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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Kurdish Genocide

Friday, March 1, 2013

During yesterday’s debate in the House of Commons Meg gave the following speech at the end of the session the motion was adopted unanimously.

 

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): I refer to my entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

It is an honour to speak in this important debate. Over the past five years I have been involved with the Kurdistan Region in Iraq All-Party Parliamentary Group, which I am now proud to co-chair with my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), who eloquently set out the reason for this debate.

The All-Party Group is very active and has an excellent website with a range of views and news. Members can look at the issues relating to Kurdistan and to this debate on that website at: http://www.appgkurdistan.org.uk/

Genocide, as my hon. Friend said, is the methodical killing of all the people from a particular national, ethnic or religious group. Today’s debate is an important milestone towards persuading this House, the wider public and the international community to recognise the attempted genocide of the Kurdish people in Iraq by Saddam Hussein.

As my hon. Friend said, an estimated 1 million Iraqis have disappeared since the 1960s, all presumed murdered by the regime. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Anfal genocide operation against the Kurds, including the dreadful chemical attack on Halabja, as well as the 30th anniversary of the killing of 8,000 male members of the Barzani clan. The scale of these atrocities is clear and not seriously challenged.

But few outside the Kurdistan region understand what was involved in the mass slaughter, and fewer still understand the organisation and methods used in what has been described as “Saddam’s killing machine”. It has been referred to as a prison above ground and a mass grave beneath. The targeting of the Kurdish people living in northern Iraq was designed to remove any possibility of opposition to the vile regime.

Last night, I watched again two DVDs that have been produced by the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights about the terrible crimes committed by Saddam Hussein’s regime: “Execution of People” and “Dust Talks”. They include pictures of some of the atrocities filmed by the regime, including shootings, beatings and the severing of ears of young men who had deserted the army. They show the devastation of the way of life of the Marsh Arabs by the deliberate draining of the marshes, and of course the chemical attacks at Halabja and elsewhere. Today we have only words to try to describe what happened, and I fear that they will fall short of portraying the full horror.

These monstrous events have a contemporary relevance. Many families still do not know if a father, brother or sister is dead or not, and do not know where their body may be buried, perhaps in some undiscovered mass grave. Not knowing about the fate of a member of the family weighs heavily. The impact of the killing continues and will continue for many, many years to come.

It is important to remember just how closed and controlled a society Iraq was. There were few opportunities for contact with the outside world. After the no-fly zone was imposed over Kurdistan in 1991, people at last had the opportunity to begin to develop their own democracy and to make their own decisions, but sustained contact with the outside world really began only after the 2003 invasion. Only then did we slowly begin to understand the true scale of the horror.

According to the International Commission on Missing Persons in 2006, there were 270 mass graves, each estimated to contain between 10 and 10,000 bodies. Since then, many, many more mass graves have been uncovered.

Of course, it was not just the Kurds who suffered under Saddam Hussein. The impact of 35 years of dictatorship is still very evident in all sections of the Iraqi population. I have visited Iraq a number of times and have been privileged to meet the politicians who are building their democracy. Some have shared with me their experiences of that dark time: family members killed, tortured or simply missing. The number of widows in the country is simply huge. In Kurdistan today, many children are affected with cancers caused by the chemical weapons. Others live with the effects of barbaric torture.

Ten years after the fall of the dictator, the health services are far from adequate to meet the needs of the population, but they are improving. In the UK, we have benefited from the Iraqi doctors who came here to work during the time of exile, and it is encouraging to see that many have returned and are now working to improve health services in their home country.

Indeed, it was an Iraqi doctor in Sheffield who began the process which has led to significant partnerships between Sheffield Hallam University and the Iraqi Ministry of Health and Iraqi universities to provide much-needed skills for the health service. A strong partnership has also developed with the Kurdistan regional government.

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Great support has also been given by members of the Newcastle-Gateshead medical volunteers, led by Diana Carey, who, as well as the people from Sheffield, have been going over to Kurdistan to treat people for a number of years. Next month, they will go there for the eighth time. Over those years, thousands and thousands of people have benefited from the relationship that we have developed between our two countries.

