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Cablegate: Rrt Erbil: Efforts to Combat Violence Against Women In

DE RUEHGB #4026/01 3610338
P 260338Z DEC 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

This is an Erbil Regional Reconstruction Team (RRT) cable.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Violence against women in the Kurdistan Region
(KR) is widespread, including honor killings, provoked "suicide" by
burning, and female genital mutilation. Tackling this issue
requires combining law enforcement and education; it will take time.
We don't know whether there is more violence against women in the
Kurdish Region than elsewhere in Iraq; greater attention to the
problem could reflect more aggressive press reporting and more
active women's and human rights organizations in the north. While
the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) recognizes the problem and
has taken important steps to combat it, it needs to follow through
with the prosecution and incarceration of those guilty of honor
killings, and take stronger measures to protect threatened women.
Senior KRG officials care deeply about their image in the West; they
also are aware that too aggressive measures risk backlash from a
deeply conservative population. INL funding is providing mentoring
for Kurdish policewomen handling domestic violence cases. The RRT
has used QRF money for a wide range of projects promoting human
rights and women's livelihoods. END SUMMARY.

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2. (SBU) Widespread violence against women, in particular honor
killings, provoked "suicide" by burning, and genital mutilation
(FGM), is not unique to the Kurdistan region (KR). Violence against
women in the KR draws attention because of the tension between the
ideal of the modern secular state promoted by Kurdistan regional
leaders and the persistence (and possible increase) of such
pernicious customs; the conundrum of Kurds as long-standing human
rights "victims" in turn victimizing their own; and the visible
export of these customs into the Kurdish diaspora. We lack good
data comparing violence against women in the KR with its incidence
elsewhere in Iraq.

Honor Killings

"Shame on the family could be cleansed only through murder; shame
extended to the community, the village, the tribe, the neighbors,
and the neighborhood. The community participated in the killing by
expecting it, by endorsing it, and by casting out a family that
failed to kill the woman." (Shahrzad Mojab and Amir Hassanpour,
"Thoughts on the Struggle Against "Honor Killing"", International
Journal of Kurdish Studies, January, 2002.

3. (SBU) Information is limited on the number of honor killings and
deaths of women by burning in the KR. The Ministry of Human Rights
is charged with collecting and publishing monthly data on honor
killings and suspicious burning deaths. The Ministry reported 421
such deaths in 2006 and 520 in 2007. Forty five percent of the 2007
deaths were due to burning ("oil, gas, wood, kerosene, liquids,
chemical or electrical," according to the report). For 2008, the
Ministry has reported 288 deaths (211 from burning) from January to
August 2008. Trends are hard to glean. The year-on-year increase
could mean that medical and legal authorities are growing more
willing to report unnatural deaths. The Minister of Human Rights
reported to RRTOffs during a meeting in October 2007 that overall
honor killings were declining (although the reported numbers do not
bear out this assertion.) According to media reporting, health
professionals in Suleymaniya province are reporting "a surge" in
honor killings and female suicides (AFP, May 2008).

4. (SBU) Human Rights experts and medical professionals believe
that official figures are marred by inconsistent data collection and
Qthat official figures are marred by inconsistent data collection and
grossly understate the real numbers. Private and governmental
researchers confront a strong social imperative to hide the facts of
these cases. According to one human rights researcher, notions of
"honor" are deeply entrenched in Kurdish society at all income and
education levels. Many Kurdish communities still collectively
enforce "honor" by insisting on expiating the shame of "dishonor" by
murder. Many communities ostracize those who do not adhere to these
social norms. This leads fathers, brothers and other male relatives
to kill their daughters and sisters; women in the family are either
complicit or maintain silence. Dishonor can come from small
transgressions. One case reported to RRT involved a young girl who
met death as a result of having had a phone conversation with a
young man (with her cell-phone providing the incriminating
evidence.) Jealousy and malicious gossip in tight communities can
lead to accusations of dishonor, which result in the death of women
acknowledged afterwards by neighbors to be "innocent." Gruesome
torture and rape of the victim often comes before death.

