New order, same abuses: Unlawful detentions and torture in Iraq
Report Index: MDE 14/006/2010
Below are excerpts that focus on Kurdistan taken from the report ‘New order, same abuses’. The 57-page report, written in the context of the political vacuum that has enveloped the country since the March elections, is both scathing and disturbing. Scathing in its denunciation of the authorities (in the KRG, in Arab Iraq, and also the US military) for their role and complicity in the unlawful detentions, enforced disappearances and torture or other ill-treatment of thousands of people; and disturbing for the sheer extent of the abuses and for the seeming lack of effort to stop it. While Kurdistan fares much better than the Arab south, there are still many judicial and human rights issues that need to be resolved to overcome the entrenched culture of violence that has led to the partial incapacitation of the legal and judiciary systems.
From the report:
More than seven years after the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the human rights situation remains dire. Despite some security improvements in the last couple of years, violence rages on and scores of Iraqis are being killed every month as a result.
The focus of this report is the unlawful detention, enforced disappearance and torture or other ill-treatment of thousands of people since 2003 by the US-led Multinational Force (MNF) in Iraq and the Iraqi authorities. Some have been held arbitrarily, without charge or trial, for seven years. Some remain held even though Iraqi courts or investigative judges have ordered their release for lack of evidence or adequate grounds to imprison them. Thousands are still in prison despite the 2008 Amnesty Law, which provides for the release of uncharged detainees after six or 12 months depending on the case.
In the Kurdistan region of Iraq, in the north, which is run by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and where the security situation has generally been much better than in the rest of Iraq, similar abuses have been reported, albeit on a far smaller scale. Scores of people have been detained without charge or trial, some for up to 10 years. Some have been victims of enforced disappearance, and some have been tortured.
This report is based on a wide range of research, including a fact-finding visit by Amnesty International delegates to the Kurdistan region of Iraq between 30 May and 10 June 2010. The delegates visited prisons under the control of the Asayish – the Kurdish security forces–in Erbil and Dohuk and talked to many detainees, as well as prison directors and senior Asayish officials. Some of the interviews with prisoners were held in private, while others were in the presence of guards. The delegates also spoke to many displaced Iraqis who had fled the violence, as well as human rights activists, women’s groups, journalists and representatives of various UN bodies and non-governmental organizations, and raised individual cases and general concerns during a meeting with the Interior Minister.
Those arrested in connection with serious crimes can be held for long periods. Article 109 of the Criminal Procedure Code has been used to detain people without trial for several years, including in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
Despite the safeguards contained in Article 127 of Iraq’s Criminal Procedure Code (as amended), in practice detainees generally have not been able to access legal representation, according to numerous testimonies obtained by Amnesty International from former detainees and detainees’ families, and detainees held in the Kurdistan region of Iraq who were interviewed in prison by Amnesty International in June 2010.
Several factors appear to underlie the denial of this right, including the reluctance of some lawyers to represent and defend people suspected or accused of terrorism or other serious crimes, and fears that this could expose the lawyers themselves to reprisal or other attacks–an unsurprising concern in a context where a number of lawyers and also judges have been abducted and/or killed and others have been told that they will be killed if they continue to defend certain clients.
Scores of people have been detained without charge or trial in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, some for years. Some have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated, and some have been victims of enforced disappearance, as the authorities refused for years to provide their families with information on their fate or whereabouts.
Until early 2008 the KRG held hundreds of detainees without charge or trial on suspicion of belonging to or sympathizing with Islamist groups, in particular Ansar al-Islam. By September 2008 the majority of these had been “pardoned” and released. However, scores have remained in detention in prisons controlled by the Asayish, the KRG’s main security agency, in the three Kurdish governorates administered by the KRG – Erbil, Sulaimaniya and Dohuk.
Many of those detained in recent years were arrested because of their suspected membership of or support for banned organizations such as Ansar al-Islam as well as legal political parties, including the Kurdistan Islamic Movement and the Islamic Group. Some were active members of these organizations at the time of their arrest; others had reportedly ceased their involvement, some a long time before their arrest. Still others were detained, weeks or even months after they had surrendered to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)’s Peshmerga armed forces, in 2003 following armed clashes.
