that they had been forced to marry, including six who were aged under 15 years when they were married. According to the Iraqi Personal Status Law, forced marriages (Article 9) and marriages of girls younger than 15 are illegal, but they continue to be conducted in private or religious ceremonies without those responsible being held to account.
Five of the 12 interviewees who had never been married were subjected to or at risk of violence because they had insisted to choose their partner. Some women reported that they had been raped, includinga 22-year-old woman who expected to be married to her rapist as his second wife in a settlement that also involved the rapist's daughter being married to one of her relatives. The Iraqi Penal Code supports such practice by excusing a rapist from punishment if he marries the victim (Article 398).
Six of the interviewed women reported that violence they had experienced or feared was related to allegations of adultery. Whilst the Iraqi Penal Code crminializes adultry by both husbands and wives (Article 377) such legislation has a disproportionate impact on women. For example, it may be used to harass women or to enable their husbands to evade responsibility for their children.
A 27-year-old mother of three children told Amnesty International that her father had forced her to marry an older man when she was just 13. Years later, she said, her husband falsely accused her of adultery because he wanted to divorce her and evade responsibility for supporting her. She was being detained in Erbil because of her husband's accusations. She said she had received only minimal education as a child and, alone, could not support herself and her children. She now hoped that her husband would allow her to return to the family home to live as her husband's "servant", if this was waht he required, so that she could at least be with her children.
And women who are the victims of violence repeatedly find what women elsewhere in the world do: We're far more likely to be killed by a 'loved' one than by a stranger. Women who have reported violence and attempted to 'move on' are stabbed to death by family members, murdered by their ex-husbands . . . The report is alarming but equally alarming is how much that is the case around the world and not just in the KRG. Attorneys attempting to help women soon find themselves receiving death threats.
We'll come back to the report in a bit but let's stay with the topic of Iraqi women and this is women in all of Iraq, not just the KRG. Rania Abouzeid (Time magazine) reports that a 2008 US State Dept report ("Trafficking in Persons Report") shamed Nouri al-Maliki's government and forced it to take some (limited) action including a proposed law which would hand out "tough penalties, including life imprisonment and a fine not exceeding 25 million dinars ($21,000) for traffickers if the victim 'is under 15, or a female, or has special needs.' The same punishment applies if the crime was committed by kidnapping or force, or if the criminal 'is a direct or distant relative or the victim's caretaker or husband or wife,' a tacit acknowledgment that victims are often tarfficked by people they know." Rania Abouzeid files another report exploring the victims. Atoor was a 15-year-old widow. Her husband was a police officer (19-years-old) who was killed in the violence that now characterizes Iraq: "After the obligatory four-month mourning period dictated by Islamic Shari'a law, Atoor's mother and two brothers made it clear that they intended to sell her to a brothel close to their home in western Baghdad, just as they had sold her older twin sisters. Frightened, she told a friend in the police force to raid her home and the nearby brothel. His unit did, and Atoor spent the next two years in prison. She was not charged with anything, but that's how long it took for her to come before a judge and be released." We're including that especially because from time to time, male US correspondents feel the need to repeat the lie that no one's ever heard of any brothels in Baghdad. They have always been in Baghdad, under Saddam's rule and after, they are not a myth and some of the US male correspondents playing dumb know that for a fact because they've visited them -- especially those males 'reporting' from Iraq in 2003 and 2004. In terms of selling them outright, Abouzeid explains that 20-year-old Iraqi women "are too old to fetch a good price" and that eleven and twelve-year-old girls can be "sold for as much as $30,000".
Back to ay Amnesty International's "Hope and Fear: Human Rights In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq." The final section is entitled "Attacks On Freedom Of Expression" and it catalogues a variety of abuses and attacks on the press by the government. In the KRG (as is true throughout Iraq), the bulk of the media outlets are owned by a political party and "the majority of media outlets follow the official line and avoid criticizing the KRG, the Asayish, the intelligence agencies and the two main political parties." Those who do not follow that unwritten law suffer. Kamal Said Qadir was imprisoned for reporting on "corruption and nepotism in the KRG." Mohammed Siyassi Ashkani imprisoned for allegedly "spying for another political party" (he was released after nearly six months and he was never charged with anything). Nabaz Goran "reported that a senior official in the KDP had insulted the Kurdish population of Iraq during a speech" and was beaten.Naseh 'Abd al-Rahim Rashid Amin reported critically of the peshmerga, told by Asayish to apologize in print, he refused and "was arrested and charged with defamation under Article 433 of the Penal Code (criminalizing defamation)," sentence to a 10 day imprisonment, his attorney successfuly won an appeal but the Asayish first beat him and then dumped his body. Aso Jamal Mukhtar beaten for writing critically of the government and then fired from the paper he worked for. Rezgar Raza Chouchani reported on the peshmerge and was imprisoned for six days and then banned from reporting. Souran Mama Hama reported on the PUK and KDP's corruption and nepotism and was shot dead. Marwan Tufiq imprisoned for insulting a martyr (you'd think a genuine martyr would have greater problems to address). Shwan Dawdi imprisoned for reporting on courthouse issues. Dr. 'Adil Hussain, imprisoned for reporting on sex "from a medical perspective."
Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) covers the report and notes, "Authorities have failed to significantly curb the powers of the security forces, or Asayish, Amnesty said. They have also failed to rein in the security arms of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which form the Kurdistan Regional Government, according to the report." BBC News adds, "The report, based on research conducted in 2008, said the number of detainees held without charge or trial had dropped from thousands to hundreds, but some had been held as long as nine years. It describes cases where individuals have 'disappeared' and detainees have been beaten and given electric shocks while in custody." Shamal Aqrawi, Missy Ryan and Giles Elgood (Reuters) observe, "Iraq is a dangerous country for journalists -- at least 135 have been killed in the line of duty since 2003 -- but Kurdistan is seen as especially closed to criticism of the state."
Amensty's compiling attacks on the press comes as Rod Nordland (NYT for Boston Globe) reports, "The Iraqi military put local journalists on notice on yesterday that their organizations could be shut down for misquoting officials, while the Iraqi government accused the news media of deliberately seeking to promote sectarian strife." For the Times, Nordland teamed up with Sam Dagher and they traced some of the recent assaults on the press. The two note that Salman Abed, the cartoonist whose illustrations were seized last week (see yesterday's snapshot) is calling for an apology and states, "What happened was an offense to freedom. We want to build a new country on liberal and democratic foundations."
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report a series of Baquba house bombings -- of homes belonging to internal refugees who "had recently returned" and three people were wounded in the bombings.
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report Monday a police officer was shot dead and another wounded in a Diyala Province raid, Monday in Sulaimaniyah 2 women and 1 man were wounded as police fired "randomly" and "Two civilians were wounded in two incidents that may have involved U.S. troops in Sulaimaniyah on Monday midnight."
Today at the Pentagon, a press teleconfrence was held with US Col Gary Volesky in Iraq. AFP's Daphne Benoit asked if, due to recent violence, he was "still confident that you're going to be able to leave the city by end of June as planned? And are you concerned it might actually worsen the situation?" He replied: "The 30 June date -- that's -- that's out there. We are conducting an assessment right now with our Iraqi counterparts to determine what the way ahead is for security in Mosul. And based on that assessment, a decision will be made what we will do on 30 June. If the Iraqi government believes we should stay in Mosul to continue the securiy progress, we'll support our Iraqi counterparts past 30 June and continue to build on the momentum that we've got here." Stars & Stripes' Jeff Schogol asked when this assessment would be completed and Volesky didn't have a timeline but "I know that I'm collecting the data right now". NBC's Courtney Kube returned to this topic clarifying that Volesky was stating that it's possible "US combat soldiers will stay in Mosul after June 30th" and Volesky responded, "If the Iraqi government wants us to stay, we will stay. And that's correct." Kube followed up with, "What's your understanding of what that would mean for the status of forces? Would there have to be some kind of a change in the status of forces agreement that went into effect several months ago? Or is that because the Iraqis are asking -- would be asking the U.S. to stay -- does it fall within the guidelines that were established?" Volesky begged off stating that was "way above my level". Volosky's remarks echo those of the top US commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno (see yesterday's snapshot for the most recent example) and of Nouri al-Maliki. Kube's question regarding the security agreement was what's called the Status Of Forces Agreement. It 'requires' that US troops retreat from Iraqi cities no later than June 30th of this year. It also 'requires' all US troops to depart Iraq by the end of 2011. If the cities 'requirement' can be so easily tossed aside, it underscores how easily it can all be changed.
While the US is not leaving Iraq, US service members are being shipping there. In the US, AP reports West Virginia's National Guard is sending 50 Guard members to Iraq (their farewell ceremony is this morning) and the Dunn Daily Record reports a farewell ceremony in Fayetteville, North Carolina for approximately 4,000 National Gaurd members (30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team brigade). One not deploying Barbara Barrett (McClatchy Newspapers) reports "Army Sgt. 1st Class Chad Stephens, who earned a Silver Star for valor during a Baqubah firefight in 2004, isn't going back this time" due to a PTSD diagnosis.
Fort Bliss will be sending troops to Iraq but one scheduled to depart will not. Lilliam Irizarry (Prensa Asociada) reports police authorities and military investigators said yesterday that US Army Spc Nokware Rosado Munoz took his own life (hanging) following arguments with his wife, Dalises Rosado. Nokware had already served two years in Iraq and reportedly did not wish to do another tour but was scheduled to report to Fort Bliss this week for the redeployment. Edilberto Rivera Santiago, director of the Division of Homicides, states, "They had a discussion, were having problems because he had been activated again."
Finally, independent journalist Sheila Casey explores Barack's Justice Dept and change, here's the opening:
Many of my friends, even fairly well informed people, fell for Obama's charm and vague promises and collapsed in tears on election night, believing that we would now get "change" and now had reason to "hope." It is understandable to want a Daddy figure to come swooping in out of no where to rescue us, but unfortunately there was never any good reason to believe that Obama was that person.
One can settle into a movie theatre and be swept away to a land of make-believe: ancient Japan, 19th century Wyoming, or a gritty story of inner city Baltimore. We silently exult when the hero escapes the bad guy and weep when he dies at the end in his lover's arms. But we won't be shocked when we see him alive and well at the Oscars, for we know it was just theatre. We know that if we saw him dancing with joy or sneering with contempt on the silver screen, it wasn't that he was really feeling those emotions. He was acting.
Film makers use trained actors, costume designers, set designers, makeup and hair stylists, lighting designers, music composers, cinematographers and script writers to create a world that seems real, but is 100% a fantasy.
So why is it that people who well understand the power of theatre have such a hard time believing that political campaigns use the same techniques to convey a false sense of reality? Or a false expectation of "hope" and "change?"