Grave rights abuses persisted in Iraq during the first half of this year, including targeted killings of professionals, assaults on minorities, alleged widespread torture of detainees and attacks against women, despite great improvements in general security, according to a new United Nations report released today.
“Grave human rights violations that are less widely reported [than general security], and the elimination of which requires long-term political commitment, remain unaddressed,” the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said in its latest rights report, calling on the Government to institute a slew of steps ranging from protection of minorities and women to prompt access for detainees to legal counsel and an end to impunity for abuses.
“Ongoing widespread ill-treatment and torture of detainees by Iraqi law enforcement authorities, amidst pervasive impunity of current and past human rights abuses, constitute severe breaches of international human rights obligations and represent examples of challenges faced by the Iraqi government,” it added.
The targeted killings of journalists, educators, medical doctors, judges and lawyers continued, as did criminal abductions for ransom and “a great number of murders, alleged suicides and other suspected ‘honour crimes’ were reported from the Region of Kurdistan,” it noted. “Journalists and media workers remain one of the most vulnerable professional groups throughout Iraq, being subjected to threats, targeted violence, kidnappings and assassination.
Meanwhile, minorities continued to be the victims of targeted similar violence and the destruction of property and cultural sites, while the situation of detainees across the country, including Kurdistan, remains “of great concern,” with many being deprived of their liberty for months or even years, often under harsh physical conditions, without access to defence counsel, or without being formally charged with a crime or produced before a judge.
“Yet again, slow bureaucratic procedures, insufficient resources, degraded infrastructure and lack of effective accountability measures result in inordinate delays in processing detainees’ cases,” the report, covering the period from 1 January to 30 June, said.
The number of detainees in Iraqi Government custody remained higher in the first six months of 2008 than in the second half of 2007, totalling 24,360 in June 2008, compared with 23,765 in December 2007, with the increase in large part attributable to ongoing arrests after crackdowns on suspected insurgents in many parts of the country.
The number of detainees held by the United States-led Multinational Forces in IRAQ (MNF-I) remained steady at between 21,000 and 23,000 and was down to 21,881 on 30 June 2008. “UNAMI remained concerned about the internment of suspects in MNF-I custody for prolonged periods without judicial review of their cases, and administrative review procedures that do not fulfil the requirement to grant detainees due process in accordance with internationally recognized norms,” the report said.
It called on the Iraqi Government to adopt effective measures to support vulnerable communities, including religious and ethnic minorities, investigate incidents involving gender-based violence, in particular so-called ‘honour crimes’ perpetrated against women, ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable and brought to justice, and grant detainees timely, regular and adequate access to relatives and legal counsel.
The abuse of detainees, including juveniles, must be urgently addressed, impunity ended, and prison overcrowding and poor sanitation and hygiene conditions improved.
The report called for similar measures from the Kurdistan Regional Government and urged it to consider a moratorium on the death penalty pending a thorough review of legal proceedings followed at both pre-trial and trial stages.
It called on MNF-I to continue investigating thoroughly, promptly and impartially all credible allegations of unlawful killings by its military personnel, and take appropriate action against those found to have used excessive or indiscriminate force.
Security operations in Basra and Sadr City by the Iraqi forces and MNF-I between March and involved heavy fighting in densely populated urban areas, where militia members positioned themselves, resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths and injuries, it said.
The report also called on MNF-I to consider implementing basic due process guarantees enshrined in international human rights law to improve detainees’ access to defence counsel, and granting access to MNF-I detention facilities to independent human rights monitors, including UNAMI.
MNF-I should also continue to investigate reported deaths caused by privately hired contractors working on behalf of the US Government and strengthen effective mechanisms for holding them accountable for unlawful killings.