Human Rights Watch
Saddam Hussein and others, including, but not limited to, members of Hussein’s inner circle, members of the Revolutionary Command Council, and senior and upper-middle level members of the Iraqi military, security, and intelligence forces are responsible for a vast number of crimes that constitute genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The victims of such crimes include up to 290,000 persons who have been “disappeared” since the late 1970s, many of whom are believed to have been killed.
Human rights organizations and independent monitors have had almost no access to government-controlled areas of Iraq, limiting the amount of evidence that has been gathered about some of the serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed by the Iraqi government. However, the evidence that has been gathered about some of the crimes-particularly the “Anfal campaign” against the Kurds (discussed below)-is of sufficient quality to stand up in legal proceedings. Human Rights Watch was able to obtain access to eighteen tons of Iraqi government documents seized by Kurds from Iraqi police, security, and intelligence headquarters during March 1991, which were airlifted to Washington and analyzed. Among those documents were official orders showing genocidal intent. In addition, Human Rights Watch, in collaboration with Physicians for Human Rights, uncovered several mass graves, interviewed hundreds of Anfal survivors, and published a detailed account of the Anfal genocide.2 Through Human Rights Watch’s examination of select Iraqi government documents, we have identified more than 115 military and civilian officials who may have criminal responsibility regarding the genocidal Anfal campaign and the counterinsurgency campaign that culminated in the Anfal. Although existing evidence about other serious human rights crimes and violations such as those ongoing against the Marsh Arabs and southern Shi`a populations is more limited, indications are that these campaigns are similarly centrally organized. A change in government in Iraq-a step that could open the way to a comprehensive accountability exercise-may give access to a vast amount of information about those crimes.
Attacks against the Iraqi Kurds. The government’s notorious attacks on the Iraqi Kurds have come in phases. Between 1977 and 1987, some 4,500-5,000 Kurdish villages were systematically destroyed and their inhabitants forcibly removed and made to live in “resettlement camps.”
Commencing in the spring of 1987, thousands of Iraqi Kurds were killed during chemical and conventional bombardments.
From February to September 1988, the Iraqi government launched the official “Anfal” campaign, during which Iraqi troops swept through the highlands of Iraqi Kurdistan rounding up everyone who remained in government-declared “prohibited zones.” More than 100,000 Kurds, mostly men and boys, were trucked to remote sites and executed.3
The use of chemical weapons reached a peak in March 1988; in the town of Halabja alone, where a documented 3,200 people are believed to have died from chemical gas attacks, and the actual number may be more than 5,000.
The killings constitute acts of genocide. The killings, forcible and arbitrary transfer of populations, and chemical weapons attacks amount to crimes against humanity.
Forced expulsion of ethnic minorities from Kirkuk. Since 1991, Iraqi authorities have forcibly expelled over 120,000 Kurds, Turcomans and Assyrians from their homes in the oil-rich region of Kirkuk and neighboring towns and villages. The systematic forcible transfer of the population-a process referred to by the authorities as “Arabization”- has been accompanied by the resettling of Arab families brought from southern Iraq to replace those evicted. This policy continues to be implemented.
Repression of the Marsh Arabs and other Shi`a. During the early years of the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqi government arrested thousands of Shi`a Muslims on the charge of supporting the 1979 revolution in Iran. Many have “disappeared” or remain unaccounted for; others died under torture or were executed. This campaign was followed by the forced expulsion of over half a million Shi`a during the 1980s to Iran, after the separation out of many male family members. These men and boys, estimated to number between 50,000-70,000, were arrested and imprisoned indefinitely without charge; most remain unaccounted for.
After the Gulf War, in southern Iraq, members of the Shi`a majority rose up in revolt against the Iraqi leadership. In response, thousands of Shi`a including hundreds of clerics and their students, were imprisoned without charge or “disappeared” in state custody. Hundreds were summarily executed. Many Shi`a shrines and institutions were demolished by government forces. In the southeast, after tens of thousands of Shi`a Muslim civilians, army deserters, and rebels, primarily from the cities of Basra, al-Amara, and al-Nasiriyya, sought precarious shelter in remote areas of the marshes that straddle the Iranian border, Iraq’s military and security forces shelled and launched military raids against them. The raids caused thousands of so-called “Marsh Arabs” to flee to Iran and many others to become internally displaced within Iraq.4
Many of these attacks against the Shi`a amount to crimes against humanity.
General repression, large-scale “disappearances,” and other crimes. In addition to abuses particularly aimed at the Kurds and Shi`a Muslims, the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein have suffered a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including political imprisonment, torture, and summary and arbitrary executions. In addition, a ubiquitous network of security services and informants has suppressed independent civilian institutions and terrorized the Iraqi population into virtual silence. Torture techniques have included hangings, beatings, rape, and burning suspects alive. Thousands of Iraqi political detainees have died under torture.
There have also been a staggering number of “disappearances”-believed to range between 250,000-290,000. In addition to the 50,000-70,000 Shi’a cases described above, and the 100,000 Kurdish victims, “disappearances” have included:
An estimated 8,000 Barzani males removed from resettlement camps in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1983;
10,000 or more males said to have been separated from Feyli Kurdish families deported to Iran during the 1980s;
Shi`a Muslim clerics and their students from al-Najaf and Karbala;
Over 600 Kuwaitis and third country nationals who disappeared after their arrest during the occupation of Kuwait (discussed below);
Members of other targeted groups, including communist and other leftist groups; Kurdish, Assyrian, and Turcoman opposition groups; out-of-favor Ba’athists; and the relatives of persons in these groups.
The widespread and systematic practice of “disappearance” amounts to a crime against humanity.
The use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq used chemical weapons extensively, starting in 1983-1984, during the Iran-Iraq war. It is estimated that some twenty thousand Iranians were killed by mustard gas, and the nerve agents tabun and sarin.5 Both Iran (1929) and Iraq (1931) are parties to the Geneva Protocol that prohibits the use of asphyxiating, poisonous, or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials, or devices, as well as the use of bacteriological methods of warfare.6 The use of asphyxiating, poisonous, and other prohibited gases is a war crime.
Occupation of Kuwait and related abuses. During Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait in 1990-1991, Iraqi forces committed systematic and gross abuses of human rights. During the initial takeover of Kuwait, hundreds of persons were killed or wounded and thousands detained. Iraqi soldiers and militia committed countless acts of theft, rape and assault on civilians, as well as summary executions, “disappearances,” and torture. Human Rights Watch believes that many acts committed by Iraqi agents during Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Thus, there is clearly a need for justice for crimes committed by the Iraqi authorities in Iraq and neighboring countries.
The importance of justice for Iraq cannot be over-emphasized. Should crimes such as those discussed above go without prosecution, or should perpetrators find their way into a new government in Iraq, the stage would be set for such crimes to be repeated. As discussed below, in order to provide foundation for a government that respects fundamental human rights, the most serious criminal offenses must be prosecuted. Amnesties for such crimes would not only contravene international law, but would fail to provide such a foundation.