February 7, 2014

V. Government Responses to Allegations of Abuse

In December 2012, two months after a local NGO reported that security forces regularly mistreat women during arrest, interrogation, and detention, Iraq’s parliament held a special session to discuss alleged abuses of women in prison. Parliamentarians called on the government to investigate, as did other government officials.[135] In late December, anger in Sunni areas over government security forces’ arrest of 10 bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafi al-Essawi and the mistreatment of detainees, particularly women, spread to the streets. On December 25, demonstrations began throughout Sunni-majority provinces, calling on the government, as a chief demand, to release female prisoners and apologize for abuses against them.

In response, Prime Minister al-Maliki announced on January 8, 2013 that he had established a committee to investigate allegations of abuse against female detainees (“Committee of the Wise”), and that other committees would address protesters’ other demands, including illegal and prolonged detentions, the disproportionate use of the Anti-Terrorism Law against Sunnis, and other criminal justice issues.

Government officials heading these committees pledged that all detainees would be brought before investigating judges within 24 hours of arrest as Iraqi law requires; that the government would end the u se of testimony by secret informants as the sole basis for convictions; and that authorities would transfer female detainees, many of whom were detained too far from their families to receive visits, to their home provinces to serve their sentences.

On February 3, Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani, whom Maliki tasked to negotiate with protestors, announced the government had released over 3,000 detainees, including some women, and made an unprecedented apology to those who had remained in detention despite having never been charged or having received judicial release orders years earlier. [136]

Government officials and others gave conflicting statements to Human Rights Watch about how many detainees had been released and under which procedures. Human Rights Watch could only confirm that at most the government released 50 women who had been detained illegally, in some cases despite judicial orders for their release, Maliki issued a pardon for some detainees and governmental ad-hoc committees facilitated the release of a small number of others. As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, Maliki has not ordered investigations into allegations that women were illegally detained or abused in interrogation. Numerous officials, including the human rights and justice ministers, the Interior Ministry spokesperson, and the prime minister himself, have denied claims of serious and systematic abuses against women.

Government Responses to Claims of Illegal Arrests and Torture

Iraqi officials who spoke to Human Rights Watch all dismissed claims of torture and abuse as exceptional or denied them altogether. Some stated that such instances were not the fault of the current government but carry-over practices from Saddam Hussein’s time. Iraq is still in a “transition from dictatorship,” one parliamentarian said.[137] Other officials characterized women detainees who alleged they were tortured as liars.[138]

Some officials justified circumvention of Iraqi laws and detention procedures because of Iraq’s instability. “We have a terrorism problem, which requires the government to take harsh measures,” said Sami al-Askari, a parliamentarian and member of Maliki’s Dawa party. “National security law is different from normal laws. That’s why the majority of people detained are not people who have already been convicted.”[139]

General Muhammad, head of the Interior Ministry’s human rights directorate, told Human Rights Watch the ministry was “making efforts” to move most investigation procedures from security officers to investigative judges, as required by Iraq’s Code of Criminal Procedure.[140] These changes were intended to combat the occurrence “individual instances” of abuse of detainees, he said. “If mass arrests happen, they are performed highly professionally and with respect, and when this happens, it happens only for a few hours, and only those who carry guns, and eyewitnesses.... We don’t arrest just anybody.”[141] He and others denied that abuse of women detainees is widespread.

Aqil Tarahy, inspector general of the Interior Ministry, told Human Rights Watch that instances of abuse of detainees were “only limited, individual cases, not systematic.”[142] He said, “We need time to progress from where we were before, which was a total absence of human rights culture—a lot of people don’t understand what that means. Saddam created monsters, and some of these monsters still work in our ministries.”[143]

General Muhammad and the ministry’s spokesperson, General Saad Maan, insisted that the ministry investigates allegations of torture. They said that if the incident is proven, the implicated officer is “submitted to the judicial system.”[144] The Interior Ministry’s human rights directorate, they said, probes whether every detainee has a detention warrant that was extended and renewed properly, whether the detainee was able to make contact with his family, knew the charges against him or her, has seen a judge, or has complained of being tortured. Inspectors also examine the quality of detainees’ food and their access to sufficient sunlight, medical care, and family visits, they said.

