BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Wednesday it had “increasingly cooperative” access to families of suspected Islamic State militants whose safety in detention has been a focus of concern for foreign aid agencies.
More than 1,000 wives and children have been held in Iraq since the defeat of Islamic State militants in August 2017, and some of the women have gone on trial for joining Islamic State.
The ICRC has had intermittent access to the families, giving humanitarian aid and helping coordinate contact with relatives or officials in their countries of origin.
Foreign aid agencies said last year they were “gravely concerned” about the fate of the families.
“With regard to families of foreign fighters: ICRC has had various but increasingly cooperative accesses to those families,” ICRC President Peter Maurer told reporters during a visit to Baghdad.
“We were able to bring assistance to those families in need, to reestablish some minimal contacts with family members abroad.”
The families mostly came from Turkey, France, Germany and former Soviet states, such as Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Russia.
First detained in a camp near Mosul, the families were moved to a military base in Baghdad in November, as Iraq’s government deliberated over their fates. The move to the capital coincided with a push by Iraqi officials to begin legal proceedings.
Last month, Baghdad Criminal Court sentenced 17 women to death for joining Islamic State and handed over four women and 27 children to Russia who were not prosecuted after investigations concluded that they did not participate in “terrorist operations.”
Thousands of foreigners have fought on behalf of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria since at least 2014. Many foreign women came - or were brought - from overseas to join the militants.
The ICRC has called on all sides in the Iraq and Syria wars to treat detainees in line with international law that prohibits torture or executions and enshrines the right to a fair trial.
The detention of the militants and their families is a particularly “complex issue”, Maurer said, but one the ICRC was continuing to help “in the months and years to come.”
Part of the ICRC mandate is to help secure humane treatment and conditions of detainees held in the countries in which the organization operates.
Despite Iraq having declared victory over the militants in December after a three-year-war which devastated large parts of the country, the country’s detainee population “will continue to increase in the foreseable future,” Maurer said.
Maurer said the ICRC aims to see those people in detention and those in “detention-like set-ups.”
Iraq has a “particularly diversified” setup regarding detentions, he said, as both the state and the various armed groups operating in the country hold detainees.
“It’s not secret as well that we don’t have access to all detainees in all situations,” he said.
Maurer, who was in Iraq visiting the ICRC delegation, said Iraq’s humanitarian needs remain “huge”, despite the country having declared victory over the militants last December.
Reporting by Raya Jalabi, Editing by William Maclean