UN Human Rights Report: Torture and Detention Without Charge in Iraq

A new United Nations report on human rights in Iraq cites Iraqi prisons for continued torture of detainees, incarceration for months without charges and warns, as it has in the past, that “security may not be sustainable unless significant steps are taken in the area of human rights such as strengthening the rule of law and addressing impunity.” The report (PDF), covers mainly the last half of 2008.

Some of the main points, written in the typically understated voice of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI):

  • The report found 26,249 people being held in Iraq prisons in December. It said they faced “months or even years in overcrowded cells” and many had not been formally charged.
  • he agency found, “that the use of torture as an interrogation method and the ill-treatment of detainees remains a serious challenge to Iraq’s criminal justice system.” It says there is no known case in which any official in the powerful Ministry of Defense, which has its own jails, “has been held accountable for human rights abuses.”
  • When UN officials told a senior police officer in the western city of Ramadi that Iraq was adopting an international convention against torture, he replied, “How are we going to get confessions? We have to force the criminals to confess and how are we going to do that now?”
  • The report singled out jails in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region for poor treatment including beatings and electric shock.
  • Kurdistan also came under fire for its high rate of so-called “honor killings” of women and the many cases of women burned or coerced into suicide in honor cases.
  • Speaking of Iraq in general, the report said, “the vast majority of women still face at least one form of domestic violence.”
  • The UN found that the amnesty law, passed at the insistence of the U.S. in attempt to foster reconciliation, has had little of its intended affect, with it only resulting in the release from jail about 7,500 from prison (the report said 127,431 were eligible, though it was not clear if that included people facing arrest warrants but not in prison).
  • It faulted U.S. forces for detaining people “for prolonged periods without judicial review.” The report cited no other mistreatment of detainees in U.S. detention.
  • The report urged U.S. officials to continue investigations into two shootings by guards for the American embassy working for Blackwater Worldwide (the firm now goes by the name Xe).
  • It noted the Sept. 16, 2007 killing of 17 people by a Blackwater convoy in a Baghdad traffic circle. (One of the guards has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a U.S. court and five others face charges. The company has said the guards were acting in self-defense).
  • The report also said an embassy official told the UN that guards for the company allegedly killed a 75-year-old Iraqi in traffic after the man came close to the company's convoy. The embassy official told the UN the case had been referred to the U.S. Department of Justice. A spokeswoman for Xe told NEWSWEEK the company was reviewing the report but has "no indication that the company or its personnel were involved in an incident like the one described."
  • The number of people killed in violence is still high but decreasing, according to the Iraqi government, which stopped releasing the figures when things were the worst in 2007. The UN reported Iraqi figures showing 6,787 civilians and security forces were killed in all of 2008, with 20,178 wounded – down from 34,542 killed and 36,685 wounded in 2006. It tallied 102 suicide attacks in 2008.
  • The report noted concern over continued attacks against Christian and other religious or ethnic minorities. It made no mention of killings of gay Iraqis, which have been widely reported in the media, but it did criticize the jailing in Kurdistan of a doctor who had published an article about health issues related to gay sex.

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