Meg Munn: I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that partnership to the attention of the House. It is true that in the UK there are very many doctors of Iraqi and Iraqi-Kurdish origin. While they have continued to serve and provide support for our community, they are also doing such things as my hon. Friend described and doing what they can at a time when the health services in Iraq still need a great deal of investment to develop to serve an ordinary population, let alone one that has suffered the kind of trauma, torture and chemical attacks that have been suffered in Iraq, particularly in Kurdistan.

Alongside the physical impact of repression on the population, we must not underestimate the psychological effects: living with the grief of lost family members, remembering the terror of attacks and, above all, the constant fear. As a woman says in one of the DVDs I mentioned, Iraqi people had no dignity because they had to sell out their consciences to Saddam Hussein to stay alive.

Thirty-five years of dictatorship are not easily forgotten, but there have been positive moments since the 2003 invasion. We remember the TV pictures of the purple-stained fingers shown with pride when the Iraqi people were able to exercise the right to vote - something that we take for granted. They were excited about being able to take part in the first democratic elections. But of course voting is only the first act; building the institutions and democratic habits are much more difficult - all the more so when people have not been allowed to make their own decisions, and acting on their own initiative was a risky thing to do.

My involvement with the Kurdistan regional and Iraqi national parliaments has shown me just how difficult this task is, but it is a task to which many brave Iraqis are committed. To take on these tasks and build a new society is complex and demanding; it will take time, dedication and determination. We should continue to support them in this. An important way to do that is formally to recognise what happened to them.

Former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner argues that human rights should mean that people are protected within their own countries”. When these rights are violated, it is the duty of the international community to honour victims and to ensure that history cannot repeat itself. If democratic Governments cannot be clear about genocide and say that such crimes must be stamped out, then who will?

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank my hon. Friend for the interesting points she is making. Does she accept that there is systematic discrimination against Kurdish people, culture and language in all the neighbouring countries - it is a product of the break-up of the Ottoman empire at the end of the First World War - and that those countries have to reckon with a multicultural, multilingual and multi-ethnic society if there is to be long-term peace in the region?

Meg Munn: Building the kind of society described by my hon. Friend, which recognises people’s rights to their own language and culture and to celebrate their background, is enormously important and very much part of this process. Although building democracy in Iraq and working with Iraqi parliamentarians is difficult, it is encouraging to see Iraqis across all political groups and backgrounds working together.

The Services and Reconstruction Committee of the Iraqi Parliament will visit us next week. It is chaired by a Kurdish-Yezidi woman and is comprised of people from different backgrounds who are working together to try to build things for the Iraqi people. I agree with much of what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr Lammy: My hon. Friend spoke eloquently of the position in France and that of the French Foreign Minister. Does she recall that just a few weeks ago three Kurdish women were shot dead in Paris? That conveys the continued concern that we should all have about Kurdish people as they go about their business in Europe. It also illustrates not only why we must recognise genocide, as has been said, but that these are a people who continue to be routinely oppressed.

Meg Munn: My right hon. Friend is right. I have particular concerns about the position of Kurdish people and, indeed, others. More than 70,000 have died in Syria and there is an ever-present fear of chemical weapons being used by that regime, which is a frightening reminder of the Halabja gas attack. As has been said, some of the effects of the 16th March 1988 attack on Halabja are still with us, including disease, birth defects and other health complications. Can we easily accept the possibility that more victims of these weapons could arise today in Iraq’s neighbouring country?

We know of the genocide perpetrated against the Jews by the Nazis during the Second World War and the excellent work undertaken by organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust to educate new generations about the horror. Every year we have Holocaust Memorial Day to honour the dead and ensure that they are not forgotten.

The story of the Kurdish genocide has yet to be fully told and is not yet fully understood, but the Kurdish people should not have to wait any longer for justice from the international community. Iraq has officially recognised the killings as genocide and the rest of the world must do the same.

 

Resolved,

That this House formally recognises the genocide against the people of Iraqi Kurdistan; encourages governments, the EU and UN to do likewise; believes that this will enable Kurdish people, many in the UK, to achieve justice for their considerable loss; and further believes that it would enable the UK, the home of democracy and freedom, to send out a message of support for international conventions and human rights, which is made even more pressing by the slaughter in Syria and the possible use of chemical arsenals.


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