Amnesty International

Kurdistan Region authorities neglecting domestic violence survivors, says new report

ERBIL – Women and girls subjected to domestic violence in Iraqi Kurdistan face “daunting obstacles” when they seek state protection, Amnesty International said Wednesday, accusing authorities of failing to prosecute the abusers.

A report by the London-based rights group said gender-based violence in the Kurdistan Region was “perpetuated by a criminal justice system that fuels impunity”.

Authorities “are failing to ensure that perpetrators of domestic violence, including harrowing cases of murder, rape, beatings and burning, are held to account”, Amnesty said.

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

“From the moment they escape abusive situations, these women and girls repeatedly encounter daunting obstacles in seeking protection and justice,” said Majzoub.

Amnesty said state prosecutors “rarely if ever” initiate criminal cases against abusers.

Instead, women and girl must file criminal complaints against their aggressors and “frequently face reprisals, threats and intimidation for doing so from the abuser or their families often aimed at pressuring them to drop the charges”.

The Kurdistan Region, which is keen on presenting an image of relative stability and progress, passed a law in 2011 criminalizing domestic violence. But legal efforts to protect women in Iraq, including Kurdistan Region, face hurdles from traditional norms, conflict, and political instability.

But, according to Amnesty, “under the law, acts of domestic violence are considered misdemeanors and therefore can only incur a maximum penalty of three years in prison”.

The Domestic Violence Law also “mandates a reconciliation process between the survivor and her abuser before a judge decides whether to refer the case for trial”, Amnesty said, calling to revoke the process.

The report said judges often show “bias” toward the male abuser and push to keep the family together rather than ensure the protection of women.

Amnesty quoted a caseworker as saying: “Women do not want to go to court because they will be asked, ‘What did you do for him to do that to you?’.”

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

Amnesty also called on authorities to offer greater support for survivors including in shelters.

“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”, said the report.

It noted a court order is needed to enter — or leave — the shelters.

Amnesty said it conducted exhaustive research including interviews with 15 women survivors of domestic violence, aid workers and government officials as well as visits to shelters for abused women.

Three shelters Amnesty researchers have visited “were in despair, overcrowded, understaffed and not adequately equipped for survivors’ needs”, the report said.

According to Amnesty, citing official figures, 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.

Ruwayda Mustafah, a British-Kurdish activist, notes rising violence despite growing advocacy: “We are living at a time when cultural changes are rapidly developing in the KRI [Kurdistan Region-Iraq]. We are seeing the highest numbers of NGOs, women’s advocates, and women-allied lawmakers, yet violence against women continues to rise.”

Social media often exacerbates the issue, with some users normalizing verbal violence and praising perpetrators of “honor” killings. The case of Eman Sami Maghdid, killed by her brother in Erbil in 2022, highlighted this trend. Known as Maria Sami, she was criticized on social media for diverging from conservative norms, sparking debates on women’s rights and domestic violence in the region.

Beyond the Kurdistan Region, the scourge of domestic violence is felt across Iraq.

According to the federal government’s interior ministry, out of nearly 14,000 complaints filed across Iraq during the first four months of 2024 — the majority of which concerning women — only about 100 led to criminal convictions.

Some 3,000 alleged perpetrators have been released on bail and nearly 4,500 “reconciliation” processes were recorded, the ministry said.

A United Nations report underscores that violence against women and girls remains one of the most prevalent human rights violations worldwide, affecting an estimated 736 million women.

AFP. Additional reporting by 964media.

Murdered and forgotten, Kurdistan Region's victims of gender-based violence

Murdered and forgotten, Kurdistan Region's victims of gender-based violence

Young woman fatally shot in her home

Young woman fatally shot in her home