Iraq must immediately investigate the killings of protesters in accordance with international standards, Amnesty International said today after several people died when troops in the city of Fallujah fired on anti-government demonstrators who had reportedly thrown stones at them.
Several others were said to be seriously injured during Friday's protest, the latest in an ongoing and largely peaceful campaign protesting against the government and its abusive treatment of detainees.
"The Iraqi authorities must ensure that the investigation they have announced into these killings is independent, impartial and that the methods and findings are made public. Anyone found responsible for abuses – including anyone found to have used excessive force against protestors – must be brought to justice,” said Ann Harrison, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“The authorities should also ensure that security forces are trained and properly equipped to police demonstrations and other gatherings in a manner which respects human rights, including those where some protestors turn violent."
There were conflicting reports about what had caused the shooting by the Iraqi troops. However, subsequently further clashes erupted and army vehicles were burned. There have been claims that some Iraqi soldiers were also injured in the incident.
The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials both lay down clear standards for the policing of demonstrations and the use of firearms, including by armed forces.
Since last December tens of thousands of mainly Sunni Muslim Iraqis have taken to the streets expressing discontent with the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi’a Muslim, at the continuing discrimination against them in Iraq. The daily and largely peaceful demonstrations took place mainly in predominantly Sunni Muslim provinces, including Anbar, Mosul and Salah al-Din.
The protests were triggered by the detention of several bodyguards of the Finance Minister Rafi’e al-Issawi, a senior Sunni Muslim political leader, on terrorism charges. The move was thought by many Sunni Muslims to be politically motivated. There are concerns that increasing sectarian tensions may result in further violence.
There continue to be frequent bomb attacks by armed groups targeting civilians. For example, dozens of pilgrims for Shi’a Muslim festival of Arba’een were killed at the end of last month; this week several people were killed by car bombs in Baghdad and more than 20 people were killed by a suicide bomber at a Shi’a Muslim mosque in Tuz Khurmato.
Protesters continue to call for respect for due process and legislative measures - including an amnesty law and a review of anti-terror legislation - and for an end to human rights violations against prisoners and detainees in Iraq.
For years Amnesty International has documented cases of torture during interrogations while held incommunicado; deaths in custody in circumstances suggesting that torture was the cause; detainees being coerced into making “confessions”; and unfair trials, sometimes resulting in the death penalty.
A few days before the protests started, Amnesty International contacted the Iraqi government about dozens of reported cases of human rights violations against detainees and prisoners. The Iraqi government has yet to reply.
In one such case in 2012, four men were reportedly tortured while held incommunicado for several weeks at the Directorate of Counter-Crime in Ramadi, Anbar Province before their release in April 2012. Their “confessions” were then broadcast on local television.
During their trial, they told the Anbar Criminal Court that their “confessions” had been extracted under torture. A medical examination presented to the court of one of the men’s injuries indicated bruising and burning consistent with his allegations.
“As far as we know, no official investigation into these allegations of torture is known to have been held,” said Harrison.
“It is imperative that investigations into this – and the dozens of other cases that we have raised with the Iraqi authorities – are carried out as a matter of urgency, particularly as these men are now on death row.
“Perpetrators of abuse need to know that they will face the consequences of their actions, and victims have a right to truth, justice and reparation.”
The four men were sentenced to death on 3 December 2012, convicted of offences under Iraq’s Anti-Terror Law.