Interior Ministry officials could not provide documentation of any case of an official who had been prosecuted and convicted of torturing a detainee. Inspector General Tarahy told Human Rights Watch that “about 19 officers and policemen have been sent to the courts” for abuses against detainees in 2012, but that “whether or not they have been convicted is up to the courts.”[145] General Muhammad said he did not know the last time an officer had been prosecuted for human rights violations.[146]

General Muhammad said in one case a detainee told an inspector in November 2012 that an officer had tortured him, and that the human rights directorate was still waiting for the medical report in February 2013.[147] In the meantime, he said, the officer against whom the complaint was issued had been transferred to another facility. In general, he said, if a detainee complains of his or her treatment, “the tortured person submits evidence and the accused person submits evidence, and they should both have lawyers, and the inspector general will investigate. If a person can prove this in front of the investigative judge, then we will start an investigation in this office.”[148]

Tarahy told Human Rights Watch that the Interior Ministry has an “open door policy, with hotlines to file complaints with the director of internal affairs and the inspector general,” and that the ministry conducts “field visits to police stations and in the field to ask questions of citizens.”[149] In February, Human Rights Watch submitted a formal request to the general inspector’s office for statistics on these investigations and the results but has not received a response.

The warden at Site 4 told Human Rights Watch that numerous accountability measures were in place to identify women who were abused before their transfer to prison, that violators are held accountable and that she and the rest of the prison staff strictly adhere to intake measures:

When women come here, there should be an arrest warrant, a copy of the original judicial decision, an ID and the inmate’s information sheet and family history. The detaining agency sends all this information to the hassaba department [the Justice Ministry department that maintains a register of admissions and releases] and to general admission and a picture is taken to ensure the inmate is identifiable.[150]

The warden emphasized that the state is required to carry out medical procedures before she admits a woman to the prison.

The patrol that brings the woman here must take her to the hospital first, then bring her medical report with her here. It must be from a government hospital and it must be from the day of admission. If the medical report is dated two days ago I won’t accept her. The report should say whether she is pregnant, was tortured, or had an operation. The girl should see a gynecologist and have an ultrasound to clarify whether she is pregnant. That way she can’t later claim she was raped by the prison administration and try to frame the prison.[151]

The warden claimed that she herself “personally physically inspected” every woman upon admission to ensure she had not been abused prior to arriving.

If the inmate claims she has been raped or tortured, I file a complaint to the Attorney General and the judiciary. I check women’s bodies for torture marks. No one has ever said that they were raped or tortured when I admitted them. Sometimes, six or seven months after they’ve been here, they start talking. But even then I don’t hear it from her, I hear it from whatever human rights organization she’s been talking to. Then I file a complaint.[152]

According to the warden, the complaints she forwarded on behalf of prisoners were usually heard by an investigative committee from either the Supreme Judicial Council or the Interior or Defense ministries. She was unclear about which situations would give rise to each of these bodies’ conducting an inspection. The warden said that most inmates’ claims of abuse were lies.[153]

Former employees in the Defense Ministry told Human Rights Watch that inspectors general in the Interior and Defense ministries acted as an independent check on security forces’ behavior, but that these institutions are now aligned with the government and the agenda of the prime minister’s office.[154] Two former employees described how the prime minister took control of Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry in 2010 after the ministry exposed abuses at the Sur Ninewa (Muthanna airport) prison compound and probed the existence of a secret prison at Camp Honor in Baghdad’s Green Zone.[155] Prime Minister Maliki appointed Dawa party member Muhammad Shia Sudani to head the Human Rights Ministry and the institution promptly stopped its aggressive probes into governmental conduct, they said. Several human rights inspectors who had been associated with the ministry’s investigations into security organizations close to Maliki fled the country fearing reprisals.[156]

Human Rights Watch requested manuals that officials said governed the training of officers, interrogation procedures, a list of detention facilities and security forces, and investigation results from the Interior and Defense Ministries, but at time of writing had not received a response.

