GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations raised “serious concerns” on Tuesday about the trials of hundreds of alleged Islamic State members in Iraq, some of whom merely prepared meals, offered medical services or even acted as human shields for the jihadist group.
Iraq has processed thousands of cases under its anti-terrorism law - including of detainees from outside the Middle East transferred from neighboring Syria - in the aftermath of a 2014-17 war against Islamic State militants.
The joint report by the United Nations Human Rights Office in Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) covers 794 trials carried out between May 1, 2018 and Oct. 31, 2019, OHCHR spokesman Jeremy Laurence told a news briefing in Geneva.
“(The report) raises serious concerns about unfair trials placing defendants at a serious disadvantage,” he said, adding that 28 of the cases in the U.N. report involved foreign defendants from 11 different countries.
These were from: France, Iran, Egypt, Belgium, Russia, Sweden, Turkey, Syria, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
In some cases, the individuals had provided basic support services, such as selling vegetables or preparing meals for members of the ultra-hardline jihadist group, the report said.
One young man, a 14-year-old at the time, was sentenced by the Karkh juvenile court in Baghdad to 15 years in prison for admitting that he acted as a human shield, along with other family members, to protect fighters from an air strike, it said.
In another case, the defendant, who was a pharmacist, was given a life sentence in Mosul for providing wounded Islamic State members with medical services.
“Prosecutions under the anti-terrorism legal framework... focused on ‘membership’ of a terrorist organization without sufficiently distinguishing between those who participated in serious crimes and those who joined ISIL (Islamic State) out of perceived necessities of survival or under coercion,” the report said.
In 109 of the cases studied by the United Nations, death sentences were handed down, Laurence said. In one of those cases, the defense lawyer was appointed on the day of the trial, had not met his client beforehand and stayed silent throughout.
Defendants or defense lawyers alleged torture or ill-treatment during interrogation in 260 hearings, the report said, including of women and children. The report said that judges did not generally question confessions that appeared to have been obtained in this way.
The U.N. agencies could not independently verify those allegations, but said they had been receiving “credible reports” of torture and ill-treatment by authorities for years.
Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Alex Richardson and Gareth Jones