Iraq still ranks poorly in rights, transparency records

Amnesty International accused Iraqi forces, Kurdish fighters and the PMF of torture and enforced disappearances.
Sunday 25/02/2018
 A 2017 file picture shows a Yazidi boy, who was sold by ISIS in Mosul, hugging his grandmother after he was returned to his family in Dohuk.(Reuters)
Ineradicable scars. A 2017 file picture shows a Yazidi boy, who was sold by ISIS in Mosul, hugging his grandmother after he was returned to his family in Dohuk.(Reuters)

LONDON - Iraq continued to rate poorly in its human rights and anti-corruption records, reports from Amnesty International and Transparency International showed. Predictably, the Islamic State (ISIS) proved to be the worst offender.

“[ISIS] fighters forcibly displaced thousands of civilians into active conflict, used them as human shields on a mass scale, deliberately killed civilians fleeing the fighting, and recruited and deployed child soldiers,” said the report by Amnesty International.

“[ISIS] killed and injured civilians across Iraq in suicide bombings and other deadly attacks that deliberately targeted civilians in markets.”

Iraqi forces, Kurdish peshmerga and the predominately Shia Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) did not escape criticism.

“Iraqi and Kurdish forces and paramilitary militias extrajudicially executed captured fighters and civilians fleeing the conflict and destroyed homes and other civilian property,” Amnesty International said.

“Iraqi and Kurdish forces as well as government authorities arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared and tortured civilians suspected of being affiliated with [ISIS].”

The US-led anti-ISIS coalition was also implicated in rights violations.

“In west Mosul, Iraqi and coalition forces launched a series of disproportionate or otherwise indiscriminate attacks. In one such attack, on March 17 in Mosul al-Jadida neighbourhood, at least 105 civilians were killed by a US air strike targeting two [ISIS] snipers,” said the report.

“In east Mosul, hundreds of civilians were killed in air strikes launched by the coalition and Iraqi forces on their homes or places where they sought refuge as they followed Iraqi government instructions not to leave during the battle.”

The human rights group accused Iraqi forces, Kurdish fighters and the PMF of torture and enforced disappearances.

“Common forms of torture included beatings on the head and body with metal rods and cables, suspension in stress positions by the arms or legs, electric shocks and threats of rape of female relatives. Detainees faced limited access to medical care, which led to deaths in custody and amputations,” Amnesty International said.

Iraq’s judicial system also came under fire.

“The criminal justice system in Iraq remained deeply flawed… Courts continued to admit ‘confessions’ that were extracted under torture as evidence. Many of those convicted after these unfair and hasty trials were sentenced to death,” said Amnesty’s report.

“Iraq remained one of the world’s most prolific users of the death penalty… The death penalty continued to be used as a tool of retribution in response to public outrage after attacks claimed by [ISIS].”

Kurdish authorities’ restrictions on freedom of expression also drew the attention of Amnesty International.

“Journalists and online activists in the [Kurdistan region of Iraq] were subject to arbitrary arrest, beatings, surveillance, death threats and smear campaigns intended to damage their reputations or the reputations of their family members,” it said.

Despite the defeat of ISIS, more than 3 million people remained internally displaced across Iraq.

“Civilians in [internally displaced persons] IDP camps experienced shortages of food, water, medicine and other basic needs. Freedom of movement in IDP camps was severely limited and camp residents reported that civilians, including children, were recruited from camps by paramilitary militias — sometimes forcibly — and that family members had been forcibly disappeared from public areas in the camps and from their tents,” the Amnesty report said.

“Women heads of households who sheltered in IDP camps — particularly those whose male relatives were suspected of affiliation with [ISIS] — reported being subjected to rape and other sexual abuse and exploitation and systematic discrimination, including having inadequate and unequal access to food, water and other basic supplies.”

Amnesty International highlighted the plight of Yazidi women and children who were subjected to rape and enslavement by ISIS.

“Those who managed to escape or were freed after their relatives paid ransoms did not receive adequate remedies, including the necessary care and support required to help rebuild their lives,” it said.

In its own report on Iraq, the International Crisis Group (ICG) called on Iraqi authorities to stabilise the northern region of Sinjar to help the Yazidi minority.

The ICG report accused Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of treating Yazidis “as second-class Kurds.” The KDP “barely disguised its ambition… to annex Sinjar” to the Kurdistan Regional Government, said the report.

Iraq ranked 169 out of 180 in Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index. Iraq was listed as the tenth most corrupt country in the 2016 index, which listed 176 nations.

“The worst performing Arab states in the index — Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — all suffer from weak public institutions, internal conflict and deep instability,” Transparency International said in a statement.

“Such situations allow corruption to become rife with little to no checks on official abuse. Amid ongoing violence, as well as internal wars and conflicts, all forms of good governance have eroded.”

Iraq is likely to need a significant climb in the index if its efforts to attract international investments are going to succeed.