Forced deportations of Arabs from Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq has the United Nations' top human rights official concerned.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello said reports of possible Kurdish retribution against Arabs in northern Iraq are worrying. The Arabization of northern Iraq, which saw the forced expulsion of Kurds, had long been a policy of the Saddam Hussein regime.
The United Nations said it fears a backlash is taking place.
A spokesman for the high commissioner, Jose Diaz, said Mr. Vieira de Mello is urging the parties involved to take action to protect the victims. "These are problems, flashpoints that could have been foreseen and action should be taken now to protect these populations, protect them from intimidation and forced expulsions, threats they are being exposed to," he said.
Research on past internal displacement within Iraq shows that Saddam Hussein used expulsion to punish and subdue opponents or to secure valuable economic resources. Sometimes deportations took place virtually overnight, with large numbers of people on the run, with only the clothes on their backs.
The Mideast director for Human Rights Watch, Hania Mufti, is in the northern town of Kirkuk where a number of the reported deportations of Arabs are now taking place. She said it is difficult to know at this time just how many people may be forcibly expelled. Ms. Mufti told VOA by phone that Kurdish officials have been issuing eviction notices ordering the Arabs to leave within three days.
She said that while Human Rights Watch recognizes some of the Kurds may have legal claim to houses and land, these actions are not appropriate to resolve the disputes. She argued that expulsions should stop until a proper mechanism is set up to handle these claims.
"There should be a mechanism for the settlement of these claims so that once you restore the rights of one party which has been expelled, you should not then abuse the rights of another party. People should not be expelled at short notice without having any capacity for recourse, legal action, without having had any opportunity to make other arrangements," she said.
Ms. Mufti said the expulsion policy has not been endorsed by senior Kurdish leaders, but is being carried out by local officials. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani has repeatedly called for a tolerant, multiethnic Iraq. His offices deny that any expulsion order has been issued.
Ms. Mufti said the Human Rights Watch team investigated a deportation case 30 kilometers south of Kirkurk involving 2,000 people living in five villages. Those who are expelled, she says, are most likely heading south to their original towns, uncertain about the safety of their journey or whether shelters still exist.
She said that Human Rights Watch is in Iraq also trying to preserve evidence of past crimes by Saddam's regime. These involve protecting the sites of mass graves so that forensic investigations can take place.