Ten Years Later, Iraq Enmeshed in Cycle of Human Rights Abuses

Press Release
March 8, 2013

Ten Years Later, Iraq Enmeshed in Cycle of Human Rights Abuses

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @AIUSAmedia

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Ten years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein, Iraq remains enmeshed in a grim cycle of human rights abuses, including attacks on civilians, torture of detainees and unfair trials, said Amnesty International in a new report out today.

"A Decade of Abuses" exposes a chronology of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees committed by Iraqi security forces and by foreign troops in the wake of the 2003 invasion. Information was gathered from multiple sources including interviews with detainees, victims' families, refugees, lawyers, human rights activists and others, plus reviews of court papers and other official documents.

The report highlights the Iraqi authorities' continuing failure to observe their obligations to uphold human rights and respect the rule of law in the face of persistent deadly attacks by armed groups, who show callous disregard for civilian life.

"Ten years after the end of Saddam Hussein's repressive rule, many Iraqis today enjoy greater freedoms than they did under his regime, but the fundamental human rights gains that should have been achieved during the past decade have significantly failed to materialize," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Amnesty International. "Neither the Iraqi government nor the former occupying powers have adhered to the standards required of them under international law and the people of Iraq are still paying a heavy price for their failure."

Torture is rife and committed with impunity by government security forces, particularly against detainees arrested under anti-terrorism laws while they are held incommunicado for interrogation. Detainees have alleged that they were tortured and forced to "confess" to serious crimes or to incriminate others while held in these conditions. Many have repudiated their confessions at trial only to see the courts admit them as evidence of their guilt, without investigating their torture allegations.

Adding to the injustice, the authorities have paraded detainees before press conferences or arranged for their "confessions" to be broadcast on local television in advance of their trials or trial verdicts in gross breach of the presumption of innocence and of the right of every accused to receive a fair trial.

The death penalty was suspended after the 2003 invasion but resumed in 2005 when the first Iraqi government came to power. Since then, at least 447 prisoners have been executed, including Saddam Hussein, some of his main associates, and alleged members of armed groups. Hundreds of prisoners await execution on death row. Iraq, where 129 prisoners were hanged in 2012, is now one of the world’s leading executioners.

"Death sentences and executions are being used on a horrendous scale," said Hadj Sahraoui. "It is particularly abhorrent that many prisoners have been sentenced to death after unfair trials and on the basis of confessions they say they were forced to make under torture. It is high time that the Iraqi authorities end this appalling cycle of abuse and declare a moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolishing the death penalty for all crimes."

Since December, thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in areas where Sunni Muslims are in the majority, to protest against arbitrary detention, abuses of detainees, the use of the anti-terror law, and an end to what they see as government discrimination against the Sunni population.

Meanwhile, Sunni armed groups continue to attack not only government targets but Shi'a civilians, including religious pilgrims.

Although the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region in north-east Iraq has remained largely free of the violence that has engulfed the rest of the country, its two ruling Kurdish political parties maintain a tight grip on power and incidents of detainee abuses have also been reported.

"The removal of Saddam Hussein in 2003 should have been followed by a process of fundamental human rights reform but almost from day one the occupying forces began committing torture and other serious violations against prisoners, as the Abu Ghraib scandal involving U.S. forces and the beating to death of Baha Mousa in the custody of British soldiers in Basra graphically demonstrated," said Hadj Sahraoui.

In the UK and the U.S., despite investigations into individual cases, there has been a failure to investigate systematically the widespread human rights violations committed by forces from those countries, and to hold those responsible to account at all levels. Iraqi victims of US human rights violations have found the route to remedy in the US courts blocked.

The Iraqi authorities have periodically acknowledged torture and other ill-treatment but they have generally sought to explain them away as isolated occurrences or, in a few high profile cases, have announced official inquiries whose outcomes, if any, subsequently were never revealed.

"Iraq remains caught in a cycle of torture and impunity that should long ago have been broken," said Hadj Sahraoui. "It is high time that the Iraqi authorities take the concrete steps needed to entrench a culture of human rights protection, and do so without further prevarication or delay."

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.