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RIGHTS-IRAQ: U.N. Report Paints Grim Picture

William Fisher

NEW YORK, May 4 2009 (IPS) - Iraqi prisons are torturing detainees, locking people up for months without charges and, in most cases, allowing the perpetrators of these human rights abuses to escape justice, according to a new United Nations report.

"Security may not be sustainable unless significant steps are taken in the area of human rights such as strengthening the rule of law and addressing impunity," warned the report, issued on Apr. 29.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said it "remains concerned about the overall human rights situation in Iraq since indiscriminate attacks remained a frequent occurrence; the targeted killings of security forces, high ranking officials and civil servants, religious and political leaders, professional groups such as journalists, educators, medical doctors, judges and lawyers and other civilians continued at a high rate, as did criminal abductions for ransom."

It said the last half of 2008 "was also characterized by the attacks against minority leaders and the large displacement of over 12,000 Christians from Mosul in October. Violence against women in the region of Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq remained one of the issues of serious concern as the pattern of the recorded incidents of suicide often points towards ‘honor’-related homicides."

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, whose staff helped compile the report, said, "The situation of Iraqi women is extremely difficult. Violent actions are taken against them on a daily basis and I urge the authorities to make it a priority to both improve legislation, and law enforcement in order to protect them properly."

The U.N. report said the improvement in the security situation "was not accompanied by a full reestablishment of the rule of law and by systematically addressing impunity."

"Allegations of torture should be promptly and thoroughly investigated, and criminal proceedings taken against officials found to have abused detainees in their custody. Every effort should be made to ensure that juvenile detainees are held at the appropriate and separate locations equipped with rehabilitation facilities, and additional resources devoted to address the issue of overcrowding at detention places," the report said.

Francis A. Boyle, a law professor at the University of Illinois, told IPS, "Under the Laws of War, the United States still remains the belligerent occupant of Iraq and is therefore vicariously responsible for these war crimes and human rights atrocities."

He said, "Nothing has changed as a result of the so-called Status of Forces agreement with respect to the Laws of War and the analysis set forth in there except the termination of the Security Council resolutions with the side letters from the USA indicating a willingness to abide by the Laws of War as a condition for the renewal."

"That does not alter the status of the U.S. as the 'belligerent occupant' of Iraq and the fact that we are vicariously responsible for these war crimes and human rights atrocities, as indicated by the relevant sections of U.S. Army Field Manual 27-10, which is still valid and binding," he added.

The U.N. report found that the 26,249 people being held in Iraq prisons in December faced "months or even years in overcrowded cells" and many had not been formally charged.

It said the use of torture as an interrogation method and the ill-treatment of detainees remains "a serious challenge to Iraq’s criminal justice system."

There is no known case in which any official in the powerful Ministry of Defence, which has its own jails, "has been held accountable for human rights abuses."

The report also criticised jails in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region for poor treatment, including beatings and electric shock.

Kurdistan also came under fire for its high rate of so-called "honour killings" of women and the many cases of women burned or coerced into suicide in these cases. It said, "The vast majority of women still face at least one form of domestic violence."

The report also charged that the amnesty law, which was promoted by the U.S. to encourage reconciliation, has largely failed to have its intended effect. Only 7,500 detainees were released from prison out of a total of some 127,431.

The report faulted U.S. forces for detaining people "for prolonged periods without judicial review" and urged U.S. officials to continue investigations into two shootings by guards for the U.S. embassy working for Blackwater Worldwide, now known as Xe.

Last December, five Blackwater guards were charged with manslaughter in the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians in a shooting incident at a busy Baghdad intersection. A sixth Blackwater guard has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a U.S. court.

As of December 2008, the number of detainees under Iraqi control was 26,249 and those under the control of the Multinational Force Iraq (MNF-I) was 15,058, the report said. It raised concerns about the conditions of detainees, many of whom have been deprived of their liberty for months or even years in overcrowded cells, and about violations of the minimum rules of due process as many did not have access to defense counsel, or were not formally charged with a crime or appeared before a judge.

The report recommended that the Iraqi government "ensure the effective implementation of the legislation regulating prisons and bring all detention facilities and prisons under the authority of the Ministry of Justice."

The Iraqis "should address urgently all allegations of abuse of detainees, including juveniles. And law enforcement personnel and detaining officials known or suspected of having tortured or ill-treated detainees in their custody should not enjoy immunity from prosecution."

The report called on the Iraqi government to "increase efforts to alleviate overcrowding in prisons and detention facilities and improve sanitation and hygiene conditions; in particular, institute urgent measures to examine conditions at juvenile detention facilities in respect of overcrowding and lack of adequate rehabilitation programs."

It urged the Iraqi government to "investigate incidents involving gender-based violence, in particular the so-called ‘honor crimes’ perpetrated against women, and take measures to ensure that persons found responsible for committing these crimes are held accountable and brought to justice."

And it urged MNF-I and U.S. government authorities to investigate reports of deaths caused by privately hired contractors working on behalf of the US Government, and strengthen effective mechanisms for holding these contractors accountable for unlawful killings.

The U.S. must "ensure that offenses committed in Iraq by all categories of U.S. contractor employees are subject to prosecution under the law."

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