Iraqi authorities must rein in all forces participating in the recapture of Falluja said Amnesty International today, amid reports that men and boys fleeing the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) had been tortured and otherwise ill-treated by government-backed militias and at least three had died as a result of torture.
Amnesty International has spoken to victims who described the torture and other ill-treatment meted out to them in detention and who claim to have witnessed killings.
“Civilians risking their lives to escape from IS atrocities must be protected and given the humanitarian aid they desperately need. Instead it seems that some are having to run the gauntlet of being subjected to further abuse and reprisal attacks,” said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
Local officials in Anbar province, where Falluja is located, told Amnesty International that on June 5, 605 men and boys were handed over to the provincial council and that many of them had injuries including fractures, contusions, welts and open wounds as a result of beatings. Three bodies were also handed over, and another detainee is believed to have died after his transfer to Amariyat al-Falluja.
The detainees were from Saqlawiya, some 9km north-west of Falluja, and had been held captive for several days by individuals belonging to government-backed and predominantly Shi’a militias known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).
Amnesty International spoke to several survivors who described being held at a military base in Anbar province known as Mazra’at Tarek (Tarek’s farm) for about four days after they fled IS fighters on June 2.
One detainee in his forties told Amnesty International:
“The treatment was very bad… we had nothing to drink or eat… Some people drank their urine. About four or five men would come into the room, and beat people with sticks and metal pipes. I don’t know what happened to my brother and two nephews detained with me. I don’t know if they are among the dead or still detained at the farm or transferred to another place… Even those released are suffering from wounds and dehydration. Some have lost consciousness.”
The detainees described being crammed into small rooms with their hands tied behind their backs, insulted for allegedly supporting IS, and kicked and beaten with various objects including rubber hoses and metal bars. They said they were also deprived of food, water and sanitation facilities.
Several claimed that a number of detainees died as a result of beatings, including with sharp metal objects on the head.
The detainees are now being held in Amariyat al-Falluja for further security screening and investigations. Several reported that their identification documents had been confiscated by the PMU.
On June 5, Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi acknowledged in a televised interview with Iraqiya TV that “mistakes” had been committed by some fighters participating in the battle for Falluja and vowed not to tolerate human rights violations.
His spokesperson later announced the establishment of a human rights committee to investigate abuses.
“The promise of investigations into human rights abuses is a welcome first step; but more needs to be done to prevent further abuses and bring to justice those suspected of criminal responsibility,” said Luther.
“Any security procedures carried out by Iraqi forces must comply with international human rights law and all those deprived of their liberty must be protected from enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment. Those who are reasonably suspected of having committed criminal offenses should be promptly referred to judicial authorities and receive a fair trial that meets international standards. The rest must be released.”
Amnesty International is calling on the Iraqi authorities to conduct full, impartial and independent investigations into allegations of torture and unlawful killings by members of the PMU with a view to bringing those responsible to justice in fair trials.
Pending investigations and prosecutions, all those reasonably suspected of committing abuses should be removed from the ranks. The fate and whereabouts of those who have been disappeared must be immediately revealed.
Since the start of the military offensive by Iraqi forces to retake the city of Falluja from IS on May 23, an estimated 10,000 people have managed to escape mainly from the city’s outskirts according to UN agencies.
About 50,000 civilians are believed to still be trapped in the city amid reports of shelling and starvation in the city. Civilians who fled told Amnesty International that IS fighters have been preventing civilians from central Falluja from leaving, and have forcibly moved some civilians from the outskirts to the center of the city.
Reports have also emerged regarding the alleged unlawful killings of 17 men and boys from Karma, about 20km north-east of Falluja, which Amnesty International is investigating.