Broader Kurdish Human Rights Implications
26 November, 2007
Dear Family, Friends and All Good People,
It is 5:15PM and only the ridges on the ring of hills around Suleimaniya are still distinct in the twilight. We have been here now for just over one month. We finished our eighth Kurdish language lesson this afternoon and have completed learning all the letters of the alphabet and are starting to read in Kurdish. As you might expect, our vocabulary is minimal, so we are not reading novels yet!
I wrote already about the human rights training for security officials and it appears we will be continuing those monthly courses. But human rights have application for others than security officials. We are uncovering: the constraints on freedom of speech for independent media, the violations of women, the tight limits on those who fled the violence in southern Iraq, and the stark contrast between those who are wealthy and those who aren’t.
The Kurdish Parliament is ready to consider a bill that could label any critique or questioning of government as an act of terror. Independent journalists are feeling the noose tighten around them just as media in Pakistan have been throttled by martial law in recent weeks.
The numbers of women’s groups may be an indicator of the problems underlying Kurdish society. There is an alliance of 25 women’s rights groups here in Suleimaniya Governate that we heard about in the last week. The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross and one of the translators we met both encouraged us to focus CPT efforts on the treatment of women in this society. We do hear, though you may not, about the killings or women in Basrah as religious militias assume the responsibility to decide what women should wear, whether they should attend school, and what roles they should choose in Iraq, post-U.S. invasion. NBC said Iraq had been one of the most open Muslim countries for women and now it is approaching Taliban constraints in the south.
From Kurdish people we have heard that internally displaced persons (IDP’S) from the south are welcome here, but they will not be allowed to stay. The camps for displaced are
not even putting in water systems or housing other than tents so there will be no misunderstanding. That means that when water trucks hauling water to the barren IDP sites find impassable roads in the winter or the tents cannot keep out the cold, or jobs are not available, the IPD’s are the ones who suffer.
Interestingly, a friend told me that the Agriculture Ministry decided to encourage rural farmers by providing Nissan pickups at a heavily subsidized price. This was to assist farmers in getting produce to markets in the cities. There is lots of produce in the city markets here in Suly, but most of it is from Iran, Turkey and places like Ecuador! There are also lots of used Nissan pickups flooding the buyers market. My friend said, “We need to implement good management practices in Kurdistan. Farmers need other supports if this type of assistance is to achieve its goal.”
While hiking with us in the hills last Friday, Kurdish friends pointed out the fancy home of Jalal Talibani, the President of Iraq and head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The PUK is one of the two main Kurdish parties, the other being the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), headed by the Barzani clan. One of the Barzanis is among the richest people in the world. A local contact says that the monies that come into Kurdish government coffers from the oil wealth of the Iraq government slides easily into party pockets.
So this is a glimpse of some of the difficulties facing Kurdish society. Kurdish people will have to grapple with most of these. Perhaps there are points where it would be appropriate for CPT to offer support and encouragement. That is part of our task here. We are still in the midst of discerning whether and how we have a role.
Blessings of peace to you!