Iraq 10 years later: ‘cycle of human rights abuses’

Ten years after the US-led invasion, Iraq remains enmeshed in a grim cycle of human rights abuses, including attacks on civilians, torture of detainees and unfair trials, said Amnesty International in a new report March 8. “A Decade of Abuses” documents a chronology of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees committed by Iraqi security forces and by foreign troops in the wake of the 2003 invasion. Information was gathered from multiple sources including interviews with detainees, victims’ families, refugees, lawyers, human rights activists and others, plus reviews of court papers and other official documents. The report accuses Iraqi authorities of a “continuing failure to observe their obligations to uphold human rights and respect the rule of law in the face of persistent deadly attacks by armed groups, who show callous disregard for civilian life.”

“Ten years after the end of Saddam Hussein’s repressive rule, many Iraqis today enjoy greater freedoms than they did under his regime, but the fundamental human rights gains that should have been achieved during the past decade have significantly failed to materialize,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Amnesty International. “Neither the Iraqi government nor the former occupying powers have adhered to the standards required of them under international law and the people of Iraq are still paying a heavy price for their failure.”

Torture is committed with impunity by government security forces, particularly against detainees arrested under anti-terrorism laws while they are held incommunicado for interrogation. Detainees have alleged that they were tortured and forced to “confess” to serious crimes or to incriminate others while held in these conditions. Many have repudiated their confessions at trial only to see the courts admit them as evidence of their guilt, without investigating their torture allegations.

Adding to the injustice, authorities have paraded detainees before press conferences or arranged for their “confessions” to be broadcast on local TV in advance of their trials. The death penalty was suspended after the 2003 invasion but resumed in 2005 when the first Iraqi government came to power. Since then, at least 447 prisoners have been executed. Hundreds of prisoners await execution. Iraq, where 129 prisoners were hanged in 2012, is now one of the world’s leading executioners. 

“Death sentences and executions are being used on a horrendous scale,” said Hadj Sahraoui. “It is particularly abhorrent that many prisoners have been sentenced to death after unfair trials and on the basis of confessions they say they were forced to make under torture. It is high time that the Iraqi authorities end this appalling cycle of abuse and declare a moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolishing the death penalty for all crimes.”

Since December, thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in areas where Sunni Muslims are in the majority, to protest against arbitrary detention, abuses of detainees, the use of the anti-terror law, and to demand an end to what they see as government discrimination against the Sunni population.

Meanwhile, Sunni armed groups continue to attack not only government targets but Shi’ite civilians, including religious pilgrims. Although the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region in north-east Iraq has remained largely free of the violence that persists in the rest of the country, its two ruling Kurdish political parties maintain a tight grip on power and incidents of detainee abuses have also been reported. In the UK and the US, despite investigations into individual cases, there has been a failure to investigate systematically the widespread human rights violations committed by forces from those countries, and to hold those responsible to account at all levels, Amnesty charges.

“Iraq remains caught in a cycle of torture and impunity that should long ago have been broken,” said Hadj Sahraoui. “It is high time that the Iraqi authorities take the concrete steps needed to entrench a culture of human rights protection, and do so without further prevarication or delay.” (Amnesty International, March 8)

See our last post on Iraqi execution state