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US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Iraqi Security Forces Abusing Women in Detention
By Human Rights Watch
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, February 14, 2014
Torture Allegations Underscore Urgent Need for Criminal Justice Reform
(Baghdad, February 6, 2014) –
Iraqi authorities are detaining thousands of Iraqi women illegally and
subjecting many to torture and ill-treatment, including the threat of sexual
abuse, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
Iraq’s weak judiciary, plagued by corruption, frequently bases
convictions on coerced confessions, and trial proceedings fall far short of
international standards. Many women were detained for months or even years
without charge before seeing a judge.
The 105-page report, “‘No
One Is Safe’: Abuses of Women in Iraq’s Criminal Justice System,”
documents abuses of women in detention based on interviews with women and
girls, Sunni and Shia, in prison; their families and lawyers; and medical
service providers in the prisons at a time of escalating violence involving
security forces and armed groups. Human Rights Watch also reviewed court
documents and extensive information received in meetings with Iraqi
authorities including Justice, Interior, Defense, and Human Rights ministry
officials, and two deputy prime ministers.
“Iraqi security forces and
officials act as if brutally abusing women will make the country safer,”
Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights
Watch. “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.”
In January 2013, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki promised to reform the
criminal justice system, beginning with releasing detained women who had
judicial orders of release. A year later, the brutal tactics of security
forces remain essentially the same and hundreds of women remain in detention
As fighting raged between a multitude of Sunni insurgent
groups and government security forces in Anbar province in January 2014,
Anbar residents expressed their frustration to Human Rights Watch over
Maliki’s failure to carry out promised reforms. Residents’ lack of trust in
security forces, caused by their policy of attacking residents in Sunni
areas, including the abuses of women Human Rights Watch documented, is
undermining the government’s military efforts against al-Qaeda in Anbar,
Many of the 27 women who spoke with Human Rights Watch
described being beaten, kicked, slapped, hung upside-down and beaten on
their feet (falaqa), given electric shocks, and raped or threatened with
sexual assault by security forces during their interrogation. They said
security forces questioned them about their male relatives’ activities
rather than crimes in which they themselves were implicated. Security forces
forced them to sign statements, many with fingerprints, which they were not
allowed to read and that they later repudiated in court, they said.
One woman entered her meeting with Human Rights Watch in Iraq’s death row
facility in Baghdad’s Kadhimiyya neighborhood on crutches. She said nine
days of beatings, electric shocks, and falaqa in March 2012 had left her
permanently disabled. The split nose, back scars, and burns on her breast
that Human Rights Watch observed were consistent with the abuse she alleged.
She was executed in September 2013, seven months after Human Rights Watch
interviewed her, despite lower court rulings that dismissed charges against
her following a medical report that supported her alleged torture.
Human Rights Watch found that Iraqi security forces regularly arrest women
illegally and commit other due process violations against women at every
stage of the justice system. Women are subjected to threats of, or actual,
sexual assault, sometimes in front of husbands, brothers, and children.
Failure by the courts to investigate allegations of abuse and hold the
abusers responsible encourages the police to falsify confessions and use
torture, Human Rights Watch said.
The vast majority of the more than
4,200 women detained in Interior and Defense ministry facilities are Sunni,
but the abuses Human Rights Watch documents affect women of all sects and
classes throughout Iraqi society.
Both men and women suffer from the
severe flaws of the criminal justice system. But women suffer a double
burden due to their second-class status in Iraqi society. Human Rights Watch
found that women are frequently targeted not only for crimes they themselves
are said to have committed, but to harass male family or members of their
communities. Once they have been detained, and even if they are released
unharmed, women are frequently stigmatized by their family or community, who
perceive them to have been dishonored.
Iraq’s broken criminal justice
system fails to achieve justice for victims either of security force abuses
or of criminal attacks by armed groups, Human Rights Watch said. Arrests and
convictions Human Rights Watch documented appeared often to have been
predicated on information provided by secret informants and confessions
coerced under torture.
“We don’t know who we fear more, al-Qaeda or
SWAT,” said one Fallujah resident, referring to the special forces unit that
carries out counterterrorism operations. “Why would we help them fight
al-Qaeda when they’ll just come for us as soon as they’re done with them?”
Human Rights Watch reviewed a video in which a man representing himself
as a leader of al-Qaeda asks a crowd of onlookers in Ramadi, “What are we
supposed to do when the army is raping our women? What are we supposed to do
when they’re imprisoning our women and children?” Peaceful protesters posed
these same questions to Iraqi authorities in mass demonstrations that began
over a year ago, but Maliki’s promises to address these issues remain
Women detainees, their families, and lawyers told Human
Rights Watch that security forces conduct random and mass arrests of women
that amount to collective punishment for alleged terrorist activities by
male family members. Authorities have exploited vague provisions in the
Anti-Terrorism Law of 2005 to settle personal or political scores –
detaining, charging, and trying women based on their association to a
particular individual, tribe, or sect, Human Rights Watch said.
the vast majority of cases Human Rights Watch examined, women had no access
to a lawyer before or during their interrogation, contrary to Iraqi law when
security forces presented them with statements to sign, or at trial, either
because they could not afford one or because lawyers feared taking on
politically sensitive cases.
In every case Human Rights Watch
documented in which women told the investigating or trial judge about abuse,
the judges did not open an inquiry. Some dismissed the allegations, saying
that they observed no marks on the defendant’s body or that the woman should
have made the allegations earlier.
Iraqi authorities should
acknowledge the prevalence of abuse of female detainees, promptly
investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment, prosecute guards and
interrogators responsible for abuse, and disallow coerced confessions, Human
Rights Watch said. They should make judicial and security sector reform an
urgent priority as a prerequisite for stemming violence that increasingly
threatens the country’s stability.
“The abuses of women we documented
are in many ways at the heart of the current crisis in Iraq,” Stork said.
“These abuses have caused a deep-seated anger and lack of trust between
Iraq’s diverse communities and security forces, and all Iraqis are paying
“‘No One Is Safe’: Abuses of Women in Iraq’s Criminal
Justice System” is available at:
For more Human Rights Watch reporting
on Iraq, please visit:
For more information,
In Baghdad, Erin Evers (English, Arabic): +964-770-641-0980; or
+1-917-362-0103 (mobile); or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow on Twitter @ErinHRW
In Cairo, Tamara Alrifai (English, Arabic,
French, Spanish): +20-122-751-2450 (mobile); or
email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @TamaraAlrifai
In Cairo, Joe Stork (English): +20-127-544-3321 (mobile) or +1-202-299-4925
(mobile); or firstname.lastname@example.org