Human rights group slams Iraq over treatment of women in prison

 

McClatchy Washington Bureau

Despite the Iraqi government’s promises to reform the country’s justice system, Iraqi authorities are detaining thousands of women illegally, Human Rights Watch says in a new report.

Many women are abused, raped and tortured in the country’s prisons, the New York-based advocacy group said in the report, which was released Thursday.

The report’s conclusions raise questions about the American legacy in Iraq, where reforming the justice system was a top U.S. priority.

The Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights acknowledged “some limited illegal behaviors which were practiced by security forces against women prisoners,” but it said the report was “over-exaggerated,” according to the Reuters news agency. Neither the Iraqi Embassy in Washington nor the Human Rights Ministry in Baghdad responded to McClatchy requests for comment.

Women interviewed by Human Rights Watch’s investigators described being beaten, slapped, raped and hung upside down during interrogations. Most women were detained for months without charge, often to extract information about male relatives’ activities, the report says.

Prisoner abuses are “at the heart of the current crisis in Iraq,” fueling deep-seated anger and lack of trust between the country’s diverse communities and security forces, said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW. “All Iraqis are paying the price,” he said.

Nearly a year after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki promised to reform the justice system, there are almost no signs of overall improvement, said Yanar Mohammed, an Iraqi activist who advocates for imprisoned Iraqi women.

“The justice system is a tool that is in the hands of the few in power,” said Mohammed, president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, an advocacy group. “We’re hearing more and more cases of abuse in detention centers, in police cars, and on the street.”

Security forces often conduct random mass arrests as collective punishment for alleged terrorist activities. Of the more than 4,200 women detained, at least 100 are held under Iraq’s anti-terrorism law, which mandates the death penalty for committing terrorist acts or helping male relatives commit these crimes, the report says.

Though both men and women suffer from the flawed criminal justice system, women suffer a “double burden due to their second-class status in Iraqi society,” said the report, which was based on testimony of 27 women, court documents, lawyers case files and government reports.

Iraq’s justice system has historically been plagued by corruption, direct political influence, convictions based on coerced confession and trials that fall short of international standards. The country also has the third highest number of executions in the world after China and Iran.

“Iraqi security forces and officials act as if brutally abusing women will make the country safer,” said Stork. “In fact, these women and their relatives have told us that as long as security forces abuse people with impunity, we can only expect security conditions to worsen.”

The country’s security situation has deteriorated in the last few months. Violence across the country has killed more than 1,000 people, mostly civilians, making January the deadliest month since April 2008.

Although the corrupt justice system predated U.S. involvement, the violent and destabilizing nature of the U.S. occupation eroded women’s rights and decreased chances of meaningful justice system reform, said Michael Wahid Hanna, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank in New York.

“There is a deeply rooted and abusive culture with respect to policing and investigation that has been untouched by political change,” Hanna said.

State Department spokesman Michael Lavallee said the Iraqi government’s efforts to improve human rights in the country remain “a work in progress,” adding that the department is “encouraged that the government . . . is acknowledging that the treatment of women detainees is an issue and that they are working to address it.”

The Human Right Watch report captured the on-the-ground reality of abuses as the country becomes more deeply driven by sectarian divisions, said Struan Stevenson, president of the European Parliament’s delegation for Iraqi relations.

“The West thought they had achieved ‘mission accomplished’ when they got rid of Saddam Hussein and collaborated to ensure Nouri al Maliki clung onto the reins of power,” Stevenson said in a statement. “They are now reaping the harvest of this catastrophic mistake.”

Email: fwaseem@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @fatimahwaseem

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
More children under five survive

    Death rate for children under 5 has plunged, UN reports

    In a break from the recent slate of doom-and-gloom reports of catastrophes, wars and destruction, a United Nations report released Tuesday says the number of children under 5 who die each year fell by 49 percent between 1990 and 2013, from 12.7 million to 6.3 million, saving 17,000 lives every day.

  • FARC rebel ambush kills 7 police in Colombia

    Colombia's police chief says leftist rebels have killed seven police officers and injured five in an ambush in the country's northwest.

  •  
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the first in a series of high-profile Capitol Hill hearings that will measure the president's ability to rally congressional support for President Barack Obama's strategy to combat Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria, in Washington, Sept. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

    War on Islamic State will be long, difficult, top defense officials tell Senate

    In their first public briefing since President Barack Obama laid out his new strategy for defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the nation’s two top defense officials on Tuesday provided few details of their plans and no guarantees of success.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category