Training Kurdistan Region’s Armed Forces on Compliance with International Humanitarian Law

MERI and Geneva Call have now initiated an ambitious training programme for high-ranking Peshmerga leaders who are currently actively engaged in the war against ISIS, on compliance with International Humanitarian Law (IHL). In collaboration with the Ministry of Peshmerga, the first of a series of workshops was held on Sunday, February 29th, 2016, with active participation of the representatives of the European Union Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as well as the military advisers from the leading countries of the international coalition and diplomats.

At the meeting, it was emphasised that the KRG has not in any way adopted a structural policy aimed at addressing the violation of the principles of IHL. As well, it was stressed that when violations do occur they are of individual nature, not the result of any governmental policy. It was proposed that the Ministry of Peshmerga sign a memorandum of understanding with both MERI and Geneva Call, and that the three organisations take the lead in an initiative aimed at raising awareness of the norms and principles of IHL at all levels of Peshmerga forces; developing comprehensive mechanisms and policy recommendations that support compliance with IHL; and demonstrating the Peshmerga’s commitment to protecting fundamental human rights during times of war.

There are currently seven countries training the Peshmerga forces in combat, which includes elements of IHL. Any attempt to improve the respect for IHL principles must therefore be coordinated with other relevant actors. Geneva Call plans to expand on current efforts with a large public awareness campaign titled “Fighter not Killer,” featuring television and radio spots, a mobile phone application, media training, and the dissemination of various publications including, leaflets, brochures and booklets. Publications have and will continue to be distributed among commanders and soldiers at middle to lower ranks. It was also recommended that the programme focus not only on the Peshmerga, but other armed and security forces, including the Asayish (internal security force).


Several international attendees of the meeting stressed that although it can be difficult for a commander to accept that some of his soldiers are breaking the rules, a sober and realistic acknowledgement of IHL violations is an important step towards prevention in the future. Ensuring that mechanisms are in place to prevent violations and punish individual perpetrators when they cross the line is an important way for Kurdistan to demonstrate its continued commitment to principles of IHL.

As indicated above, Sunday’s meeting was the first in a series of workshops to be held between MERI, Geneva Call, the Ministry of Peshmerga, and other key stakeholders, such as international organisations and military coalition partners. The following meetings will aim to provide more insight on current gaps in policy and legislation, and increase awareness of the importance of human rights in times of war. As some attendees noted; “Violations of IHL increase suffering and grievances among populations and in so doing increase the willingness of future generations to fight.” In other words, if we are serious about stopping the cycle of conflict in Iraq and the Middle East as a whole, compliance with IHL must be adhered to.

Workshop Participants

The Peshmerga commanders present at the workshop included Commander Sheikh Jaffer Sheikh Mustafa, Unit 70 of Peshmerga forces and former Minister of Peshmerga; Commander Muhammed Haji Mahmoud, veteran Peshmerga; Commander Sirwan Barzani, Gwer and Makhmour; Brigadier Helgord Hikmat, General Director of Media, Culture and Awareness; Dr.Kamal Kirkuki, commander, South Kirkuk and former Speaker of Kurdistan Parliament; Brigadier General Hazhar Ismail, Director of Foreign Relations at the Ministry of Peshmerga; Mustafa Chawrash, PUK Leadership Council member; Saadi Pire, PUK Politburo Member; Aso Mamand, Head of the Local Bureau of PUK; Brigadier General Mahmud Sangawi, the Head of Peshmerga, Jalawla; Wasta Rasul, PUK Leadership Council member.


Among the representatives of the Western diplomatic missions and the international humanitarian organisations were Angus McKee, Consul General of United Kingdom; Marc Eichhorn, Consul General of Federal Republic of Germany; Alexandre Piquet, Deputy Consul General of Republic of France; Javier Rio Navarro, Head of Iraq’s Office – European Commission for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection; Luca Bigger; Head of Sub-Delegation International Committee of the Red Cross; and Andrea Recchia, Head of Sub-Office Duhok – United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, U.S. Army Lt. Col Thomas M. Feltey, British Lt. Col Phil Messenger.

The Geneva Call delegation included Elisabeth Decrey Warner, Executive President and Co-Founder of Geneva Call, Ann-Kristin Sjöberg, Program Director of the Kurdistan Region and Iraq; and Beytul Gorkem, Program Manager.

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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).

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