Arbitrary arrests and detentions, government influence on judicial decisions, disrespect to civil liberties, and corruption are among numerous human rights violations recorded in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq by human rights organisations and listed in a recent US State Department report.
The two main Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), each maintain an independent security apparatus, said the 2022 US human rights country report on Iraq shared last week.
Though the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has the right to maintain internal security forces, both parties separately control additional Peshmerga military units, as well as separate police forces, maintain additional Asayish forces and run separate intelligence services, the report said.
Correctional centres in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq “suffered from long-term problems of overcrowding, inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities, use of violence during preliminary detention, and outdated infrastructure at women’s and juvenile centres,” the report said. “Limited medical staff were unable to provide adequate medical services to all prisoners,” it added.
The US State Department cited human rights organisations, who reported that in addition to Iraqi institutions, the Peshmerga and Asayish security forces in the Kurdistan Region frequently ignored laws that prohibit arbitrary arrests and detentions, and laws that give everyone the right to challenge in court the lawfulness of their arrest or detention.
“Human rights organisations frequently reported that KRG authorities arbitrarily detained journalists, activists, and protesters,” the US report said.
“NGOs reported KRG authorities held detainees for extensive periods in pretrial detention. KRG officials noted prosecutors and defence attorneys frequently encountered obstacles in carrying out their work and trials were unnecessarily delayed for administrative reasons,” it added.
Though the Kurdistan Judicial Council is legally, financially, and administratively independent from the KRG Ministry of Justice, “KRG senior leaders reportedly influenced politically sensitive cases” and the Kurdistan region’s two major parties “reportedly influenced judicial appointments and rulings”, according to Washington’s findings.
The report also mentioned the extent of civilian casualties in Turkey’s military operation in Kurdish-populated northern Iraq against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“In June media reported security forces confirmed two civilians died, including a child, from an airstrike in Sinjar the security forces stated was part of the government of Turkey’s “Operation Claw-Lock” started in April,” the report said. “On July 20, Turkish artillery reportedly shelled a resort in the Zakho District of Dohuk Province, killing nine civilians and injuring 22 others,” it added, noting that the Turkish government denied responsibility for the strike.
In a section on civil liberties, the US report mentioned that security forces detained dozens of activists and journalists and in August prevented journalists working during protests in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The report listed Sulaymaniyah-based Voice of America broadcast correspondent Snur Karim, who was detained by security forces in August, and journalists Sartip Waisi and Ibrahim Ali, from Erbil-based Bwar online news, who were arrested by PUK Counter-Terrorism Unit forces in October as examples related to violations of press freedom in the region.
“While the KDP and PUK have a privileged access to media due to several outlets they own, “the outlets belonging to opposition parties or lacking party affiliation had limited access to public information” the report said.
“Certain KRG courts applied the more stringent criminal code and laws in lawsuits involving journalists, rather than the KRG’s local press law, which provides greater protection for freedom of expression and forbids the detention of journalists,” the report added about its findings in 2022.
The report mentioned that the federal government and KRG oversight and censorship sometimes interfered with media operations, at times resulting in the closure of media outlets, restrictions on reporting, denial of access to public information, and interference with internet service.
The Iraqi government and KRG authorities disrupted internet access during protests and use vaguely worded laws and penal codes to criminalise online activities, the report also said, citing human rights watchdog Freedom House.
In the Kurdistan region, some media outlets faced “cyberattacks, including distributed denial of service attacks, after publishing stories on government corruption” and alleged “the attacks were likely state sponsored in view of their timing and level of sophistication”, according to the report.
“Corruption remained a significant obstacle to effective governance at all institutional levels, including in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region,” the report said.
“Bribery, money laundering, nepotism, and misappropriation of public funds were common at all levels and across all branches of government. Family, tribal, and ethnosectarian considerations significantly influenced government decisions at all levels and across all branches of government. Federal and KRG officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity,” it added.