BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi federal and Kurdish regional judiciaries are violating the rights of Islamic State suspects with flawed trials, arbitrary detentions under harsh conditions and broad prosecutions, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.
As the Sunni Muslim militant group’s self-proclaimed caliphate crumbles following defeats in Iraq and Syria, thousands suspected of joining it have been captured, detained, and put on trial. At least 200 have been sentenced and at least 92 executed, an HRW report said.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, at a weekly news conference on Tuesday, denied that Iraq puts Islamic State suspects on trial without evidence but did not address other parts of the HRW report.
His government faces the task of exacting justice on Islamic State members while preventing revenge attacks on people associated with the group that could only undermine efforts to create long-term stability.
New York-based HRW said that an 80-page report it released early on Tuesday “finds serious legal shortcomings that undermine efforts to bring (Islamic State) fighters, members, and affiliates to justice.”
A spokesman for Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council, which supervises the federal judiciary, declined to comment on the contents of the report ahead of its release.
Issues highlighted by the HRW report:
- It is too easy to accuse someone of belonging to Islamic State and have them detained. Wanted lists or community accusations without evidence can result in the detention of suspects for months even if wrongly accused.
- Detention centers are overcrowded and authorities fail to separate children from adult detainees. Iraqi law states detainees should be brought to a judge within 24 hours of capture but this does not happen.
- Detainees are often subject to torture, not granted access to lawyers, and their families are not informed of their whereabouts. Iraqi authorities say they have investigated these allegations but have not released any findings.
- The reliance of Iraqi and Kurdish courts on counter terrorism laws to prosecute suspects rather than on laws in the criminal code means crimes are not prioritized by gravity and victims are not included in the process as suspects are not tried for individual acts of murder, rape, torture or slavery.
- Proving guilt under counter-terrorism laws is easier as a judge only needs proof that a defendant was a member of Islamic State to find them guilty. This means that anyone from cooks and doctors serving under the group to actual fighters is subject to the same sentences, which range from life in prison to death.
This stretches Iraq’s resources thin as casting such a wide net means the courts lack the time or manpower to go through all cases, the HRW report says, which prevents victims from getting personal justice.
HRW said that when it raised concerns about prosecutors not charging suspects with crimes under the criminal code, Iraqi judicial authorities said there was no need.
“Genocide and terrorism are the same crime, why would we need a separate charge for genocide?” the report quoted one counter-terrorism judge as saying.
Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Richard Balmforth/Mark Heinrich