Kurdistan Human Rights Network – 2015 Annual report on violation of human rights of Kolber workers in Iran
An introduction to Kurdish Kolber workers in Iran
Kolber is a Kurdish name for workers and tradespersons, who for a small sum of money risk their lives to transport packs of various foreign items on their own back or on the back of horses to transfer them from and to Iranian border territories from border areas of neighboring Kurdish regions in Iraq and Turkey.
The word “Kolber” is composed of two Kurdish words: “Kol”, meaning a person’s “back”, and ”ber, which means “delivery”.
The word simply implies the extremely poor conditions of the Kurdish Kolber workers in Iran, who cross from and to the harsh mountains of Iran, Iraq and Turkey, to bring into Iran foreign items such as fabrics, tea, electronic devices, cosmetics and sometimes alcoholic drinks, which they eventually deliver to border points for the businesspersons, the owners of the goods.
The Kolber workers mostly come from Kurdish border villages and towns, where they are usually left with no job other than Kolber work to make a small income to survive through the harsh reality of the deprived Kurdish border areas.
However, the Iranian government describes them as “smugglers”, while Iranian soldiers and border guards deliberately shoots to kill them across the border areas.
A brief background on killing of Kolber workers:
Many people around the world, especially those not familiar with or new to the problem of the systematic targeting of Kurdish Kolber workers and tradespersons on the border area of Iran, may think this is a recent issue that emerged over the past few years and the issue does not have a historical background.
However, studies conducted on Kurdish Kolber workers on the Iranian border area demonstrate that there is a historical root to this problem, since the massacre of Kurdish Kolber workers began in 1979, and subsequently worsened similar to many other issues, following the victory of the Islamic revolution of Iran.
Iran government crackdown on Kolber workers:
The behavior of the Iranian government toward Kolber workers tends to always be a heavy-handed crackdown, prompt military reaction, access restrictions and even annihilation of the activity, which the government perceives more as a “security problem.
Meanwhile, drastic security measures have been in place by the Iranian authorities against human rights activists who want to raise their voices about violation of the rights of Kurdish Kolber.
The militaristic reaction by government against Kolber workers and human rights activists wanting to shed light on the issue is basically rooted in the government’s obsession of giving priority to security over liberty.
The government’s restrictions on publicizing this issue and problems of the Kolber workers were so strong that nobody among the civil and human rights activists dared to raise their voice about the issue.
The government’s acts of brutality persisted in silence until local Kurds organizing civil resistance against the government entered a new stage online on the internet across Iran, where they began to use social media tools to spread what the government censored on human rights violations taking place across the Kurdish cities and towns.
Today, the killing of Kolber workers by Iranian security forces is known to Kurdish public and the daily news headlines of many Iranian and Kurdish news websites carry the news of Iranian security forces opening fire on unarmed Kolber workers, who are either killed if not critically wounded across the border areas near neighboring Iraqi and Turkey’s Kurdish regions.
Kolber workers divided into two categories:
There are two types Kurdish Kolber workers; one is the Kolber who only transport the items from the border areas into Iranian territories. And, there is the Kasibkar [a tradesperson,] who transports the imported items via vehicles towards central cities of Iran in order to deliver them to owners or to sell them.
Kurdish Kolbers and Kasibkar [tradespersons] are under constant danger of falling into ambushes set by military forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran patrolling the Kurdish border areas, where all government guards do not hesitate to systematically target and kill Kurdish Kolber workers and Kasibkar [tradespersons].
Only in order to be breadwinners for their families, Kurdish Kolber and tradespersons have to always cope with the constant fear of getting killed, fall on land mines, drown in rivers, floods or die in adverse weather conditions, in which there is a high the risk of hypothermia in extreme cold winters at the top of the mountains and suffocation in hot summers.
Nonetheless, available statistics have exposed that most of the Kurdish Kolber workers have lost their lives after being directly shot by bullets of the Iranian security forces.
Kolber work and the poverty factor:
Most Kurds living in the Kurdistan Province in Iran who choose Kolber work are well aware of the dangerous working conditions of this job. However, they have no other choice in terms of job opportunities as a direct result of discriminatory economic policies imposed on the Kurdistan areas by the central government in Tehran.
The central government has economically ignored the Kurdish region, which only receives a very small budget. Unemployment is higher in the Kurdish areas more than anywhere else in the country. Public workforce lacks “normal” job opportunities and there is very little state investment in the reign’s agriculture. Meanwhile, land mine blasts are all too common in the Kurdish areas and no government effort has been made to clear the area or try to boost tourism in the region’s touristic resorts at the hears of the mountains and river banks and lakes.
There is clearly a deliberate Iranian government policy to maintain the Kurdish people in destitute and poverty to systematically prevent developments across the Kurdistan region.
“Smuggling” is a global economic problem that has existed for centuries and still exists in almost all countries around the world. The problem is not just that the poor Kolber workers are being discriminatory described as “smugglers” by the Iranian authorities, the real issue is that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been responding with brutality to the basic economic demands of the Kolber workers forced into poverty, as part of an overall imposition of inhumane security and policing measures on all aspects of life including politics, society, economy and culture.
Iranian government ignores its own rules:
In theory, the judicial system of Iran has planned specific sanctions for each type of offenses. In theory, legal procedures exist and offenders must be sentenced in accordance with the law. However, the statistics and facts have shown that the Iranian government does not respect its own rules.
The government’s brutal acts to “combat” Kurdish Kolber workers have exceeded violations of human rights, since animals are also targeted and killed as a result of the various ambush and operations that the Iranian security forces carry out against Kolber workers in the border area.
