US-Led Force Holds Thousands Without Due Process
April 28, 2008
The Security Council should insist that the United States abide by international law for persons detained.
Joe Stork, Middle East deputy director at Human Rights Watch

The United Nations Security Council should address serious concerns about the detention practices of the US-led Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF) in its debate on Iraq, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to council members. The United States invokes Security Council resolutions to justify holding thousands of Iraqis for indefinite periods, without judicial review, and under military processes that do not meet international standards.

In the letter, Human Rights Watch said that according to the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), the MNF was holding 24,514 detainees at the end of 2007. Since the declared end of the US occupation of Iraq in June 2004, detained persons should be provided due process under international human rights law. Security Council Resolutions 1546, 1637, and 1723 allow for internment of Iraqis “for imperative reasons of security,” but the US improperly uses this language to justify holding the detainees without judicial review, as if the operative law were the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs the treatment of civilians during international armed conflicts.

“The Security Council should insist that the United States abide by international law for persons detained,” said Joe Stork, Middle East deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “The Bush administration pushed the Security Council to declare that the US-led occupation of Iraq had ended in June 2004, and the end of occupation means that international human rights standards apply – judicial review, access to legal counsel and family members, and a fair trial.”

Human Rights Watch has serious concerns about the widespread torture of detainees by the Iraqi authorities. Where there is a fear of torture, the US should retain physical custody over individuals formally transferred to the Iraqi justice system for prosecution.

Human Rights Watch also called on the US to allow UNAMI, as well as independent Iraqi and international human rights observers, to visit its detention facilities and make their findings public.

“Four years since abuses at Abu Ghraib became known, Washington should finally allow independent monitors who can report publicly to visit its facilities and speak with detainees,” Stork said.

A Security Council mandate, which concludes at the end of this year, forms the basis for the US military presence in Iraq, and US and Iraqi officials are negotiating a post-2008 status-of-forces agreement and other pacts. Human Rights Watch said the Security Council should make clear that it expects such arrangements to establish a legal basis for detention by non-Iraqi forces that meets the international human rights commitments of both the Iraqi and US governments.