Recognise genocide in Iraq

11 March 2013

Recognise genocide in Iraq

It would be a mark of respect for the victims of the mass-murder of Kurds in Iraq and their surviving families and friends were the government of the Netherlands to recognise the massacre as genocide, argue Harry van Bommel and Hazjah Salah.

On Saturday it will be precisely twenty-five years ago that Saddam Hussein, using chemical weapons, put an end to the lives of 5,000 inhabitants of the Kurdish town of Halabja. This gruesome crime was the tragic low-point of a much broader campaign against the Kurds on the north of Iraq. More and more countries are now, with good reason, recognising this campaign as genocide. It’s high time that the Netherlands did the same.

The mass-murder in Iraq in the late 1980s has gone down in history as the Anfal campaign. The statistics do not lie. In a period of just two years, at least 2,000 Kurdish villages were razed to the ground. Tens of thousands of civilians were murdered, and tens of thousands more arrested and held in appalling conditions. And still more hundreds of thousands were forced to leave behind hearth and home in their flight from violence. That today ever more mass graves are being discovered shows the scale on which this campaign was fought.

These figures come from a report drawn up in 1993 by Human Rights Watch in which the international human rights group leaves no doubt that Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign was genocidal. If you read the definition of genocide written into the 1948 UN genocide treaty, you can only conclude that the Anfal campaign was a meticulously planned annihilation of a people.

In 2007 the Dutch trafficker Frans van Anraat was condemned to seventeen years in prison for his joint responsibility for war crimes. When the horrific crimes outlined above took place, he was delivering poison gas to Iraq. In passing sentence the court talked of powerful evidence that the leaders of the Iraqi regime had been guided by a genocidal intent.

In view of all this, it should come as no surprise to know that an increasing number of countries have come to recognise the Anfal campaign as what it in reality was: genocide. At the end of last year the Swedish Parliament did so, and Norway has also recognised it. At the end of last month, on 28th February, a motion was unanimously adopted in the British Parliament recognising the Anfal campaign as genocide, as have numerous governments, while the European Union and the United Nations are being urged to do the same. In other countries, such as Canada, there is a great deal of debate over the issue.

Recognition is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it would contribute to the most important goal of the UN’s genocide treaty. In 1948, shortly after the Second World War and the horrors suffered by European Jews, this treaty was adopted expressly to prevent new genocides. International attention to genocide is therefore needed and recognition would ensure this.

In addition, recognition would demonstrate respect for the victims of these gruesome events and for their families and friends. The Kurds have, completely understandably, long complained that the mountains were their only friends. Political recognition would send a fine signal of friendship to this people, that for far too long has been the victim of history. Lastly, recognition by the Netherlands is important because of the disgusting role played in these events by the poison gas trafficker Van Anraat.

In December the city council of The Hague took the unanimous decision that a token of remembrance for the victims of the chemical attack in Halabja would be erected in the town. It is interesting that, after long insistence, the victims of genocide were commemorated in a dignified manner in this memorial, but this is not enough. On the basis of moral considerations the Netherlands should join the growing group of countries which recognise the Anfal campaign as genocide. It is in fact quite astonishing that the Netherlands, the host country for the International Criminal Court and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has not already done so.

The authors are respectively Member of Parliament for the SP and member of the executive of CHAK, a non-governmental organisation which advocates the international recognition of the genocide against the Kurds.

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