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VIII. Torture and ill-treatment of children held in adult facilities

Human Rights Watch continues to receive reports of children being held together with adults in detention facilities under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior.  The children include both criminal suspects and others suspected of having taken part in clashes against government forces, including those suspected of links with the Mahdi Army.  Several of the adult detainees arrested in the context of the clashes in al-Najaf in August 2004 told Human Rights Watch they had seen young detainees held with them in the came cell, whose ages they estimated to be between fifteen and seventeen.  Adult detainees suspected of having committed serious criminal offenses likewise said several children were being held with them at the Major Crimes Directorate facility in al-‘Amiriyya.  The Directorate’s police officials also told Human Rights Watch that they held children in their custody.

Iraq acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)147 in 1994.  The CRC requires children deprived of their liberty to be separated from adults “unless it is in the child’s best interest not to do so”; the ICCPR prohibition on separating children from adults in custody has no such exception.148  

The right of child detainees to be held separately from adults is also provided for under Iraq’s Juveniles Welfare Law.149  Article 52(2) of this law stipulates that in areas where separate detention facilities are not available, measures must be taken to prevent children from mixing with adult detainees.  Orders promulgated by the CPA on the management of detention facilities also specified that “Young untried prisoners shall be kept separate from adults and shall where possible be detained in separate institutions.”150      

The requirement for the separation of child detainees has not been followed in some cases.   Human Rights Watch found that such cases sometimes arose when police apprehended children as part of a large sweep in a given area, where they arrested scores and sometimes several hundred people as part of the government’s efforts to crack down on violent crime.  Police invariably conduct such sweeps without warrants, and children are sometimes caught up.151  Among the 149 people arrested in the district of al-Bataween on June 27, for example, U.S. soldiers of the Oregon Army National Guard reported having seen a young boy, identified as fourteen years old, among the detainees abused at the grounds of the Ministry of Interior.152  At the Central Criminal Court, Human Rights Watch spoke to the wife of one of the detainees picked up in the al-Bataween raid.  She said that in addition to her husband, police arrested her fourteen-year-old brother-in-law [name withheld by Human Rights Watch] on June 27:

I tried to have him moved from Criminal Intelligence to the Tasfirat [Transfer Prison], but they would not accept him there because he was a juvenile, and they said he should be taken to the Juveniles Prison.  At the Juveniles Prison, he was not accepted either because his papers were not complete, so his case remained with Intelligence.  He stayed there for over one month. Then he was brought here to the Central [Criminal] Court, and the judge ordered his release.  When he was brought to court, the judicial investigator told him that according to his file, he had confessed to possessing drugs at the time of his arrest.  But he replied that he had made no confession, that he had been made to sign a statement while blindfolded, and that he was beaten on his back and with falaqa.153  

Four detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch from the al-Bataween group in October 2004 reported that three children were among those arrested (see above).  One of those interviewed, a Sudanese national, said the children “were brought to the interior ministry’s detention facility with us and were tortured and beaten just like us.  They were kept there for fifteen days, and when we were moved to the Tasfirat [Transfer Prison], the officials there refused to accept them.  We don’t know what happened to them after that, but we heard that they were released.”154

In such cases, where the police do not find any identification documents attesting to the juvenile’s date of birth, they will usually hold him with adult co-detainees and subject him to the same treatment.  This is particularly so in cases where children are just short of their eighteenth birthday and their physical appearance may not suggest that they are in fact children.  Human Rights Watch came across several such cases at the Central Criminal Court, where Ministry of Interior agencies had held detainees for several days or weeks before bringing them before an investigative judge.  Given that they were denied contact either with family members or defense counsel, their appearance before the investigative judge represents the first opportunity to inform officials other than those detaining or interrogating them that they are children.  No efforts appear to be made by officials of the Major Crimes Directorate to establish the ages of such detainees beforehand.  Several investigative judges told Human Rights Watch that in such cases, they would normally order the police authorities to make contact with the detainees’ families in order to obtain the necessary identification, or ask the detainees to do so. 

