November 12, 2010
His Excellency Nuri Al Maliki
Republic of Iraq
Human Rights Watch is an international human rights organization that conducts investigations into human rights violations in more than 90 countries globally. We have a long history documenting human rights abuses in Iraq, particularly under the government of Saddam Hussein.
We are currently preparing a survey report focused on various human rights violations that we investigated during a four-week fact-finding mission in April 2010, when a Human Rights Watch research team visited the cities of Baghdad, Basra, Tikrit, Najaf, Karbala, Amara, and Sulaimaniyya. We interviewed 180 Iraqis, including victims of human rights abuses as well as rights activists, representatives of non-governmental organizations, journalists, lawyers, political and religious leaders, and government and security officials.
Based on that research, we will shortly be releasing a report documenting our findings on violence against women and minorities, the plight of persons with disabilities and internally displaced persons, freedom of expression, and torture.
The purpose of this letter is to share with the government those findings and also recommendations, and also to provide the government with an opportunity to comment on our findings and our recommendations so that we may reflect the government's perspective when we release the report. For this purpose we hope that the government can respond by December 5, 2010. We would also welcome the opportunity to meet with you prior to the release of our report, now expected in late December, to discuss these important matters further.
Below we share our main findings and recommendations, broken down by issue.
1. Rights of Women and Girls
a. Findings. The deterioration of security since 2003, combined with a rise in tribal influence, religiously-inflected political extremism, and hard-line conservative political parties, have all had a deleterious effect on women and girls. An increase in violence against women, including "honor" crimes and domestic abuse, as well as forced and early marriages, have contributed to a loss of autonomy and mobility for women. Women and girls also face the prospect of physical harm at the hands of militias and extremists. Iraqi law in some cases protects perpetrators of violence against women. Iraq's penal code considers "honorable motives" to be a mitigating factor in serious crimes, including murder. The code also gives husbands a "legal right" to discipline their wives. Despite the fact that women and girls are trafficked in and out of the country for sexual exploitation a long-awaited anti-trafficking bill is on hold. Outside of Kurdistan, there are no government-run women's shelters.
- Amend the penal code and all other legislation to remove any provision that discriminates against women and allows mitigation on grounds of "honor" for violent crimes against women;
- Finalize and pass a law to combat human trafficking, with an emphasis on trafficking women and girls for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Trafficked women, the victims, should not be punished under the law, and should be referred to social welfare agencies for financial assistance as well as health and social services; and
- Provide preventive and protection programs and facilities, including adequate shelters, for women and girls at risk of violence or abuse.
Freedom of Expression
a. Findings. While improvements in security since 2007 have reduced the murder rate of media workers, journalism remains a hazardous occupation. Political extremists and unknown assailants continue to kill media workers and bomb their bureaus. Increasingly, journalists find themselves harassed, intimidated, threatened, arrested, and physically assaulted by security forces attached to Iraqi and Kurdish government institutions and political parties. Senior politicians are quick to sue journalists and their publications for unflattering articles.
- Suspend immediately and amend as soon as possible penal code provisions and other legislation and regulations to remove or precisely define, in line with international standards of freedom of expression, vaguely expressed content-based restrictions, and to remove excessive penalties on journalists and media outlets, including imprisonment, suspensions, excessive fines and equipment confiscation, especially for minor infractions;
- Investigate and prosecute assaults by security forces and others against journalists, and direct all security
- Direct government officials and agencies to stop filing politically motivated lawsuits against journalists and their publications.
a. Findings. Iraqi interrogators routinely abuse detainees as a means to obtain confessions. Interviews with dozens of detainees transferred from a secret detention facility outside Baghdad revealed the significant shortcomings of Iraq's criminal justice system. Interrogators sodomized and whipped detainees, burned them with cigarettes, and pulled out their fingernails and teeth. You, as prime minister, instead of ordering a public inquiry and prosecuting those responsible for the abuse, dismissed the findings as fictitious and suspended the government's prison inspection team that initially uncovered the abuse.