5. (SBU) While the practices are probably more prevalent in rural
areas, the massive influx of rural Kurds to the cities has brought
with it aspects of village life. The plight of Anfal widows has
drawn particular attention, according to human rights researchers.
Widows can be viewed as pariahs by their families and their efforts
to find livelihoods have put themselves in situations that have on

BAGHDAD 00004026 002 OF 003

occasion resulted in their ostracization or murder. (Note: The
cultural taboo against Kurdish women working outside the home
without family permission is not relaxed for women whose husbands
died during the Anfal. Though some are able to work from home -- in
farming, sewing, or handicrafts -- or obtained family permission to
work outside of the home, others have turned to prostitution or work
without their family's blessing and risk being accused of betraying
their families' honor. End note.)

6. (SBU) Western-funded NGOs have supported campaigns against
violence against women, and courageous Kurdish human rights
defenders speak out regularly on these issues. At the same time,
the gulf between advocacy and traditional communities is large.
While human rights researchers emphasize that violence against women
is "tribal" rather than "religious," enlisting the support of the
religious establishment is widely viewed as important to changing
societal views on the role of women. Imam Penjweny is one of
Erbil's most respected Muslim clerics (and one who has stated
publicly that FGM is not mandated by Islamic teaching). Nonetheless
in a meeting with RRTOffs which took place during the
government-declared week to campaign against violence against women,
Penjweny refused to refer to the theme of "violence against women"
and insisted that the more important message was combating violence
against "human beings." He also railed against Kurdish women taking
instruction from "Western NGOs" on women's rights. Friday mosque
sermons in Erbil echo some of those same themes.

7. (SBU) Honor killings is one "export" associated with the Iraqi
Kurdish diaspora, with recent instances in Sweden and the UK
recently receiving considerable public attention. In the UK, 20
year-old Iraqi Kurd Banaz Mahmod was tortured, raped and strangled
in 2007 because her family disapproved of her boyfriend. Her uncle
and her father were sentenced to life for her murder. Two other
suspects fled to northern Iraq where they were reported to have been
arrested by Kurdistan Region authorities. (Comment: We have
received confirmation from UK sources that the Kurdistan authorities
are willing to extradite them. End comment.)
Female Genital Mutilation

8. (SBU) FGM has not received as much attention as honor killings in
the KR. According to the Minister of Health, some 60 percent of
Kurdish women undergo FGM, with the operation usually performed with
razor blades or shards of glass. A November 25 AFP article cited
the research of German NGO "Wadi" in 201 villages in the KR in which
it was determined that 3,501 women and girls out of 5,628 surveyed
had undergone FGM - a rate of over 62 percent. FGM is not against
the law in the KR, although a bill is being drafted for considered
in the Kurdistan National Assembly. Proposed by parliamentarian Dr.
Hala Suheil, the draft bill would impose jail terms and fines on

Government Efforts to Tackle Violence Against Women
--------------------------------------------- ------

9. (SBU) An important first step in investigating and prosecuting
honor crimes was taken in 2002 when the Kurdistan National Assembly
(KNA) passed a law criminalizing honor crimes. The KRG Minister of
Human Rights has said publicly that KRG policy states that honor
killings are considered murder. (Note: Article 111 of the Iraq
Penal Code, passed in 1969, still prevails in the rest of Iraq.
Under this Article, honor killings are tolerated if the defendant
had "honorable motives." End note.)
Qhad "honorable motives." End note.)

10. (SBU) In June 2007, Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani
established a Commission, which he chairs, to address gender-based
violence, including honor killings. (Note: The Commission was
created in the wake of international outcry at the April 2007 death
by stoning of a young Yezidi girl. End note.) The Commission is
charged with monitoring all new and outstanding cases of honor
killings and ensuring that the police and legal system process the
cases correctly. Representatives from the Ministries of the
Interior, Justice, Human Rights, Women's Affairs, the Police
Department and other government bodies sit on the Commission.
Another important development is that a suit may now be filed on
behalf of a deceased victim.