However there was usually no follow-up to ensure that the police authorities implemented the judges’ decisions in a prompt and timely manner.  The detainees themselves were not, as a rule, in a position to follow up the matter themselves until their transfer to a facility where authorities permit family visits, such as police stations or the Transfer Prison, and which may take several days or weeks.  They generally could not depend on their legal counsel to act on their behalf in this regard.  Court-appointed lawyers who regard their role as confined to the courtroom, and who in practice carry out little or no work on behalf of their clients outside of the investigative hearing or trial session, represent the vast majority of detainees whom Human Rights Watch interviewed.

Where official identification documents were not available, investigative judges sometimes would refer the detainees to the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad to undergo tests to estimate their age.155  In practice, such referrals rarely took place.  One investigative judge told Human Rights Watch that often it was “not in the interest” of the detainee to have his age estimated, since it was only an estimate and the detainee may be judged as over eighteen.156  An examination of external trauma records at the Medico-Legal Institute by Human Rights Watch showed that investigative judges made no such referrals in the period June 1 to September 14, 2004, even though several such cases had passed through the court system in the same period.  According to some of the judges, detainees sometimes claimed to be children in the hope of being transferred to a juvenile facility where conditions of detention are better, and in the hope of being treated more leniently. 

While acknowledging the wisdom of giving such detainees the benefit of the doubt and ensuring their transfer to juvenile facilities until their age is established, both judicial and police officials told Human Rights Watch that juvenile facilities do not as a rule take any detainee into their custody without the necessary identification papers that prove that they are bona fide children.  Police officials at the Central Criminal Court also said that at the Major Crimes Directorate, they had insufficient facilities to allow for children to be held separately from adult detainees. Whichever option is followed in trying to establish the age of detainees who state that they are children, all entail continuing delays during which time the detainees continue to be held in adult facilities.   They also suffer the same treatment, including being subjected to torture.

One of the juvenile detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch was Faisal [full name withheld by Human Rights Watch], a school student living in the Abu Ghraib district of Baghdad and who gave his age as fifteen.  Police arrested him with his maternal cousin on July 25, 2004, after accusing them of involvement in the abduction of a Lebanese national a week earlier.  He told Human Rights Watch:

I remember it was a Sunday.  I was arrested by Criminal Intelligence and taken to the Interior [Ministry].  They held me on the seventh floor, in a cell with twenty-two adults.  During interrogation they blindfolded me and tied my hands behind my back, and then beat me with cables and falaqa.  I kept saying I had nothing to say about the abduction, that I had nothing to do with it.  They treated us very badly in that place.  They did not give us any food, and we had to buy our own.157

Criminal Intelligence personnel transferred Faisal to the al-Qanat police station shortly before his appearance in court.158  At his investigative hearing later that day, observed by Human Rights Watch, he described the treatment he had received in detention.159  When asked by the judge to verify his age, he said that he had no means of producing identification since he was not permitted contact with the outside world and had no family visits.  He offered to give the name of his school, where his teachers could attest to the fact that he was still a student and could give his age.  The judge in this case decided that in order to avoid further delays, and to avoid a situation where an assessment of his age by doctors at the Medico-Legal Institute could conclude that he was over eighteen years of age, the detaining authorities should make contact with his family in order to obtain the necessary identification document.  Six days later, in the course of following up this case, the investigative judge told Human Rights Watch that no identification document had been produced as yet.  On the same day, Human Rights Watch interviewed three detainees held in the custody of Criminal Intelligence, who said that in the room where they were being held, there were “two or three juveniles,” one of whom was accused of involvement in the abduction of a Lebanese national.160  Police officials eventually transferred Faisal to the Juveniles Prison in early September when, according to the investigative judge dealing with his case, his relatives appeared in court with identification documents confirming his age.  He had been held by Criminal Intelligence with adult detainees for at least one month, and a further two weeks at a police station, before reaching a juvenile facility. 

