February 6, 2014 - 10:00 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Iraqi authorities are detaining thousands of Iraqi women illegally and subjecting many to torture and ill-treatment, including the threat of sexual abuse. 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, Human Rights Watch said.
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,” said Joe 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 illegally.
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, HRW 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.
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.
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.