11. (SBU) In January 2008, Prime Minister Barzani announced the
creation of "Monitoring Boards" to ensure that the region's laws to
protect women are enforced. In addition, the law enforcement
departments are to be unified into one body to guarantee unified
procedures in prosecuting cases. The Prime Minister stated "it is
essential that our courts investigate and prosecute crimes against
women in the most efficient way possible." More than one contact
has praised Prime Minister Barzani's personal involvement in this
issue. His strong commitment has unquestionably been one of the
most important forces in the KR for change.

12. (SBU) Despite these advances, the number of successfully
prosecuted honor crimes is difficult to confirm. According to

BAGHDAD 00004026 003 OF 003

members of the Erbil Monitoring Board, approximately ten cases are
forwarded to the justice system for action in Erbil Province every
month. However, authorities are unable to confirm which were
successfully prosecuted and resulted in the incarceration of the
guilty. The impediments to more effective legal action include the
lack of a credible system of tracking gender-based crimes.
(Comment: RRT Erbil is funding the establishment of such a tracking
system through a QRF grant to the Heartland Alliance NGO. End
comment.) Furthermore, all levels of the judicial system must be
willing to use credible information about gender-based crimes to
prevent such crimes and to punish the guilty.

13. (SBU) Another important step has been the placement of police
officers at major hospitals in the KR. Their role is to identify
victims and, if possible, interview them at the hospital.
Previously, a family was able to take possession of the body of a
victim who may have been shot, burned or otherwise killed, with no
further questions being asked. (Comment: A complication in
determining the facts in burn cases is that there has been an
increase of what appear to be bona fide suicide attempts by burning
- indicative of the desperation of many young women in the region.
End comment.)

14. (SBU) The government has established an Erbil Police
Directorate to Combat Violence Against Women. When a complaint of
domestic violence or abuse is made at a local police station, it is
supposed to alert the Directorate. If there are injuries, the
Directorate forwards the case to the court and the prosecutor is
supposed to take over. However, observers of the Directorate's
activities report that it often tries to encourage "reconciliation"
for victims of domestic abuse. They also report that, while
lip-service is paid by the highest levels of the police, they lack
the will to follow through on prosecutions. An INL-funded U.S.
Police Adviser is working with the Directorate, focusing on
mentoring policewomen, improving the documentation of cases and

15. (SBU) The government has welcomed USG assistance and in some
instances sought out its own technical experts to address violence
against women. The Prime Minister has hired an American lawyer (a
former state District Attorney) to work on prosecutions.


16. (SBU) Shelters are an important element of a comprehensive
protection strategy for women under threat. While the Kurdistan
Region leads the country in the number of shelters (at least one in
each province), the shelters have had difficulty protecting those
seeking shelter there. A Sulaimaniyah women's shelter (operated by
ASUDA NGO, an RRT QRF grant recipient) was attacked in May 2008 by
family members of one of the women staying there. Some women's
shelters attempt to operate in secrecy to prevent such occurrences.
More and larger shelters are needed (women and children were seen
sleeping on the floor of the Erbil shelter). There are too few
social workers and therapists to help the victims (compounded by the
fact that government employees are reluctant to work at shelters for
fear of retaliation by family members). Shelters may provide
temporary respite, but are not a long-term solution. Shelters seek
to mediate between victims and family members, with the goal of
having the victim return in safety to her family.

RRT Activities

17. (SBU) RRT Erbil has given priority to women's projects in our
QRF funding. Since QRF was established, 22 percent of RRT QRF
funding (approximately $1.5 million) has gone to support projects
Qfunding (approximately $1.5 million) has gone to support projects
assisting women's livelihoods (particularly for Anfal widows) or
promoting human rights. In addition to support for the
international week to combat violence against women (septel), other
examples include: support for the creation of a beekeepers
cooperative for 70 poor and disadvantaged women; support for a
data-base to track gender-based violence; and support for women's
health education in rural areas and training in animal husbandry.
In 2008, the RRT made a QRF grant of $150,655 to establish a women's
shelter in the Amedi District of Dohuk Province.


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