Kurdish Human Rights Project
To pioneer in upholding the human rights of all people in the Kurdish regions and beyond.
KHRP combines its extensive expertise of international human rights law with local knowledge to:
- Raise awareness of the human rights situation in the Kurdish regions of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and the Caucasus.
- Bring an end to the violation of the rights of everybody who lives in the Kurdish regions.
- Promote the protection of the rights of Kurdish people wherever they may live.
- Eradicate torture both in the Kurdish regions and across the globe.
Kurdish Human Rights Project was established in 1992 in response to the genocide, war crimes and human rights violations occurring across the Kurdish regions of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, the Caucasus and elsewhere.
Kurds were being subjected to ethnic cleansing programmes throughout the regions, accompanied by mass killings, displacement and prohibitions on their culture and language. They faced suspicion of harbouring separatist sympathies everywhere, simply by virtue of their ethnic origin. Millions had become refugees, unable to return to their devastated homes or land.
Prominent members of the Kurdish community and diaspora sought the assistance of human rights defenders, legal experts and academics in Britain. Nobody in the international community was making a strategic and cohesive response to the crisis, although tens of thousands of people were dying and an entire culture was at risk.
The group saw an opportunity to use international human rights mechanisms to bring perpetrators of human rights abuse to justice and to save lives. The European Court of Human Rights was and remains one of the most effective mechanisms for human rights protection in the world, and Turkey had ratified a protocol in 1989 giving citizens the right to challenge authorities for human rights abuse. The people who most needed it – minorities, internally displaced persons, women and children – simply lacked the resources to use it.
“When we started, our aim was to prevent the destruction of an entire people, and not duplicate the work of any other organisation out there”
Kerim Yildiz, KHRP Chief Executive
Spearheaded by Kerim Yildiz, a Kurdish refugee and human rights postgraduate, and Michael Feeney, Cardinal Hume’s advisor on refugees and Director of the Westminster Diocese Refugee Service, a network of leading lawyers willing to undertake pro bono cases to the European Court of Human Rights was established. Mark Muller, a British human rights barrister, encouraged dozens more leading figures in the human rights community to join. They began submitting urgent action appeals and submissions to the European Commission on Human Rights, OSCE and several UN mechanisms.
In 1994 the Charity Commission accepted that ‘the procurement of the abolition of torture by all lawful means’ was a charitable objective for the first time, and the organisation became a registered charity.
In 1996 the Strasbourg mechanisms gave their first binding consideration to these Kurdish cases. They established, for the first time, the Turkish authorities’ responsibility for rape, torture and ill-treatment, and for deliberately destroying and evacuating Kurdish villages. This was the first time anywhere in Europe that an individual’s legal team had successfully proved allegations of torture or ill-treatment by state authorities, or that rape by state officials was a form of torture contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights and, as such, was absolutely prohibited.
Since then, the organisation has provided legal advice or representation to over 500 victims or survivors of human rights abuse before international human rights courts and mechanisms. Its cases have established legal precedents on issues ranging from the death penalty, disappearances and extra-judicial killings to censorship, unfair trials and the rights of citizens to fair and free elections. Its scope has expanded to encompass submitting complaints to UN and other international human rights mechanisms, and to delivering training to victims and survivors of human rights abuse and their defenders on the ground. It also sends delegations to the regions to monitor trends in human rights abuse and discrimination on the ground, and disseminates its recommendations through a coherent programme of research, manuals, conferences, seminars and other public awareness activities.