Prisoner Releases

In February 2013, Deputy Prime Minister al-Shahristani acknowledged to Human Rights Watch that authorities had held detainees in prison after judges issued orders for their release.[157] He and the warden at the women’s facility at Site 4 told Human Rights Watch that some detainees with judicial release orders have remained in prison for months or years because they lacked the necessary Interior Ministry approval to be released.[158]

 

Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm a single case in which the government compensated detainees for arbitrary detention, as required by international law.[159]

He blamed the problem on administrative delays and said the waiting period procedure had been “cancelled,” enabling the government to release thousands of detainees previously caught in an administrative black hole. Shahristani claimed that “there is no longer a single person in detention who has a judicial order for release.”[160] Human Rights Watch documented that at least three women were in prison at the time despite having judicial orders for their release.[161]

 

A number of the officials, community leaders, and lawyers working with the government committees tasked with overseeing prisoner releases expressed uncertainty as to the actual number of women released from prison after the prime minister’s promised reforms, and gave widely varying accounts of the procedures by which the releases took place.

Amer Khuzaie, Minister of State for National Reconciliation, said in February that 37 women had been released.[162] That same week, a lawyer working with the “committee of the wise” on the release of women detainees said the number was “no more than 20.”[163] The warden for the Site 4 detention facility told Human Rights Watch on February 28:

[M]ost of the girls being held for article 4 [terrorism charges] are being released, if they haven’t been a party to an explosion or killing. Until now more than 40 girls accused of article 4 have been released, and in total there have been about 90 releases from all over Iraq.[164]

On February 21, a lawyer working with the “Committee of the Wise” said that the committee had released 80 women, 30 of whom were charged with terrorism; all were Sunni, he said.[165] A legal adviser for the “Committee of the Wise” told Human Rights Watch that “90 per cent of female detainees have no legal basis for their arrest.”[166]

A parliamentarian from Anbar, one of the protest areas, said he did not know of anyone from Anbar who has been released. He added that “the women who are released are released on certain conditions: they don’t talk about what happened to them in detention, especially bad treatment, torture, or rape. They are all too afraid of being arrested again to talk anyway—they all know they could be re-arrested at any moment.”[167]

In the same week that Shahristani said the waiting period procedure had been canceled, the warden of the Site 4 women’s detention facility told Human Rights Watch that “someone from high up” informed her there were new procedures for administering the waiting period procedure and that the background check to determine whether there were outstanding warrants for detainees should now start upon the detainee’s transfer into prison, rather than after they have obtained a judicial release order.[168] She stated unequivocally that the prison no longer held women beyond their sentences or beyond the time when they were granted a release order. On the same day, Human Rights Watch interviewed women in the prison who said that they had judicial orders for release but that security officers refused to release them until they or their family members paid bribes.

 

 

[135] Human Rights Watch interview with Salim al-Jibbouri, head of parliamentary Human Rights Committee, Baghdad, December 14, 2012; Human Rights Watch interview with Hamid al-Mutlak, member of parliamentary Security and Defense Committee, Baghdad, December 17, 2012.

[136] Middle East Online, “Iraq protesters win first demand: Release of 3,000 prisoners,” February 3, 2013, http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=56773 (accessed May 24, 2013).

[137] Human Rights Watch interview with Hanan Fatlawy, parliamentarian, Baghdad, February 20, 2013; Human Rights Watch interview with Sami al-Askari, Baghdad, May 11, 2013; Human Rights Watch interviews with General Muhammad and Saad Maan, Interior Ministry, Baghdad, February 24, 2013 (calling any instances of security forces abuses “exceptional” and blaming holdovers from Saddam Hussein’s regime).

[138] Human Rights Watch interview with Ibtihal, Site 4 Warden, Baghdad, February 28, 2013; Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamed Shia Sudani, Human Rights Minister, Baghdad, February 18, 2013; Human Rights Watch interview with Justice Minister Hassan al-Shimmari, Baghdad, February 14, 2013.

