Iraq: A decade of abuses

March 11, 2013

Iraq: A decade of abuses

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Amid this context of armed conflict, intense political and sectarian rivalry and widespread lethal violence, tens of thousands of Iraqis have been rounded up by the authorities; many of them have been detained for months or years without charge or trial in conditions that facilitate, even invite, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (other ill-treatment). When prisoners have been brought before the courts, international fair trial standards also have been frequently and systematically violated. Many defendants have alleged that police or other interrogators tortured and coerced them to make selfincriminating statements while holding them incommunicado in pre-trial detention, and have repudiated such "confessions" at trial. Courts, however, have frequently accepted such "confessions" as evidence despite their repudiation by defendants, and used them as a basis to deliver guilty verdicts. Much of Iraqi justice still functions according to the principle that "the confession is the master of evidence", underscoring the pervasive nature of the "confession culture" that dominates the approach of the police and security forces to obtaining information as a basis for prosecuting suspects before the courts. In many cases, as this report details below, courts have convicted defendants of terrorism or other serious crimes on the basis of confessions that defendants say were coerced from them under torture when they were detained without access to lawyers or any contact with the world outside their place of incarceration. They have also sentenced many such defendants to death. Since the death penalty was reinstated in August 2004, at least 447 prisoners have been executed, including many after courts convicted them under the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2005.

Affiliates of al-Qa'ida and other armed groups continue to carry out and claim responsibility for violent attacks causing many civilian casualties. In many other cases of attacks on civilians, where no group has claimed responsibility, it has been difficult or impossible to identify the perpetrators. Often, consequently, such attacks have been attributed to specific armed groups because they appear to follow a particular pattern of abusive attacks, but without clear evidence. Suicide and other bombings intended to cause large numbers of civilian as well as other casualties have been some of the most devastating attacks. Many are believed to have been perpetrated by armed groups who oppose, and seek to undermine public confidence in, the present government and its security forces by creating conditions which make it appear that they are incapable of governing the country and protecting the public. Armed groups also continue to attack the institutions of the state and those who maintain them, particularly the police and security forces and members of the judiciary and other officials.

Amnesty International recognizes the continuing grave threat that anti-government armed groups continue to pose to public security and order and the rule of law in Iraq. The organization condemns unreservedly, as it has done many times, the gross human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law that armed groups continue to commit, and it urges them to immediately desist.6 As well, Amnesty International fully recognizes the Iraqi authorities' duty and responsibility to apprehend and bring to justice members of armed groups and all other perpetrators of serious human rights abuses. However, when doing so, the Iraqi authorities - including both the executive power and the judiciary - must comply at all times with Iraq's obligations under international human rights law and respect and protect the human rights of those they suspect or accuse of committing crimes. Iraq is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other human rights instruments, including the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), which it ratified in 2011. These treaties all impose obligations that the Iraqi government is bound to uphold even when confronting the serious violence that persists today and taking action against those suspected or accused of committing even the most heinous of crimes.