UN Report on Torture in Iraqi Prisons
Iraq’s legal framework to prevent ill-treatment, developed over several years, now needs to be translated into effective measures to tackle torture in detention centres and prevent further violations, a UN report published on Tuesday highlights.
The report* of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN Human Rights Office, entitled “Human Rights in the Administration of Justice in Iraq: legal conditions and procedural safeguards to prevent torture,” describes how although the Iraqi legal framework explicitly criminalises torture and sets out procedural safeguards to prevent it, the practice continues throughout the country.
The report, which covers the period from 1 July 2019 to 30 April 2021, is based on interviews conducted with 235 people deprived of their liberty as well as with prison staff, judges, lawyers, and families of detainees, among others.
“I experienced the worst days of my life. As soon as I arrived, the officers beat me using metal pipes. The following days, they used two exposed electricity wires to electrocute me,” one detainee told UN staff who helped draw up the report.
“I acknowledge some advances achieved by the Iraqi authorities on the legal front to prevent torture,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. “However, the authorities need to effectively implement the provisions written in the law in each and every detention centre. If not, they remain a dead letter.”
“Eradicating torture will be one of the most effective tools to start to build public trust in the state’s ability to deliver justice and uphold the principle of fairness,” she added. “However, when the authorities themselves break the law, it has the opposite effect.”
The report draws on its finding to provide an analysis of the main risk factors leading to ill-treatment. It describes how interrogations by security forces are generally aimed at eliciting confessions, and those undertaken by investigative judges are often focused on confirming the statements made to security forces, without examining whether or not they were obtained under duress.
“They cuffed my hands behind my back and hanged my handcuffs from a hook on a chain from the ceiling,” another detainee told the UN. “They didn’t really ask me questions, they just kept shouting to confess.”
The report states that legal procedures designed to bring interrogations and detention under judicial control within 24 hours of the initial arrest are not respected; and access to a lawyer is systematically delayed until after suspects have been interrogated by the security forces.
Medical screening of detainees on arrival at detention centres is not standard practice, and there are often significant delays before detainees are granted permission to call a person of their choice. In addition, the report says, the location of official detention sites remains opaque.
The reports also raises concerns that the authorities ignore complaints and signs of torture, and says that the systems established to address official complaints appear to be neither fair nor effective. The report also says that the limited accountability for such failures on the part of the authorities suggests acquiescence and tolerance of these practices.
“The fact that many detainees choose not to report such treatment due to lack of trust, or fear of reprisals, indicates their lack of trust in the system,” said the UN Human Rights Chief. “This needs to be addressed. This report provides specific recommendations on how to tackle this scourge, which is holding back the country. The UN is ready to help the Iraqi Government in this endeavour.”
The report recommends the adoption of a comprehensive Anti-Torture Law and National Action Plan, which should be fully in line with international human rights law, particularly the United Nations Convention against Torture.
“Effective prevention and prosecution of torture and other forms of ill-treatment would counter the narratives of terrorist groups and reduce their ability to exploit such practices to justify their own acts of violence,” said Bachelet. “The prevention of torture in reality, and not just on paper, would contribute to peace and stability in the long term, and is therefore in the State’s interest as well as the victims’.