ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Dindar Zebari, the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) Coordinator for International Advocacy, denied claims made in a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report from Friday that accused camp officials and security forces in the Kurdistan Region of blocking displaced Sunni Arabs from returning home.
The report, entitled “Kurdistan Region of Iraq: Arabs Not Allowed Home,” presents evidence that it says shows that the KRG prevented 4,200 Sunni Arabs displaced by the conflict with the Islamic State from returning home to twelve villages east of Mosul.
Zebari said, “The KRG policy’s main objective is the voluntary return of the IDPs to their areas of origin without discrimination based on ethnic and religious background.”
“KRG provided all kinds of facilitation to HRW in conducting their investigation as they are continuously publishing reports about human rights condition in the world with specific reports on Iraq and Kurdistan region heavily accusing the KRG of human rights violations without reliable sources in more than one occasion, without any reference to the steps KRG took to preserve human rights,” he added.
In the report, HRW said it verified the return of Kurdish villagers to one village during a July visit, but that an official from a displacement camp had told a Sunni Arab resident of the same town that he was not allowed to return home “without providing him with a clear reason why.”
“Families like mine have become victims of abuse because we went to Mosul when ISIS came, instead of fleeing towards the Kurds,” a 69-year-old man from the village of Manquba told HRW. “Now we are punished because we didn’t go to [Kurdish-controlled] Kalak.”
Another said that only his Arab neighbors who had personal ties to the Peshmerga said they were allowed to return to his village.
In his response, Zebari wrote, “The decision for return remains with the IDPs, and the KRG facilitates the return in partnership with Iraqi Federal government,” he said. “Due to lack of security, explosive leftovers, IEDs, and lack of essential services such as clean water, schools, electricity and health facilities in certain villages made the process of returnees difficult.”
He added, “Although some areas in Nineveh plains are suited for living, acts of revenge from victims of ISIS prevents IDP with ISIS relatives from returning home,” which can destabilize the security of the governorate.
HRW wrote, “Under international humanitarian law, the forced displacement of civilians is prohibited except when necessary to protect civilians or for imperative military reasons, and then only for as long as needed. Possible future hostilities are not a lawful basis.”
Editing by John J. Catherine