- Publicly condemn any use of torture or other mistreatment in pretrial detention, including during interrogation with the aim of eliciting confessions;
- Launch independent and impartial Investigations into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment, and institute disciplinary measures or criminal prosecution, as appropriate, against officials at all levels who are responsible for the abuse of detainees; and
- Conduct prompt independent medical examinations of detainees who allege abuse in detention or during interrogation.
Findings. More than 1.5 million Iraqis fled their neighborhoods as sectarian violence tore up their communities in 2006 and 2007. Thousands of internally displaced persons now reside in squatter settlements without access to basic necessities such as clean water, electricity, and sanitation. As squatters, they constantly fear eviction. An over-stretched Ministry of Displacement has promised aid, but the displaced persons we interviewed had received nothing. Many of the displaced are widows with few job prospects. These women and their children find themselves caught in a desperate situation that has contributed to an increase in sex trafficking and forced prostitution. Religious and government institutions are sometimes complicit in the exploitation â in exchange for their charity or benefits, widows have been asked to engage in "pleasure marriages," a previously banned traditional practice that is akin to prostitution.
- In line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, including shelter, food, water, sanitation and medical services, prioritizing the needs of vulnerable groups; and
- Develop a coherent, fully-funded comprehensive national strategy on refugees and internally displaced persons to facilitate their voluntary return, local integration in places of displacement, or relocation to other places in safety and dignity. This plan should also provide a mechanism for fair resolution of property disputes involving displacement, compensation for loss of property, and assistance to relocate and reintegrate squatters evicted from places where they are living illegally, as well as assistance for returnees to reintegrate in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles and international refugee law; and
- The international community should continue to make refugee resettlement places available for refugees who are not able or willing to return to Iraq.
Persons with Disabilities
a. Findings. Years of armed conflict have generated thousands of war amputees and other persons with disabilities. Stigmatized, unable to find work, get adequate medical care, or obtain new prosthesis and wheelchairs, persons with disabilities find themselves relegated to the margins of society. Persons with disabilities told us that the government is a long way from the Constitution's promise of "rehabilitating" and "reintegrating" them into society. Trauma from violence has also increased mental disabilities across the country but few psychiatrists are available to treat them and other means of support are not available, resulting in a rise in self-medicating and prescription drug abuse. Because the government has provided little support or assistance to people with disabilities, local NGOs have had to step in to fill the void but demand for their services far exceeds their capacity.
- Take measures to fight stigma and discrimination, for example through media and public education programs about the rights of persons with disabilities;
- Establish or strengthen health care services, including rehabilitation and psycho-social support; and
- Facilitate access for persons with disabilities to quality mobility aids and other assistive devices, including by making them available at affordable cost.
a. Findings: Extremist groups continue to attack minority communities, most recently on October 31 with an assault on a Baghdad church that claimed the lives of almost 50 worshipers and priests. Such attacks have led thousands from Iraq's indigenous communities to flee abroad since the invasion in 2003 with no plans to return. Sabian Mandaeans face extinction as a people after 90 per cent of the small community have either fled Iraq or been killed since 2003. The government has failed to stop targeted attacks against any of its minority groups, including Chaldo-Assyrians, Yazidis, Shabaks, and Turkmen. It has also failed to conduct thorough and impartial investigations when attacks occur, and to bring those responsible to justice, adding to a climate of impunity.
- Protect minorities at all levels of government, including regional and local administrations; and
- Initiate independent and impartial investigations of all killings, beatings, and torture against minorities.
We look forward to receiving your comments on the above issues, any additional comments you wish to provide, and information on any reforms the Iraqi government is considering.
We appreciate your consideration and review of this information request. As noted above, we will reflect among our findings all pertinent information the government provides to us by December 5, 2010. We also reiterate our interest in arranging a meeting to discuss these issues in person.
Thank you for your consideration.
Middle East and North Africa Division