Kurdistan Region of Iraq in the midst of crisis

The Kurdish Region of Iraq has enjoyed freedom and self-rule governance since the United States invasion of Iraq which left thousands of people dead. Since then,the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has established relationships with regional and international powers to seek support for its independence, build up its economy, and attain military support. However, the KRG has not been able to create a space for universal human rights, civil society activists, human rights defenders and independent journalists. Many activists, journalists, and religious leaders have been detained, beaten, threatened and humiliated by the security forces and even found dead. The KRG has not provided security to activists and civil society members who are trying to actively engage in the process of creating a democratic state and society.

Since 2014, the region has faced the worst financial crisis in its history after the the KRG’s budget was cut by the Iraqi Government. The KRG has also been criticized by citizens of the region for alleged mass corruption in its institutions. In addition, the region has been in war with ISIS for more than two years. When the financial crisis started in the region, the government told its employees that they were unable to pay their salaries. After months of nonpayment, the government also proportionately reduced their salaries. Even after the reduction in government salaries,the KRG was still unable to pay its workers. This lead to many protests and a teachers’ strike. The teachers demanded their full salaries be paid and asked the government to stop corruption in the public sector.

In the early stage of the demonstrations, the authorities in the cities of Erbil and Duhok threatened the workers as they attempted to organize peaceful protests. The local government warned the employees that they would face serious consequences if they protest against the government. However, there was a space in the city of Sulaimani for workers to organize peaceful demonstrations and demand for their rights.  The organizers and teachers peacefully protested for 110 days. As a response, in December of 2016, the security forces in Sulaimani used violent means to force teachers to end their strike. Many activists were arrested, beaten, threatened and their property was damaged and burnt. Despite the violent reaction from the security forces, the teachers demonstrations remained peaceful. Finally, in mid January, 2017, the teachers ended their strike under immense pressure by the security forces and were assured by the Prime Minister and his deputy that nothing would change as a result of the demonstrations.

Since, the protests have ended, the organizers, civil society activists and journalists have faced threats and violence. Their families have been terrorized and the security forces used social media to humiliate them. The government is responsible for its citizen’s security and should respect human rights by creating a space where civil society can act freely to establish a profound democratic region without facing threats and violence.