Kurdistan's Mass Femicide Graves: More Than 20,000 Kurdish Women And Girls Murdered In So-called "Honor Killings".
Kurdish femicide is out of control in northern Iraq and victims are being buried in unmarked graves. The mass femicide graves are found in all parts of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq and are full of unmarked graves of women and girls. The victims are murdered by homicidal male relatives that believe in an archaic variation of femicide called honor killings.
How long has this been going on?
Since the 1991 uprising of the Kurdish region femicide has claimed the lives of more than 20,000 Kurdish women murdered in so-called "honor killings". The victims are buried in unmarked graves and loved ones are forbidden from visiting them. When they do visit the gravesite they do so in secret also risking their lives. According to Qubad Talabani, the deputy prime minister of the (KRG) “This is a form of violence that continues to torment these women even after their deaths,” ... “By being buried with no respect or recognition, they did not afford this poor victim respect, even in death. That aspect of this crime really hurt me and made me want to act." Kurdish women are told they must maintain the “honour” of the family name and if they bring “shame” to the community they will be severely punished.
What do human rights defenders say?
Human rights defenders say the COVID pandemic has exacerbated violence against women and femicide in the Kurdish region as rates of suicide among women also rise. Across the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, violence against women, including rape, domestic violence, “honour crimes”, child marriages, trafficking, slavery, and female genital mutilation (FGM), is on the rise. Feminists groups across the region are coordinating to stop femicide by rising education and awareness around the issue. They aim to open a dialogue within society to shame 'honour killings',end patriarchal rule, and enact legal consequences for the perpetrators of femicide.
What is the government's response?
Qubad Talabani says, “As an official, as a Kurd and as a man, I feel ashamed that such crimes can be carried out by my countrymen against women. The fact that these victims lie in unmarked graves just adds insult to injury. There is never honour in the murder of women, only shame. Shame on the perpetrator and shame on the society that tolerates such acts. .... Our land is not so vast and our communities not so disconnected that a caring family could not reach the authorities to alert us to a missing family member. ... So we can only assume that the families are complicit in the murders, hence the silence and the dissociation.”
Qubad Talabani sponsored a scheme to install headstones at unmarked graves, as well as to try to identify the bodies. “I’ve instructed our DNA labs to take samples of any body found without identification,” he says. “These samples could later be used if family members ever come forward to report missing family members.” He has also had the numbers which were the only markings on the graves removed and replaced with the word “Zhian”, which means “life”, and “Rest in peace – this is your home”. According to Talabani, the unmarked graves may also have served to protect the perpetrators because the victims were buried before a police investigation can take place and no one except the killer or killers know where the bodies lie.
However, he insists there is “robust legislation” in place to protect women. “We have a brave and active directorate to combat violence against women and families. A hotline for victims of violence against women to contact to anonymously report crimes, which are swiftly acted upon, and even a newly established anti-trafficking department to stop the spread of human and child trafficking.”
What has changed?
There is a long way to go, but Talabani believes attitudes are changing. Talabani says, “There is outrage when someone is a victim of" sex-based violence. "There is outrage when a young girl or woman is killed by their family. This is a big change from 15 to 20 years ago when such crimes wouldn’t even make the news. ... Things are moving in the right direction, but not quickly enough."
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