[139] Human Rights Watch interview with Sami al-Askari, Baghdad, May. 11, 2013.

[140]Human Rights Watch interview with General Muhammad, Interior Ministry human rights directorate, Baghdad, February 24, 2013.

[141] Ibid.

[142] Human Rights Watch interview with Aqil Tarahy, Inspector General of the Interior Ministry, Baghdad, February 21, 2013.

[143] Ibid.

[144] Human Rights Watch interviews with General Muhammad and Saad Maan, Interior Ministry, Baghdad, February 24, 2013.

[145] Human Rights Watch interview with Aqil Tarahy, Inspector General of the Interior Ministry, Baghdad, February 21, 2013.

[146]Human Rights Watch interview with General Muhammad, Interior Ministry human rights directorate, Baghdad, February 24, 2013.

[147]Human Rights Watch interview with General Muhammad, Interior Ministry human rights directorate, Baghdad, February 24, 2013.

[148] Ibid.

[149] Human Rights Watch interview with Aqil Tarahy, Inspector General of the Interior Ministry, Baghdad, February 21, 2013.

[150] Human Rights Watch interview with Ibtihal, Site 4 detention facility, Baghdad, February 28, 2013.

[151] Ibid.

[152] Ibid.

[153] Ibid.

[154] Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), former government employee, Baghdad, February 18, 2013. See also “Iraq: Detainees Describe Torture in Secret Jail,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 27, 2010, http://www.hrw.org/news/2010/04/27/iraq-detainees-describe-torture-secret-jail (accessed May 20, 2013); “Iraq: Secret Jail Uncovered in Baghdad,” February 1, 2011, http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/02/01/iraq-secret-jail-uncovered-baghdad; Ned Parker, “The Iraq We Left Behind: Welcome to the World’s Next Failed State,” Foreign Affairs Vol. 91 No. 2 March/April 2012, at 11 (“any investigator from the Human Rights Ministry or any official from any other government office who is brave enough to try to probe the jails would face immediate persecution. Three investigators have already fled the country, and those remaining are terrified. One former Iraqi official who worked on human rights issues and left the country last year because he was afraid for his safety told me that Maliki and the Dawa Party were essentially free to carry out whatever they liked in their jails.”).

[155] Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), former government employee, Baghdad, February 18, 2013; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with (name withheld), former government employee, Baghdad, July 13, 2013.

[156] Ibid.

[157] Human Rights Watch interview with Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani, Baghdad, February 13, 2013.

[158] Ibid; Human Rights Watch interview with Ibtihal, Site 4 detention facility, February 28, 2013.

[159]ICCPR art. 9(5) (stating: “Anyone who has been the victim of unlawful arrest or detention shall have an enforceable right to compensation.”).

[160] Human Rights Watch interview with Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani, Baghdad, February 13, 2013.

[161] Human Rights Watch interview with Sabah Hassan Hussein, Baghdad, February 14, 2013; Human Rights Watch interviews with (name withheld) and Zainab Hassan, Site 4 detention facility, Baghdad, February 28, 2013.

[162]Human Rights Watch interview with Minister of State for National Reconciliation Amer Khuzaie, Baghdad, February 26, 2013.

[163] Human Rights Watch interview with criminal defense lawyer (name withheld), Baghdad, February 28, 2013.

[164] Human Rights Watch interview with Ibtihal, Site 4 detention facility, Baghdad, February 28, 2013. The warden referred to the detainees as “girls,” but all detainees in Site 4 are women over the age of 18.

[165] Human Rights Watch interview with criminal defense lawyer (name withheld), Baghdad, February 21, 2013.

[166] Human Rights Watch interview with legal adviser [name withheld], Baghdad, February 18, 2013.

[167] Human Rights Watch interview with parliamentarian Jaber al-Jaberi, Baghdad, May 9, 2013.

[168] Human Rights Watch interview with Ibtihal, warden of Site 4 detention facility, Baghdad, February 28, 2013.