Friday, February 7, 2014

HRW: Abuse of women is common in Iraq's justice system

Iraqi authorities are detaining thousands of Iraqi women illegally and subjecting many to torture and ill-treatment, including the threat of sexual abuse, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. Convictions arefrequently based upon coerced confessions, and trial proceedings fall far short of international standards. Many women were detained for months or even years without charge before seeing a judge.
The 105-page report, “‘No One Is Safe’: Abuses of Women in Iraq’s Criminal Justice System,”documents abuses of women in detention based on interviews with women and girls, medical service providers in the prisons, and is also based upon court documents and extensive information received in meetings with Iraqi authorities including Justice, Interior, Defense, and Human Rights ministry officials, and two deputy prime ministers.
Many of the 27 women who spoke with Human Rights Watch described being beaten, kicked, slapped, hung upside-down and beaten on their feet (falaqa), given electric shocks, and raped or threatened with sexual assault by security forces during their interrogation. They said security forces questioned them about their male relatives’ activities rather than crimes in which they themselves were implicated. Security forces forced them to sign statements, many with fingerprints, which they were not allowed to read and that they later repudiated in court, they said.
One woman entered her meeting with Human Rights Watch in Iraq’s death row facility in Baghdad’s Kadhimiyya neighborhood on crutches. She said nine days of beatings, electric shocks, and falaqa in March 2012 had left her permanently disabled. The split nose, back scars, and burns on her breast that Human Rights Watch observed were consistent with the abuse she alleged. She was executed in September 2013, seven months after Human Rights Watch interviewed her, despite lower court rulings that dismissed charges against her following a medical report that supported her alleged torture.
Human Rights Watch found that Iraqi security forces regularly arrest women illegally and commit other due process violations against women at every stage of the justice system. Women are subjected to threats of, or actual, sexual assault, sometimes in front of husbands, brothers, and children. Failure by the courts to investigate allegations of abuse and hold the abusers responsible encourages the police to falsify confessions and use torture, Human Rights Watch said.
The vast majority of the more than 4,200 women detained in Interior and Defense ministry facilities are Sunni, but the abuses Human Rights Watch documents affect women of all sects and classes throughout Iraqi society.
Both men and women suffer from the severe flaws of the criminal justice system. But women suffer a double burden due to their second-class status in Iraqi society. Once they have been detained, women are frequently stigmatized by their family or community, who perceive them to have been dishonored.Women detainees, their families, and lawyers told Human Rights Watch that security forces conduct random and mass arrests of women that amount to collective punishment for alleged terrorist activities by male family members.
In the vast majority of cases Human Rights Watch examined, women had no access to a lawyer before or during their interrogation. In every case Human Rights Watch documented in which women told the investigating or trial judge about abuse, the judges did not open an inquiry. Some dismissed the allegations, saying that they observed no marks on the defendant’s body or that the woman should have made the allegations earlier.

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