In several other cases seen by Human Rights Watch, the detainees appeared not to know their exact age, or could only cite their year of birth.  One such case was that of ‘Ali [full name withheld by Human Rights Watch], a school student who said he was born in 1986.  Upon being asked by Human Rights Watch for a more precise date of birth, he replied that he was unsure of the day but that he was born in the month of December, making him some four months short of his eighteenth birthday.  The police had arrested him two days earlier, August 26, 2004, in the street near his home located in a housing complex close to the Lunapark (Madinat al-Al’ab)in the al-Rusafa sector of Baghdad.  He said he was unsure of the charges against him, but that a length of cable was found near the spot where the police had arrested him, and which they suspected he had stolen for use in some illegal activity.  He added that another person who was with him at the time, whose name he gave as Haidar [full name withheld by Human Rights Watch], managed to flee from the police:

It happened last Thursday.  A group of policemen arrived and made me get into their car.  It was about six o’clock in the evening.  They blindfolded me and tied my hands behind my back before I sat in the car.  I remained blindfolded until this morning when they brought me to court.  I was kept in a room with seven other people.  On the first day they took me for interrogation.  They asked me questions about the Mahdi Army and about various mortar attacks that had taken place, and whether I knew Haidar.  They beat me with cables and a metal pipe and with their hands.  They also beat me at around three o’clock in the morning after I had been taken back to the cell.  Mostly I was tortured by falaqa.  My parents don’t know where I am now.  On the first day, I spent what money I had on food.  On the second day, some of the guards gave us money to buy the food.161

‘Ali showed Human Rights Watch four scars on his lower left arm, measuring some ten to fifteen centimeters long, which he said were the result of beatings with cables.  He also said he had other marks on his back but declined to show these to Human Rights Watch since the interview was being conducted in the Major Crimes Room where police officials were present.  Human Rights Watch attended his hearing later that day before the investigative judge, who asked him to remove his shirt and show him his back.  This revealed what appeared to be fresh lacerations and welts to his upper back.  The judge asked the detainee how he came to have these injuries or who had beaten him.  ‘Ali replied, “I don’t know because I was blindfolded the whole time.”  He appeared reluctant to repeat what he had told Human Rights Watch about his treatment in detention, and the judge did not refer him for a medical examination.  He was ordered detained for a further week, apparently to give the police more time to apprehend the second suspect in the case.  His file showed that he was being held in the custody of the Directorate of Ministry Security and Welfare.

Among the detainees arrested in the context of the August 2004 clashes in al-Najaf and interviewed following their release (see Section VI) was a child, Hassan Muhan ‘Abbud, aged seventeen, from Baghdad.  He told Human Rights Watch that he had been visiting al-Najaf with a group of friends when they were arrested at a checkpoint manned by plainclothes police in mid-August 2004:

It was a Wednesday, at around nine in the morning.  There were seven of us, including the driver.  After the police fired in the air, we stopped the car at the checkpoint, which was on Nisan Street close to al-Hakim Hospital.   They handcuffed us, put us in two cars and took us to a school.  I don’t know which school it was.  Although we were not blindfolded, all of us were from Baghdad and did not know our way around al-Najaf well.  When we arrived at the school, there were more police there in plainclothes.  They took us into a classroom and accused us of being members of the Mahdi Army.  One of them pulled out a bayonet and threatened us with it, and slapped and punched us.  We stayed there for about an hour, and then they took us to the Police Directorate.  This time, we were both blindfolded and handcuffed.  When we entered, they immediately started hitting us.  As we stood in the doorway, any policeman who happened to pass by would either punch or hit us.  After that, they took us to a large hall, where we were also beaten.  We were interrogated individually.  Sometimes thirty or more of them would come into the hall and start beating us randomly.  I was released ten days later.162

One of the others arrested with Hassan Muhan ‘Abbud told Human Rights Watch that he had been wearing a black shirt at the time of his arrest, which he said made the police suspect that he was a member of the Mahdi Army.  He described similar treatment in detention.163

[147] See Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted November 20, 1989, G.A. Res. 44/25, U.N. Doc. A/RES/44/25 (entered into force September 2, 1990), Article 37(c); and the ICCPR, adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 999 U.N.T.S. 171 (entered into force March 23, 1976), Article 10(b).

