Justice for Iraqi Kurds

02/07/2012 13:06 BST | Updated 01/09/2012 10:12 BST

The Kurdistan Region in Iraq is booming. It is the safest part of the country, the least impoverished, and is attracting a great deal of foreign investment. It may come as a surprise to some but Kurdistan has two international airports, five-star hotels, shopping malls, universities and a theme park. That's in addition to the abundance of oil and gas and rich heritage that dates our capital city to about 8,000 years ago.

As part of my job within the foreign affairs department, it is easy to extol the virtues of the region, a place of outstanding natural beauty, great historical and archaeological significance, with a population eager for growth and change.

It is less easy to talk about the thousands of widows. The families still missing. And the mass graves of genocide victims still being uncovered.

Kurdish people in Iraq faced persecution from the 1960s onwards during the Ba'athist regime. But the policy of eliminating the Kurds and destroying Kurdistan reached its highest intensity in the 1980s under Saddam Hussein's leadership. Under his direction, the regime planned and implemented crimes including mass displacements, mass deportations, mass killings, as well as the total destruction of thousands of villages and several towns.

More than a million people in Iraq have 'disappeared' since the 1960s, all presumed dead, most murdered. During the 'Anfal' genocide campaign of the 1980s, 90% of Kurdish villages and more than 20 towns and cities were completely destroyed.

Throughout the genocide, men of 'battle age' were rounded up and 'disappeared' en masse. Most of these boys and men were captured, transported to mass graves, tied together and shot. Thousands of women and children also vanished. Evidence also shows that many were taken to internment camps where they were executed or died from deprivation.

And most infamously, during the 1980s, the Kurdish population was attacked with chemical weapons, killing thousands of men, women and children indiscriminately; organised by Saddam Hussein's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, more commonly known as 'Chemical Ali' or 'the Butcher of Kurdistan.'

An estimated 182,000 Kurdish people were murdered during the Anfal campaign. To put this into context, that's enough people to fill Wembley Stadium twice over.

Today the survivors are bravely re-building their lives and their homes. But to truly look to the future, they need to come to terms with the horror they have endured. To do this, they need international recognition of the barbaric atrocities inflicted on them.

The Kurdistan Regional government, and its supporters in the UK including the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kurdistan Region, are now calling for recognition of what happened to our people.

Today, British MPs will call on their government to recognise the mass murder of Iraqi Kurds as genocide, and will officially launch an e-petition which we would urge every British citizen to sign.

We realise that genocide is understood by most to be the gravest crime against humanity it is possible to commit, and that it is no small thing to ask the British government to recognise our treatment under Saddam as genocide.

But only through recognition can the survivors achieve justice for those who died, and for themselves, the survivors, who continue to bear the physical and mental scars and in doing so move forward with their lives

If such recognition could lead to prevention of similar crimes; if it could raise awareness among the international community; if it could help to identify and punish the remaining perpetrators, then it is worth pursuing. We realise that it will require hard work, long-term commitment, and considerable resources. However, we believe that the international community has a moral commitment to recognise these types of crimes. We believe, and hope that the international community has adopted the principle of responsibility to protect populations at risk, and will be more prepared to prevent such crimes in the future.

There is an old saying in Kurdistan: "Kurds have no friends but the mountains." We hope that the British government will disprove this. We need to gather 100,000 signatures. We hope yours will be one of them.

If you are resident in the UK or a British citizen, you can sign the online petition to recognise the Kurdish Genocide here.