Families of a number of long-term detainees have been campaigning for their release. In mid-2009 they staged sit-ins outside the Kurdistan parliament building in Erbil. They also marched towards the KRG Presidency in Salaheddin, but were prevented by the security forces from getting near the building.
A number of the detainees who were interviewed by Amnesty International delegates who visited the Kurdistan Region in June 2010 said that they were from Mosul, outside the KRG, and had been detained by the Asayish or Peshmerga either in Mosul or nearby villages located in areas bordering the KRG which are disputed between the KRG and Iraq’s federal government in Baghdad. Some of the detainees said they had been detained by US forces and then handed over to the KRG.
Amnesty International was told by the directors of the Asayish in Erbil and Dohuk that many of the detainees being held without trial had been arrested before the enactment of the KRG’s anti-terrorism law in 2006 (Law No. 23 of 2006, Combating Terrorism in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq) and that they could not be prosecuted under this law for alleged involvement with Islamist armed groups as this would mean applying the law retroactively. Nor, they said, could such detainees be charged under the Iraqi Penal Code because it does not contain specific provisions criminalizing terrorism. In fact, however, the Penal Code sets out a range of criminal offences relating to the internal and external security of the state that could potentially be used if the KRG authorities wished genuinely to bring the detainees before the courts and allow them the opportunity to obtain their release (On 27 September 2003, the then Kurdistan National Assembly issued Law No. 21 amending Article 156 of the Iraqi Penal Code. The amended Article provides that anyone undermining the security and stability of the Kurdistan region can face up to life imprisonment. See http://www.perleman.org/files/articles/170208074807.pdf) In any case, the reasons cited by the directors of the Asayish, which the KRG’s then prime minister acknowledged to Amnesty International in 2009 is itself not fully accountable under the law, do not justify arbitrary detention, which is prohibited under international human rights law.
The Iraqi Human Rights Ministry documented 574 allegations of torture during 2009, including 56 against the Peshmerga. These documented cases across Iraq almost certainly represent no more than the tip of a very large iceberg. (Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights, 2009 Annual Report, p84).
During a visit to Dohuk Asayish Prison in June 2010, detainees told Amnesty International delegates that they were tortured following their arrest in Mosul before they were transferred to the Kurdistan region. ‘Ata’-Allah Ahmad Da’bul al-Shammeri, for example, told Amnesty International that his torture included being suspended from a ventilator, beaten repeatedly with a cable, and given electric shocks to different parts of his body. He said that he told his interrogators that he would confess to anything and sign even a blank sheet of paper. He then signed a statement. He told Amnesty International that he was innocent and that he believed he had been arrested because his house is near to where the car bomb incident took place. His trial started at the end of June 2010. International law prohibits the use of statements obtained by torture in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.
The human rights situation in Iraq remains extremely serious. Amnesty International recognizes that the government faces deadly attacks by armed groups who are intent on causing maximum civilian casualties. It also recognizes that it is the government’s duty to protect its population. However, the government can only do this while respecting its obligations under international human rights law and upholding the rule of law.
Even in the context of ongoing violence, there is no justification for keeping thousands of people in prisons and detention facilities without charge or trial, let alone keeping them like this for years. Many of the detainees have suffered torture and other ill-treatment by Iraqi security forces, and remain at risk of such abuses. Because of government complicity, tolerance or inaction in relation to such abuses, a culture of impunity prevails.
US forces, by transferring individuals to Iraqi detention facilities where they are clearly at risk of torture and other ill-treatment, may be complicit in these abuses and have breached their international obligations towards the prisoners.
To counter the impunity and to help protect human rights in Iraq, Amnesty International makes eighteen recommendations to the authorities in Iraq, including the KRG. These recommendations include assurance that all human rights violations end immediately, that all detainees currently held without charge be released, that all detainees be held only in recognized detention centers, and to publicly condemn the practices of torture and other ill-treatment and enforced disappearances, and declare unequivocally that such abuses will not be tolerated.
Here is the full report (.pdf) with a complete list of Amnesty International’s recommendations, details of the 2008 Amnesty Law, extensive endnotes and photographs.