Iraq: A decade of abuses

March 11, 2013

Iraq: A decade of abuses

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Since late 2012, tens of thousands of people, mostly members of the Sunni community, have taken to the streets to express their discontent with the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. They accuse the Prime Minister, a Shi'a Muslim, of leading a government that discriminates against Sunnis. The demonstrations, in Anbar, Mosul and Salah al-Din, provinces that comprise Iraq's Sunni heartland, have continued to be held almost daily and generally peak on Fridays. The demonstrators' main demands are for greater respect for due process, the enactment of an amnesty law and a review of the country's anti-terrorism law, and an end to violations of the rights of male and female prisoners and detainees. They were supported by many civil society organizations from other provinces, including Baghdad. However, the authorities blocked protesters' attempts to extend their demonstrations to Baghdad.

Violations of the rights of detainees, particularly the use of torture and other ill-treatment to extract confessions, are not merely a consequence of sectarian tensions and conflict, however. They are more deeply entrenched and widespread. In many cases reported to Amnesty International, both the perpetrators and the victims of such abuses were members of the same confessional group - as, for example, when several prisoners under sentence of death at the Fort Suse Prison near Suleimaniya told Amnesty International in February 2013 that they were Shi'a Muslims who had been tortured and coerced to provide confessions in separate cases by fellow Shi'a Muslims within the security forces in southern Iraq. Similarly, detainees from the Sunni Muslim community have told Amnesty International that they were tortured or ill-treated by Sunni members of the security forces.

Serious abuses of detainees' rights also continue to be reported in the Kurdistan Region, comprising three provinces in the north-east of Iraq. The Kurdistan Region has enjoyed semiautonomous status since the early 1990s and continues to be administered by a coalition of two Kurdish political parties that form the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). In recent years, the Kurdistan Region has experienced far less violence than the rest of Iraq and while serious human rights violations continue to be committed, their scale and intensity are far less than those in other parts of Iraq.

This report focuses on violations of the human rights of detainees and prisoners, including torture and other ill-treatment, committed by Iraqi security forces and US-led coalition forces in the 10 years since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. It cites many individual cases, some very recent, in which detainees are alleged to have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated, coerced into providing confessions that they later repudiated, convicted of serious crimes in trials that failed to meet international fair trial standards, often on the basis of their contested confessions, and sentenced to death.

Prior to writing this report, Amnesty International submitted many of these cases to the government of Iraq in a memorandum of mid-December 2012. In that, Amnesty International sought the government's response to the torture and other ill-treatment allegations cited and asked what steps the Iraqi authorities have taken to conduct thorough investigations into these and similar allegations, as international law requires, and to ensure that those responsible for torture and other serious human rights violations are brought to justice. As well, Amnesty International questioned and called for an end to practices such as the parading of detainees before press conferences and TV broadcasting of their "confessions" before they stand trial or before delivery of the trial verdict. These practices, detailed below, fundamentally undermine the presumption of innocence and the right of fair trial of the detainees concerned. That some of these detainees were subsequently convicted of capital crimes, sentenced to death and executed adds a peculiarly egregious and abhorrent dimension to their use. Amnesty International requested that the government respond in sufficient time for its comments to be reflected in this report. By late February 2013, however, Amnesty International had received neither an acknowledgement nor any substantive response from the Baghdad authorities.