Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement regarding the use of live rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) armed forces against a demonstration in Shingal on 14 March that left one person dead and wounded at least seven.
“The government should ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense. Superior officers should be held responsible if they knew or should have known that personnel under their command resorted to the unlawful use of force and firearms but did not take all measures in their power to prevent, suppress, or report such use,” the statement read.
According to the HRW investigation, protesters had travelled from Khanasor toward the neighbouring town of Sinune. The protesters had approached the KDP-affiliated Peshmerga with women at the front calling for the troops to leave the area.
“When some of the protesters were about 10 meters from the berm, about 10 fighters out of about 200 who were stationed there started firing tear gas canisters, which lasted about 15 minutes. The protesters said they and others didn’t pull back or respond with violence, but about 10 minutes later, without any warning, the fighters fired live bullets to disperse the crowd,” the statement continued.
Naze Naif, 21, died on the spot from a bullet in her head. The stories of the witnesses that spoke to HRW were of wounds in arms and legs caused by live rounds and contradicted the statements of the Peshmerga.
One Peshmerga commander told HRW that some protesters were armed and that they fired live bullets which caused the death and injuries. Another Peshmerga commander told HRW that protesters started throwing stones to which security forces responded by firing rubber bullets, but that no one was killed.
Lama Fakih, HRW deputy Middle East director, called upon the KRG to urgently investigate the unwarranted use of deadly force. “We have not seen any evidence that military forces in Sinjar had a legitimate reason to fire on protesters, who presented no apparent risk to their lives or others,” she said.
The Gorran Movement in the Kurdistan Regional Parliament condemned the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) immediately after the demonstration, stressing the freedom to protest. “The killing and wounding of protesters is opposed to all democratic values. The KDP is responsible for this,” the opposition party Gorran’s statement read.
Prior to the demonstration, clashes leading to several casualties broke out between KDP-affiliated Peshmerga forces and PKK affiliated Yazidi Shingal Resistance Units (YBS) on 3 March when a group of 500 Peshmerga attempted to enter Khanasor.
Yazidi forces accused the Turkish government of being behind the attack, which came following KRG President Masoud Barzani’s visit to Ankara. Turkey has insisted that PKK fighters leave the area, claiming that they are a threat to the country’s national security.
The clashes in Shingal attracted criticism from all sides with Yazidi and Kurdish parties across the Kurdish regions and Europe calling for an immediate cessation to hostilities. United Nations Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric had also voiced concerns.