This testimony from one of the detainees is only a small fraction of what is happening in Iraqi prisons, according to a report by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The report, under the title, “Human Rights in the Administration of Justice in Iraq: Legal Conditions and Procedural Safeguards to Prevent Torture and Ill-Treatment”, was issued on the 3rd of August this year.
Other testimonies include one prisoner saying, “They cuffed my hands behind my back and hanged my handcuffs from a hook on a chain from the ceiling. They didn’t really ask me questions, they just kept shouting to confess”.
Another detainee revealed, “It was the same routine, every day hanging me up and beating me. There are things they did to me there that I am too ashamed to talk about — but one thing I can tell you is that two times they made me sit on a bottle”.
The report concludes that “Torture is a reality in places of detention throughout Iraq. It is not, however, possible to accurately determine the exact scale and scope of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, as they typically occur behind locked doors of detention facilities.”
It adds, “the accounts of victims leave no room for doubt that torture and ill-treatment do take place in Iraq… Although the Iraqi legal framework explicitly criminalizes torture and sets out the key legal conditions and procedural safeguards aimed at its prevention, respect for these provisions is lacking.”
Multiple Forms of Torture
The report counted the violations that detainees are subjected to, including the fact that access to a lawyer is systematically delayed until after suspects have been interrogated, delaying detainees from informing their families of their detention and restricting family visits, as well as extracting and “eliciting confessions” in a “coercive environment” and the validation of these statements by investigative judges. They also listed how security forces are demanding that the detainees sign statements without reading their contents, and “the mechanisms to address complaints of torture or ill-treatment do not appear to be effective nor do they provide remedy,” while “complaints and signs of torture are often ignored by authorities.”
This comes bearing in mind that the report does not include other violations that result from conditions of detention in terms of limited hygiene, severe overcrowding, a lack in the availability of facilities, ventilation, exercise, as well as the lack of access to health care and the like.
In the UN report, 27 detainees reported slapping, insults, humiliation and threats while detained or interrogated.” The main forms of torture that were reported “include severe beatings, including on the soles of the feet and with sticks, electric shocks, stress positions, hanging from the ceiling, suffocation and severe threats.” In addition, “Sixteen interviewees, including one woman and one boy, reported sexual violence during interrogations, particularly the application of electric shocks to their genitals and objects such as bottles or sticks forced up their anus.”
The Human Rights Office of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) noted that most of the allegations of torture were “referred to facilities under the authority of the Ministry of Interior in Federal Iraq and the Asayish in the Kurdistan Region (Kurdish Regional Police),” as well as within facilities affiliated with the Iraqi Ministries of Justice and Defense, the Iraqi National Security Service, and Iraqi National Intelligence Service.”
Fears of Filing Complaints and Reporting Abusive Treatment
In the meantime, the human rights report suggested that the torture is actually of a broader scale and scope than what has been revealed, as a number of detainees indicated their fear and unwillingness to report forms of abusive treatment because of their “fear of retaliation..[and] reprisals.”
At the same time, it notes the prevalence of impunity in this environment. One of the lawyers stated in the report, “The perpetrators are not really afraid about the consequences of torture since they know they will not be punished by the official system.”
Worse still, some detainees said that the traces of torture had disappeared before their demands to investigate everything they had been subjected to were even heeded. One of the interviewees said, “At the time I made a complaint against the police, I still had scars from the beating — but it took so long to deal with my complaint that the scars had healed by then”.
On a regular basis, local and international human rights reports continue to indicate widespread torture in Iraqi detention centers. It has also been noted that a significant increase in the number of prisoners — 130 detainees — had died during the course of this year, according to official data. Human rights activists accuse the authorities of not being serious in combating torture and inhumane practices within the detention centers.
In light of the report’s findings, UNAMI and the OHCHR made several recommendations to the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to reduce and prevent cases of torture in detention centers.
The recommendations include a demand to prioritize the adoption of a comprehensive law and a national plan of action to combat torture and the punishment of criminals, establish an effective legal aid system for victims of torture, adopt transparency in information about official detention centers and strictly supervise them, and guarantee the rights provided by international and domestic law for the detainee with the adoption of steps that range from access to lawyers to family visits, among others.
In closing, the report advised a review of interrogation rules and practices as well as detention arrangements, while adopting guidelines for non-coercive interrogation methods and techniques.
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