A new decree from the Presidency of the Kurdistan Region was issued to enforce the compliance of Peshmerga forces with International Humanitarian Law and for the protection of civilians during conflict. This came following a policy recommendation by the Middle East Research Institute (MERI) and Geneva Call, who jointly held a series of workshops for the Peshmarga commanders, in collaboration with the Ministry of Peshmarga (MoP).
The new decree, signed by the Chief Commander of Peshmerga Forces, Massoud Barzani, was announced by the MoP’s Secretary General, Jabar Yawar, on the 30th May, during a workshop attended by the chief of staff of the Peshmerga forces and his deputies, senior commanders from the MoP, coalition forces’ military advisors, representatives of the European Union Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department.
Mr Yawar emphasized that a.) the decree urges the Peshmerga commanders across all the fronts in the fight against ISIS on compliance with the norms and principles of International Humanitarian Law, adherence to the rules of engagement and protection of civilians; and b.) the Peshmerga forces will need to receive adequate training and education on these issues, for which the MoP has approached other human rights and international organizations.
The MoP is aware of the importance of adherence to these laws and principles, and has cadres in each unit trained by international organizations – including the Red Crescent. The Ministry has also created a committee to amend the existing laws (19, 33, and 34) and has sought internal and external expertise to study these laws before introducing the amendments. However, the need for a structured and robust way of ensuring adherence to IHL has compelled the MoP to seek support from institutions such as MERI and Geneva Call.
The MERI-Geneva Call workshops were designed to identify gaps and obstacles within the training and conduct of the Peshmerga forces on the frontline and in conflict areas. Despite the fact that the armed forces are involved in a very tense conflict, they are required to make moral decisions. The Peshmerga must adhere to international law and standards by establishing extensive rules of engagement; building trust among the locals in the conflict zones and creating a mechanism to hold accountable those individuals responsible for violations.
Moreover, MoP officials also requested that MERI, in collaboration with other relevant organizations including Geneva Call, sign a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry and help with preparing a training program for the Peshmerga; formulate rules of engagement in compliance with IHL; create appropriate literature in Kurdish for disseminating those rules among the Peshmerga.
The workshop emphasized that even though the MoP has a special committee to supervise the frontline and follow up with claims and allegations, which consists of representatives of the judicial system, external monitoring is necessary, the Ministry must monitor and evaluate the implementation of policies and deal with any complaints that might arise as a consequence of war.
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About MERI: The Middle East Research Institute is Iraq’s leading policy-research institute and think tank. It is an independent, entirely grant-funded not-for-profit organisation, based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region. Its mission is to contribute to the process of nation-building, state-building and democratisation via engagement, research, analysis and policy debates.
MERI’s main objectives include promoting and developing human rights, good governance, the rule of law and social and economic prosperity. MERI conduct high impact, high quality research (including purpose-based field work) and has published extensively in areas of: human rights, government reform, international politics, national security, ISIS, refugees, IDPs, minority rights (Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Shabaks, Sabi mandeans), Baghdad-Erbil relations, Hashd Al-Shabi, Peshmarga, violence against women, civil society. MERI engages policy- and decision-makers, the civil society and general public via publication, focused group discussions and conferences (MERI Forum).