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Statement by the KRG Office of the Coordinator for International Advocacy (OCIA)

March 23, 2023

A Preliminary Follow-up on the 2022 US Department of State's Country Report on Human Rights Practices

On March 21, 2023, the U.S. State Department released its annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Iraq. The report addresses the status of human rights in various fields in the Kurdistan Region as well.

The US State Department's report is opaque, inaccurate, and presents a double-standard modality about the realities of the Kurdistan region. The report contains bias and neglects; it fails to mention the Kurdistan Regional Government's efforts to fight terrorism, which is a major challenge for the region.

Regarding freedom of expression, the KRG's laws, guidelines, and mechanisms are obvious. In the Kurdistan Region, there is a high degree of freedom of expression and the press, with hundreds of media outlets operating freely, most of which are critical of the official authorities. Nonetheless, the State Department report relies on several unofficial sources and media outlets which have political, rather than human rights-based positions.

Regarding the issue of a number of individuals that were mentioned in the report, it is necessary to clarify that they had been arrested due to activities that were considered to be a direct threat to the security and stability of the region. This included inciting violence, propagating hatred, and encouraging terrorism. In addition, the US report failed to acknowledge that the trials of the "Badinans" case were conducted openly and transparently in the presence of UN representatives, organizations, and parliamentarians. The report fails to refer to the efforts by the KRG to consolidate the rule of law, security, and stability of the region.

As far as the assessments of human rights are concerned, the KRG Office of the Coordinator for International Advocacy (OCIA) coordinates with international counterparts, including the U.S. Consulate General, to deliver and update its policies that aim to elevate the status of human rights in the Kurdistan Region. In this respect, OCIA answered a questionnaire provided by the US Consulate in Erbil, based on which the State Department prepared its report - of course, the latter relied on other sources too. Nevertheless, having abandoned the KRG-based sources on purpose, the US did not possess the necessary resources to access reliable and up-to-date information from the region, which in turn caused the report to be biased as it did not include all relevant information.

The report fails to recognize the efforts of the KRG in establishing a secure environment. Furthermore, the report does not consider the KRG's strategies to combat terrorism and organized crime, which are essential for maintaining long-term stability in the region. Additionally, in the report there is an apparent application of a double-standard, as they have not mentioned the recent terrorist incident that occurred in Erbil that led to the assassination of Colonel Hawkar Jaff; and despite that, the US officials meet with the main suspect responsible for this incident and take group photos with him.

It is worrying that the US Consulate General is in direct contact with several individuals, news outlets, and a number of so-called “civil society” organizations that support certain political agendas and many of those so-called "civil society groups" do not have legal licenses to operate legitimately, as well as the US is sympathetic to the claim that the judiciary has failed in a number of cases without examining the actual situation and listening to what the judiciary has to say.

Regarding the issue of human rights, the Kurdistan Regional Government has drafted a comprehensive program within the framework of the Regional Plan for Human Rights (2021-2025) which was approved on 15/9/2022 by the Council of Ministers. The plan consists of 27 parts and aims to promote and protect the rights of all citizens of the Kurdistan Region.

Among the Peshmerga forces, a special medical committee has been formed to provide services to the disabled. The committee examined 9,578 disabled individuals. A total of 4,664 people with disabilities have received the required amount following the committee's decision. In collaboration with civil society organizations, 4,000 Peshmerga officers and employees have benefited from human rights, gender, and civilian protection programs. More than 5,000 booklets entitled "The Peshmerga is a warrior, not a killer” have been published.

In regard to the security forces, it is important to note that the intelligence service in the Kurdistan Region is overseen by the Security Council (KRSC), an established governmental institution responsible for distributing particular obligations to provinces based on decentralization of governance, while it consolidates unified security policies. The same applies to other law-enforcement units.

There were also concerns raised in the report regarding the discretion of the judicial authorities. The KRG respects the independence of the judiciary, adheres to a coherent check-and-balance system, and cannot interfere with judicial proceedings. The KRG reaffirms its commitment to the independence of the judiciary system and will continue to uphold the principle of judicial independence in its work. The KRG also seeks to ensure that the judicial process is fair, transparent, and accountable to the people of the Kurdistan Region.

It should be noted that the Ministry of Finance and Economy has issued 43 instructions and 30 guidelines in order to eliminate corruption. In 2022, 144 cases were assigned to the courts in Duhok province. So far, 25 cases have been submitted to the court in Erbil province. So far, 69 cases have been assigned to the courts in Sulaimani province.

We reiterate that the Commission of Integrity in the Kurdistan Region continues to investigate corruption cases. It is momentous to note that only in 2021, 493 judicial orders (appearance and arrest) were issued, of which 337 were executed, while 404 people were indicted on charges of corruption, including general directors, corporate executives, and businessmen. Hence, 102 cases have been resolved in court with 46 people being sentenced.

In addition to the reform law, the ninth cabinet approved the National Strategy of the commission for integrity for eradicating corruption in the Kurdistan Region (2021-2025) which is divided into three parts, including the legislative and executive branches, the private sector, the media, and political parties. A number of external parties have expressed their willingness to assist in the implementation of this strategy, such as the World Bank and many other external parties have offered their support.

It is of utmost importance to note that the KRG adheres to and exemplifies democratic principles such as effective governance, transparency, freedom of expression, and gender equality. These values have enabled the region to experience significant economic and social development, and have also helped to create a safe and stable environment for citizens to live and thrive in.

Consequently, the KRG is actively engaged in dialogue and understanding with the international community, and is committed to working with its partners to ensure that the values of democracy, human rights, and economic growth are upheld.

Furthermore, the KRG's role in this interconnected network is integral in promoting peace and stability across the region. The significant presence of diplomats and international agencies in the Region remarkably contributed to the enhancement of these values.

The KRG has therefore recognized the above-mentioned values as crucial to good governance, which the current KRG cabinet seeks to establish.
In the coming days, we will respond in detail to the State Department's report.

The KRG Office of the Coordinator for International Advocacy