From 24-26 April 2023, a delegation of researchers and lawyers from Kurdistan visited Scotland and the University of Glasgow as part of the project on ‘Pathways to International Justice in Iraq’. An insight award by the Scottish Council on Global Affairs as well as additional support from Glasgow University’s Centre for International Law and Security (GCILS), Dr Anni Pues from the School of Law in partnership with the Kurdistan Centre for International Law enabled a tripartite of thought-provoking events:

 

  • a 2-day academic workshop on pathways to international justice in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI);
  • a public event at Glasgow City Chambers providing a 20-year retrospective on the occupation of Iraq;
  • and lastly, a visit to the Scottish Parliament and meeting with MSP Ross Greer.

 

All three events focused on addressing human rights protection and implementation in the face of the huge gaps of accountability that persist from periods of mass atrocity and war.

The two-day workshop, chaired by GCILS’ Dr Anni Pues, brought together academics from across Scotland and the UK. It provided an inquiry into historical dimensions in the search for international justice, addressed present-day problems, and aimed to look to the future in identifying the potential for collaboration and research in strengthening international criminal law in Kurdistan.

Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, who oversaw the Saddam Hussein trial as chief judge of the Iraqi High Tribunal (IHT) before resigning in protest, reflected on these experiences. Political interventions by the occupying forces made attempts at meaningful local engagement in search for justice untenable. Furthermore, security issues severely hampered any possibility to secure a fair trial as a backbone to any attempt at delivering justice. Sheraz Amin, KCIL researcher and PhD candidate at the University of Lincoln, discussed the responsibility to protect and non-state actors with a focus on the Yazidi genocide. Dr Mohammad Raschid from the University of Human Development in Sulaymaniyah presented the KCIL study on domesticating international criminal law in KRI, and explained why the current method of prosecuting ISIS collaborators and fighters under anti-terror laws is inadequate. These presentations led to broader discussions between the workshop attendees on the areas of priority for further research to improve the mechanisms for justice currently in place in KRI.  

The public event was designed as a reflection on the developments 20 years after the invasion of Iraq and to provide space for Kurdish and Iraqi perspectives. Glasgow City Council kindly hosted this event in the grand Banqueting Hall, providing the space to allow students and academics, members of the Kurdish and Arab communities from across Scotland and the broader public to come together. Judge Rizgar as one of the Panel speakers provided an account of the long history and legal tradition in Iraq to facilitate a better understanding of how destructive the occupation and its legacy was. Glasgow City Counsellor Roza Salih shared her own experience as a young Kurdish refugee, drawing an interesting comparison between Scotland and Kurdistan in terms of autonomy, identity and independence – a theme that arose at various points during the three-day visit. Dr Mohammad Raschid offered a brief reflection of lasting inequalities and institutional failures. Contributions from the audience highlighted that for some Kurdish communities the Iraq war was perceived as a liberation from Hussein’s dictatorship at the time. However, the discussions around the effectiveness of the Iraqi High Tribunal revealed the continued need for justice and reconciliation. For survivors of the Halabja genocide and persecution under Saddam’s regime, questions of justice are yet to be answered. The discussion spanned the responsibility for reparations and peacebuilding, and the continuation of the rule of law – or: rule of rights, as Judge Rizgar termed it – in conflict regions, invoking similarities with the ongoing war in Ukraine.

On the final day of the KCIL’s visit, the delegation travelled to Edinburgh for talks with Green Party MSP Ross Greer on the wider goals of the KCIL of promoting and domesticating international law and the avenues for collaboration and assistance available from the Scottish Parliament. The exchange highlighted the similarities and differences between Kurdistan and Scotland in terms of regional autonomy and legal competence. The KCIL drew attention to the practical challenges in the implementation of human rights not only in legislation but how to make such rights a reality. Hopefully, a first practical step in strengthening institutional links and support for the KCIL’s capacity-building projects both within KRI and internationally will be a visit of Kurdish Parliamentarians to Holyrood to see specifically the Commissioner’s system in action.

Overall, the visit has nurtured international networks on accountability, international justice and human rights protection and will hopefully be only the start of a longer-lasting cooperation.