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The insecurity plaguing Baghdad and other Iraqi cities has a distinct and debilitating impact on the daily lives of women and girls, preventing them from participating in public life at a crucial time in their country's history, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 17-page report, "Climate of Fear: Sexual Violence and Abduction of Women and Girls in Baghdad," concludes that the failure of Iraqi and U.S.-led occupation authorities to provide public security in Iraq's capital lies at the root of a widespread fear of rape and abduction among women and their families.

"Women and girls today in Baghdad are scared, and many are not going to schools or jobs or looking for work," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "If Iraqi women are to participate in postwar society, their physical security needs to be an urgent priority."

Human Rights Watch interviewed rape and abduction victims and witnesses, Iraqi police and health professionals, and U.S. military police and civil affairs officers, and learned of twenty-five credible allegations of rape or abduction. The Human Rights Watch report found that police officers gave low priority to allegations of sexual violence and abduction, that the police were under-resourced, and that victims of sexual violence confronted indifference and sexism from Iraqi law enforcement personnel.

The report also found that U.S. military police were not filling the gap when Iraqi police were unwilling or unable to conduct serious investigations of sexual violence and abduction. Human Rights Watch said this inadequate attention to the needs of women and girls has led to an inability, and in some cases an unwillingness, by police to conduct serious investigations. In some cases, reports of sexual violence and abduction to police were lost.

Megally urged that Iraqi and occupation authorities urgently undertake legal reforms, law enforcement training, and health and support services for women. The U.S. should deploy a special investigative unit to investigate sex-based and trafficking crimes against women and girls, until such time as the Iraqi police can take up the responsibility for it.

Cases documented in the report include:

  • Saba A. (not her real name), a nine-year-old girl, was brutally raped by a man who grabbed her from the stairs of the residence hotel where she lives, in the middle of the afternoon on May 22. A hospital refused to treat her, and the forensic institute refused to give her an exam because she did not have an official referral.
  • Muna B.(not her real name), a fifteen-year-old-girl, escaped from a house outside Baghdad on June 8, where she had been held for a month with her two sisters and seven other children. She wasn't raped, but her sister was, and she thought that her captors intended to sell her and the other children to traffickers. Her case was reported to U.S. military police, but Iraqi police didn't even take a statement from her.
  • Dalal S. (not her real name), a 23-year-old-woman, was snatched while walking down the street with her mother and other family members on May 15; she was taken to a house outside Baghdad, held overnight and raped. Her father reported her abduction to the police, but they never pursued the allegations.

"Iraqi and U.S. military police continue to receive reports of abductions of women but mechanisms are wholly inadequate for processing these cases," Megally said.

For example, on June 17, two young women reported to the U.S. military and Iraqi police that their friend had just been kidnapped. U.S. military police went to the scene of the abduction, but the perpetrators had long-since fled. Iraqi police failed to take a statement from the witnesses and thus no investigation was opened into the abduction of that young woman.

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