1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Iraqi Kurdistan ignores violence against women — Amnesty

July 3, 2024

Women victims of domestic violence in Iraqi Kurdistan do not get the help they deserve, Amnesty International has said. A report shows courts favor male suspects even as many women are beaten, raped and murdered.

An Iraqi Kurdish woman demonstrates in front of the Kurdistan Judicial Council offices in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq in 2014
Women took to the steets following the murder of a 15-year-old girl in Iraqi Kurdistan by ber 45-year-old husband in 2014Image: Safin Hamid/AFP/Getty Images

More and more women are being turned away by the justice system in Iraqi Kurdistan, Amnesty International said in a report released on Wednesday. 

"[Authorities] are failing to ensure that perpetrators of domestic violence, including harrowing cases of murder, rape, beatings and burning, are held to account," Amnesty's report said of officials in Iraqi Kurdistan.

"Survivors of domestic violence in the Kurdistan region of Iraq are being failed at every turn," said Aya Majzoub, Amnesty's deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Domestic violence a problem across Iraq

The effects of domestic violence are felt not just in the Kurdistan region, but across Iraq.

At least 30 women were killed in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2023 and 40 the previous year, but NGO workers have said the numbers are higher as many women are afraid of reporting their abusers.

Out of nearly 14,000 complaints filed in all of Iraq during the first four months of 2024, the majority of which were filed by women or concerned crimes against women, only about 100 cases led to criminal convictions, the federal government's Interior Ministry said.

At least 3,000 alleged perpetrators have been released on bail and nearly 4,500 "reconciliation" processes were recorded, the ministry said.

What do Iraqi activists say?

Iraqi rights activist K.S. Hasan told DW that violence against women is widespread in Iraqi Kurdistan.

"In the largest cemetery in Sulaymaniyah, the second-largest city in Iraqi Kurdistan with autonomy, the gravedigger said that there are about 200 graves of women and girls from domestic violence," Hasan told DW.

Most women in this region are killed "for honor and morals or because of their social media activity or even simply because they loved someone," lawyer Roscar Ibrahim told the AFP news agency.

The women's rights activist Hasan said most of the women killed "are buried at night because of the risk that their relatives will come and destroy the grave."

More than 1 million women and girls across Iraq, which has a population of 43 million, are vulnerable to gender-based violence, according to statistics from the United Nations.

Women facing violence 'rarely' receive justice

Women and girls subjected to domestic violence in Iraqi Kurdistan face "daunting obstacles" when they seek state protection, Amnesty said. The rights group accused the local authorities of failing to prosecute the abusers.

"Gender-based violence in the autonomous northern region is being perpetuated by a criminal justice system that fuels impunity," the London-based group said, adding that state prosecutors "rarely, if ever," initiate criminal cases against abusers. 

From the very moment they escape their tormentors, the women and girls repeatedly face challenges in seeking protection and justice, Majzoub said.

Filing criminal complaints against aggressors leads to the women "frequently facing reprisals, threats and intimidation," Amnesty reported, adding that women face maltreatment from not only their abusers but also their families, who often pressure them to drop the charges.

Law mandates reconciliation between survivor and abuser 

The Kurdistan Region is an autonomous region in Iraq and borders Syria, Iran and Turkey. In 2011, it criminalized domestic violence as part of an effort to present the region as a place of relative stability and progress.

However, "under the law, acts of domestic violence are considered misdemeanors and therefore can only incur a maximum penalty of three years in prison," Amnesty said.

The Iraqi-Kurdish Domestic Violence Law "mandates a reconciliation process between the survivor and her abuser before a judge decides whether to refer the case for trial," Amnesty reported. 

Judges often favor the male defendant and push to keep the family together rather than ensure the protection of women, Amnesty said.

"Women do not want to go to court because they will be asked, 'What did you do for him to do that to you?'" said a caseworker interviewed by Amnesty. 

Shelters protect but take away liberty

"Victims should not be asked what they did to provoke being beaten, stabbed or shot," the caseworker said.

Amnesty is calling upon the authorities to offer more support for the suffering women and girls. They demand protective shelters for the women.

"Once in the shelters, the women and girls' freedom of movement and access to phones and the internet are severely restricted," which amounts to "an arbitrary deprivation of liberty," the report said.

Edited by: Sean Sinico