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2011 Justice Prize

Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP)

For 30 million Kurds around the world – living in places such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and the former Soviet Union – the Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) has focused international attention on victims of human rights violations. Based in London, KHRP is committed to promoting and protecting the human rights of all persons living within the Kurdish regions. It works to assist governments indirectly to reform the law and improve the human rights of their citizens. The cases taken up by KHRP are intended to establish precedent not only for the locale in which they are tried, but for the entire region. The organization has succeeded in abolishing the death penalty in Turkey and in changing the definition of torture. It has helped establish a greater awareness of human rights and put pressure on governments to honor their obligations to their citizens by complying with accepted human rights standards. In spite of having limited resources, KHRP has been able to create civil rights mechanisms to highlight the issues that Kurds are facing around the world and make a significant difference in the lives of millions of people, including the restoration of 2,000 villages in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Because of the experience it has gained since its founding in 1992, the organization is now in a position to use the United Nations and other mechanisms, such as committees against torture, with great effectiveness. KHRP has brought cases on behalf of over 500 applicants and has succeeded in focusing international attention on the plight of Kurds in Southeast Turkey and, more recently, on human rights violations against Kurds in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Through its work with the UN and in the European Court of Human Rights, it has helped achieve important reforms. In 1996, for example, in a case before that court, KHRP succeeded in forcing Turkish authorities to allow oral courtroom testimony to be given in Kurdish for the first time. Currently, no state is formally recognized as the home of the Kurdish language and, until recently, Kurds were persecuted for using their language. Due in large measure to the work of KHRP, the Kurdish language is now widely recognized. In 1997, in the KHRP case Aydin v. Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights classified rape committed by or with the acquiescence of state actors as ”torture.” In 2001, KHRP and other organizations were able to bring to a halt the Ilisu Dam project, which would have displaced up to 78,000 people in Kurdish communities in Southeast Turkey, damaged the environment and flooded archaeological sites. In 2003, KHRP’s arguments against the death penalty before the European Court of Human Rights resulted in a landmark judgment toward the abolition of capital punishment. KHRP has also achieved far-reaching reforms that have ensured free and fair elections in some regions.

As a trial observer, KHRP has been a valuable resource in challenging human rights violations committed by governments. KHRP observers serve as a visible reminder that the international community has an interest in seeing domestic legal practice comply with international law. Trial observations and reports from fact-finding missions keep human rights violations in the spotlight for international lawyers, policymakers and human rights advocates. The organization attributes much of its success to its practice of conducting fact-finding missions in a part of the world where information on human rights violations is not otherwise readily available.

KHRP has taken steps to ensure that women’s rights are recognized as integral to democracy in the Kurdish regions. The Charter for the Rights and Freedoms of Women in the Kurdish Regions and Diaspora was developed by KHRP in collaboration with the Kurdish Women's Project. Although not legally binding, the Charter has been cited as authority by judges in the Kurdsistan Regional Governorate of Iraq and used by Kurds as a resource in seeking redress for human rights violations. KHRP manuals on how to take complaints to the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations have been published in several languages. KHRP has also taken cases related to jurisdictional issues and the conduct of war and is now dealing with cases in which civilian areas have been bombed by the military. The organization is also handling cases challenging government measures related to terrorism and national security issues that may infringe on civil liberties.