[148] ICCPR, Article 10(3).

[149] Law No. 76 of 1983, as amended.  Under Article 3(2) of this law, a juvenile is defined as someone above the age of nine and below the age of eighteen.  Article 10 specifies the types of facilities where juveniles may be held, depending on their age.  Article 48 stipulates that upon arrest, juveniles must be handed over immediately to the juveniles police force, responsible for referring them to an investigative judge or the juvenile courts.  Article 52(2) stipulates that in areas where separate detention facilities are not available, measures must be taken to prevent juveniles from mixing with adult detainees. 

[150] CPA/MEM/8 June 2003/02 (Management of Detention and Prison Facilities), Section 30(5).  Until the fall the former Iraqi government in April 2003, juveniles were held in prisons or detention facilities under the authority of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.  Under CPA authority, the Directorate of Juvenile Prisons was placed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice (CPA/ORD/8 June 2003/10: Management of Detention and Prison Facilities, Section 1).

[151] Article 63 of the Juveniles Welfare Law stipulates that the names of juvenile detainees, their addresses and the names of their schools may not be publicly divulged, or their photographs taken or other measures adopted that would result in their identities being revealed.  Among the suspects rounded up in the al-Bataween raid of June 27, 2004, and who were photographed or filmed by journalists at the invitation of Ministry of Interior officials, there were reportedly four juveniles.

[152] Mike Francis, “Ordered to just walk away,”The Oregonian, August 11, 2004.

[153] Human Rights Watch interview with the sister-in-law of a juvenile from the al-Bataween group [name withheld by Human Rights Watch at her request], Central Criminal Court, Baghdad, August 23, 2004.

[154] Human Rights Watch interview with ‘Ubaid al-Sayyid Makki Muhammad, Central Criminal Court, Baghdad, October 23, 2004.

[155] As provided for under Article 4 of the Juveniles Welfare Law No. 76 of 1983, as amended.

[156] At the Medico-Legal Institute, a forensic doctor told Human Rights Watch that the principal method used for estimating the age of persons to establish whether or not they are juveniles is through an examination of bone development, based on x-ray images taken of the joints such as the hips, elbows, wrists and knees.  In some cases, an examination of dental development is also taken into account.  The doctor added that “we have developed sufficient expertise whereby, based on the x-ray examination and our assessment of the person’s general appearance, the margin of error in this regard is negligible,” (Human Rights Watch discussion with a forensic doctor [name withheld by Human Rights Watch], Medico-Legal Institute, Baghdad, September 14, 2004).  

[157] Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal [full name withheld], Central Criminal Court, Baghdad, August 18, 2004.

[158] His cousin Hassan, aged twenty, told Human Rights Watch that Criminal Intelligence personnel had also repeatedly beaten, boxed, slapped, and kicked him during interrogation, and made him sign a statement while blindfolded.  Two weeks after his arrest, they transferred him to the same police station, where he said treatment was better, although he was not permitted family visits there either. (Human Rights Watch interview with Hassan [full name withheld], Central Criminal Court, Baghdad, August 18, 2004). 

[159] The hearing took place in the presence of a Criminal Intelligence official, who motioned Faisal to keep quiet when he began telling the judge that two other people arrested in the same case had already testified that he had nothing to do with the abduction.

[160] The three detainees declined to give their names when Human Rights Watch interviewed them at the Central Criminal Court on August 24, 2004.  They said they were themselves accused of the illegal possession of weapons and had been arrested fifteen days earlier. They said they had received “the usual treatment” under interrogation, namely repeated beating with cables, hosepipes and other implements.

[161] Human Rights Watch interview with ‘Ali [full name withheld by Human Rights Watch], Central Criminal Court, Baghdad, August 28, 2004.

[162] Human Rights Watch interview with Hassan Muhan ‘Abbud, Baghdad, September 5, 2004.

[163] Human Rights Watch interview with Hussain ‘Ali Kadhim, Baghdad, September 5, 2004.

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