At a time when insecurity is on the rise in Baghdad, women and girls in Baghdad told Human Rights Watch that the insecurity and fear of sexual violence or abduction is keeping them in their homes, out of schools, and away from work and looking for employment. The failure of the occupying power to protect women and girls from violence, and redress it when it occurs, has both immediate and long-term negative implications for the safety of women and girls and for their participation in post-war life in Iraq.
Reports of sexual violence and abduction of women and girls abound in Baghdad. Medical practitioners, victims, witnesses, and law enforcement authorities have documented some of these crimes. Human Rights Watch is concerned that many other cases go unreported and uninvestigated. Some women and girls fear that reporting sexual violence may provoke “honor” killings and social stigmatization. For others, the obstacles to filing and pursuing a police complaint or obtaining a forensic examination that would provide legal proof of sexual violence hamper them from receiving medical attention and pursuing justice. Without a referral from the police, women and girls cannot receive forensic examinations and, in some cases, women and girls who have sought assistance for sexual violence were refused medical attention because some hospital staff do not regard treating victims of sexual violence as their responsibility, or give such care low priority given their limited resources due to the war and in its aftermath. Whatever the reason, both documented and rumored stories of sexual violence and abduction are contributing to a palpable climate of fear.
Many of the problems in addressing sexual violence and abduction against women and girls derive from the U.S.-led coalition forces and civilian administration’s failure to provide public security in Baghdad. The public security vacuum in Baghdad has heightened the vulnerability of women and girls to sexual violence and abduction. The police force is considerably smaller and more poorly managed when compared to prior to the war. There is limited police street presence; fewer resources available to police to investigate; little if any record keeping; and many complaints are lost. Many hospitals and the forensic institute are unable to operate twenty-four hours a day as they did before the war, thus preventing women from obtaining medical treatment and the forensic examinations necessary to document sexual violence in a timely manner.
The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has announced a commitment to train and educate police, including training on human right standards.1 In the meantime, as the occupying power, U.S.-led coalition forces have the responsibility to ensure public order and address Iraq’s law enforcement needs.
Other problems in addressing sexual violence and abduction in Baghdad, and Iraq more broadly, are long-term problems that have needed to be addressed for many years. Women and girls live in an atmosphere where, if they are raped or even believed to have been raped, they have poor legal recourse and have well-grounded fears of social ostracism, rejection by their families, and even physical violence. Although rape and abduction are serious crimes under Iraqi law, there is a long-standing cultural stigma and shame attached to rape that positions victims as the wrongdoer and too frequently excuses or treats leniently the perpetrator.
Moreover, there are provisions in Iraqi law that address sexual violence and abduction but do not adequately protect the human rights of women and girls from these violations. Some of the more notable of these are provisions in the Penal Code that allow a man to escape punishment for abduction by marrying the victim; and allow for significantly reduced sentences for so-called honor killings, for rape and other cases of sexual violence. In addition to these barriers in the law, Human Rights Watch investigated cases where police were reluctant to investigate cases of sexual violence and abduction and other cases where the police have blamed the victim, doubted her credibility, showed indifference, or conducted inadequate investigations. For these reasons, many women are reluctant to file a complaint.
At the time of writing, plans for Iraq’s reconstruction are taking shape and the rights of women and girls are at stake. It is essential that all parties involved in these plans address the state’s inadequate protection of the rights of women and girls. Those involved in the reconstruction process should ensure that any existing and new trends toward treating women and girls unequally before the law and discouraging women and girls from reporting sexual violence, or punishing women and girls for being the victims of crimes of sexual violence, are countered.
This report is based on research conducted by Human Rights Watch in Baghdad, Iraq, from
To the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and Iraqi authorities:
To the U.S.-led coalition military forces:
To the donor community:
Special priority should be given to programs that: