Feb 17, 2019 Last Updated 6:33 PM, Feb 5, 2019

Human Rights Violations during the Ba'ath Regime


Under the rule of the Baathist Party of Saddam Hussein (1979-2003), grave human rights violations were a daily occurrence and part of his oppressive pan-Arabist ideology. In order to eliminate alleged opponents and to subordinate the population to his reign of terror, the regime sanctioned the widespread use of torture, the death penalty and extrajudicial executions as tolls of political repression. In custody, detainees were often held incommunicado for months or years and denied access to their lawyers or family while being severely tortured. Numerous detainees died as a result and many have suffered permanent physical and psychological damage.

From the 1970’s onwards, the Ba’ath government and Saddam Hussein as then vice president tried to change the ethnic make-up of North Iraq in favor of the Arab group so as to gain access to the resource-rich region. Some 250,000 Kurds were forcibly displaced and their houses and land repopulated by Arabs from Central and Southern Iraq.

In the course of Saddam Hussein’s so-called "Anfal Campaign", genocidal acts were committed against the Kurdish population in Northern Iraq between 1986 and 1989. The campaign is estimated to have caused the deaths of 100,000-180,000 Kurds, the destruction of 3000-5000 villages and the displacement of several hundred thousand non-Arabs. One of the best-known atrocities was the chemical attack on Halabja on March 16, 1988, that killed over 15,000 people either immediately or over the next decade.

When it became apparent that Iraq would be defeated in the Second Gulf War in 1991, internal uprisings against the regime occurred in the Shia-dominated South and in the Kurdistan Region. The Iraqi regime responded by brutal suppression of the riot including disappearances, executions, arbitrary arrests and torture.


Human Rights Watch (1992): Endless Torment: The 1991 Uprising in Iraq and its Aftermath

Human Rights Watch (1993): Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds

Human Rights Watch (2004): Claims in conflict. Reversing Ethnic Cleansing in Northern Iraq

Human Rights Watch (2011): Iraq. At a Crossroads. Human Rights in Iraq Eight Years after the US-Led Invasion