Horses and f shot dead by Iranian security forces in the Baneh border areas.
Hundreds of horses and mules of the Kolber workers are slaughters each year by the Nero ye entezami jomhouri eslami (NAJA), the Islamic Republic Law Enforcement Force.
In an interview with Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN), Hejar Mufti, a Kolber in the border town of Baneh, said:
“NAJA officers first register all the loadings left in the areas they attacked in an ambush, then they gather the horses and mules at the same place to shoot them dead and set fire on the animals. I have witnessed this many times from far. Bodies of our killed and burned animals are then thrown onto the main roads. They [the NAJA officers] set ambush to attack all Kolber workers and I have several times fled and left behind my horses because of the panic to run and avoid getting arrested.”
2015 Annual report
In this report KHRN has assessed that the direct killing of poor Kurdish Kolber workers by the various armed force of the Islamic Republic of Iran can be best defines as systematic targeting and killing of the Kolber workers.
According to KHRN’s research, in 2015 alone, 44 Kolber workers were directly shot dead, 21 were injured, and seven drowned or died of hypothermia and other causes.
Lack of facilities for independent research inside territories of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the pressure from the security forces on our local human rights sources have limited KHRN’s ability to gather a huge data, which would give the exact number of killed and injured Kolber workers. Thus, the KHRN can only verify that 65 Kolber workers were killed and injured in total in 2015.
Among the killed were four Kurdish unarmed shepherds who had been shot dead by the Iranian security forces only on suspicions, the official excuse was that that the victims were shot dead because they “looked like” Kolber workers.
Families of victims have been threatened by the security forces not to take legal action against the authorities. Otherwise, the body of their loved ones would not be returned for burial in a funeral. This is one of the reasons why most families do not take legal action against the authorities and prefer not to talk to any organizations about how their relatives had been killed, although some do on conditions of anonymity.
Family member of one of the victims murdered near the Kermanshah area told KHRN that their son was only 24 years of age when he had been shot and killed by the Iranian government’s “Anti-Smuggling” armed force.
The family source said that the 24-year-old victim was unemployed, his wife was pregnant wife and he had no other option other than entering the world of Kolber work and workers to make a small income. But the government’s forces had directly shot at his vehicle although they had known that he only had only a few boxes of cigarettes in his car. He was seriously injured but they arrested him and took him to their detention center where he was kept for several hours despite being in need of immediate medical care. He had lost his life due to severe bleeding just after the officers had finally agreed to send him to a hospital.
The family’s lawyer complained to the authorities a few months ago, but the authorities are yet to respond,
Our research reveled that three Kolber workers had been initially wounded but the security forces had left them to bleed to death.
Three other tragic cases in 2015 included the shooting of two Kurdish Kolber workers Mostafa Noori and Naser Dalaee Milan in Salmas and Chaldoran areas, and the killing of shepherd Ismaeel Hoseyni in Mariwan area.
The most horrific act of brutality was that the Iranian security forces had tied the dead bodies to their vehicles and dragged them behind the vehicle on the ground.
Family members of one of the victims told KHRN that the dead bodies had been taken from the crime scene to the police station for viewing by the families to identify the victims, and that the bodies were so badly damaged that they were in a highly distressing state, almost unrecognizable, as many stones had been found inside the bodies as a result of the dragging of the bodies by the security forces.
Family members of another 2015 victim told KHRN that the Iranian security forces had shot the victim and left him alone in the darkness of the night to bleed to death. The family members had found the victim nearing death in the middle of the night and all efforts had been in vain to save his life.
In another case, the security forces had opened fire on Kasibkar [tradesperson] Jamal Rastkhane’s car in Mariwan’s Sarshiv district in the evening of 11 December, and his car had diverted from the road after he was wounded while driving.
Locals had arrived on the scene and tried all their efforts to help wounded Rastkhane, but the security forces had prevented everybody from helping him. The locals had disputed the orders and by the time they allowed people to help him it was already too late. He finally passed away under the noise of loud arguments between local civilians demanding to save the life of a wounded unarmed tradesperson and gunmen of the security forces who had refused and wanted the tradesperson to die painfully by bleeding to death.
On 12 December the security forces shot dead a 21-year-old Kurdish tradesperson near the city of Ghasr Shirin. Officials of the security forces refused to return the dead body of the young man to his family, although all the forensic tests had been completed. After several repeated requests by the family, the security forces had responded saying that they would return the body only if the family paid money of the bullets that killed their son. And, the body was finally returned after the family paid the security forces the demanded sum for the bullets.
1. Matrimonial status of killed Kolber workers
40% of killed Kolbers were married
KHRN has no information on matrimonial status for the other 39% of the killed Kolber workers.
2. Death toll of Kolber workers killed and wounded in cities
Most of the victims were killed and wounded in the following four cities: 8 in Piranshahr, 6 in Marivan, 5 victims in each of the cities of Orumiyeh and Sardasht.
3. Age of killed Kolber Workers
2.8% between 18 and 20 years of age.
41.7% between 20 and 30 years of age.
20.87% were 30+.
KHRN has no information on the rest of the killed Kolber workers.
4. Kolber workers killed and wounded in different months
Nine Kolber workers were killed and wounded in January and October of 2015.
5. Kolber workers killed and wounded in different areas
50% of the attacks on Kolber workers take place in the border areas.
2.8 percent of the attacks on Kolber workers and tradesperson took place on the main roads from and to Iran’s central cities.