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Rights group: US obliged to prevent inter-ethnic violence in north Iraq

[JURIST] In a statement released Thursday (local time) in northern Iraq, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] said that US forces have a responsibility to prevent the eruption of inter-ethnic violence as they prepare an assault on the city of Kirkuk.

[W]idespread reprisal killings, retaliatory forced displacement, and other acts of violence against resettled families are possible once tens of thousands of forcibly displaced people return to reclaim their homes. Oil-rich Kirkuk, currently under Iraqi government control, has been the target of U.S. aerial bombing for the last several days. U.S. paratroopers have landed in Iraqi Kurdistan and it is likely that U.S. and coalition ground forces will enter the city in the near future....

Since the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqi government has systematically expelled an estimated 120,000 Kurds, Turkomans, and Assyrians from Kirkuk and other towns and villages in this oil-rich region. Most have settled in the Kurdish-controlled northern provinces. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has resettled Arab families in their place in an attempt to reduce the political power and presence of ethnic minorities, a process known as "Arabization."....Human Rights Watch researchers now based in Iraqi Kurdistan said the United States has not prepared for returning displaced residents of Kirkuk.

Human Rights Watch called on all parties to the conflict in Iraq to respect the safety and freedom of movement rights of all Iraqi citizens, including their right to choose a place of residence, and to move to a place of safety either inside or outside Iraq.

Under international humanitarian law, the U.S.-led forces have a duty to restore and ensure public order and safety in territories under their authority from the moment they establish effective control over them. In order to do so, they need to devote enough personnel to ensure public safety, grant protection to all noncombatants, and prevent the occurrence of acts of reprisal or revenge.
Read the complete text of the HRW press release and review the HRW report on Iraq's forcible expulsion of ethic minorities.

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