UK Reluctant to Recognize Kurdish Deaths in Iraq as Genocide

29/01/2013 RUDAW By WLADIMIR van WILGENBURG – LONDON, United Kingdom – The British government remains reluctant to recognize the 1988 gassing of thousands of Iraqi Kurds by Saddam Hussein as genocide, saying it is waiting for an international judicial body to make such a declaration first.

It is “the government’s view that it is not for governments to decide whether a genocide has been committed in this case, as this is a complex legal question,” the United Kingdom said in response to an Internet petition calling for it to recognize the killings as genocide.

“Where an international judicial body finds a crime to have been a genocide, however, this will often play an important part in whether we will recognize one as such,” the government said on January 16, the eve of an international conference marking the 25th anniversary of the attack, in which 5,000 Kurdish civilians were killed by poison gas in the Iraqi town of Halabja.

Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the United Kingdom, found the government’s response disappointing. It is a “frankly disappointing and weak view that the UK should wait for an international judicial body to act before it decides to define long-running efforts to eliminate the Kurds as a genocide, although, the Iraqi High Tribunal, the Iraqi Presidential Council have endorsed its definition as genocide,” Rahman said. She said that the KRG still hopes the government will change its mind, since it has more than 27,000 British signatures collected for the Internet petition, or e-petition.

“We will continue to urge the UK government to pull out all the stops and go the whole hog by taking a moral stand in defining our suffering as genocide, so it becomes harder for it to happen again in Iraq or elsewhere,” Rahman stated. Peter Galbraith, member of the Vermont Senate and former US diplomat told Rudaw that it is the moral responsibility of both the United Kingdom and the United States to recognize the killings as genocide,  since they had remained silent at the time. “There was something that actually happened at the time and there was a response and the response was not that people ignored it, they decide actively not to do anything about it,” Galbraith said at the conference.

Dr Bernard Kouchner, co-founder of Medecines Sans Frontieres and former French foreign minister, told the conference that recognition of the crime as genocide was important, but difficult. The “target of Baghdad was to kill the Kurdish people, making no difference in age or profession — all of them,” he said.  “Now, we are talking after the genocide. Who was supposed to protect the Kurds? The international community? They did not do anything.”

Kouchner said he fears that Syrian Kurds could suffer a similar fate in the war to topple President Bashar al-Assad . “The international community said they would intervene if Assad uses chemical weapons. I know we will not intervene,” Kouchner said. Conservative British MP Robert Halfon told the conference that, while he has only a “few Kurdish people in constituency,” the UK Parliament has a “moral duty” to help gain international recognition for the Kurdish genocide.  “The state of Iraq now recognizes the Kurdish genocide and it is the duty of the rest of the world to do the same,” he said. The e-petition has collected more than 27,000 signatures, but needs to pass the 100,000 threshold by March 7 to be considered for discussion in Parliament.