Thousands of Iraqi women tortured, says Human Rights Watch

Report says legacy of abuse inherited from Saddam Hussein lives on

The situation has deteriorated since the end of 2011 when the US handed over to the government headed by prime minister Nouri al-Maliki (above) and his Shia Dawa party. Photograph: AP Photo

The situation has deteriorated since the end of 2011 when the US handed over to the government headed by prime minister Nouri al-Maliki (above) and his Shia Dawa party. Photograph: AP Photo

Fri, Feb 7, 2014, 01:00


Nearly 11 years after the US occupied Iraq and overthrew its brutal regime, promising reform and democracy, the country’s authorities continue to detain illegally, mistreat, sexually abuse and torture thousands of women and girls, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

In a 105-page report, No One is Safe: the Abuse of Women in Iraq’s Justice System, HRW said: “The legacy of abuse inherited from Saddam Hussein’s rule – torture, the death penalty and extrajudicial executions – lives on in the criminal justice system of Iraq today.”

Women are arrested on the basis of secret testimony, detained without warrants to compel male relatives suspected of crimes to surrender, and caught in mass round-ups during security sweeps and held for months or years without a court appearance.

Charges are often manufactured, convictions based on coerced confessions, and sentences passed by colluding judges after abuses have been perpetrated. Women are held after release orders are issued until bribes have been paid.


Second-class status
Women are stigmatised doubly by imprisonment due to women’s second-class status in the conservative tribal society.

Researched in Baghdad between December 2012 and March 2013, the report is based on interviews with prisoners, family members, doctors, activists, journalists, judges, lawyers, diplomats and United Nations and Iraqi officials. While 4,200 women and 40,000 men are said to be imprisoned in Iraq, thousands more have been subjected to the dysfunctional and abusive system.

HRW cites the case of a manager of a state-affiliated company that approves construction projects who was arrested while shopping, taken to an office, and beaten and shocked with electric cables to force her to admit she had taken a bribe for refusing to pass a project where a politically-connected contractor had used substandard materials. She refused until officers threatened her daughter. She was convicted of forgery and sentenced to three years in prison.

A spokesman for Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry said testimonies included in the report were “over-exaggerated” but admitted that “limited illegal behaviours . . . were practised by security forces against women prisoners.” Ministry teams seek to bring abusers to account and to put an end to such practices, he said.

The situation has deteriorated since the end of 2011 when the US handed over to the government headed by prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shia Dawa party. HRW said Dawa “exerted its control over the judiciary and replaced police and military commanders with people loyal to [Dawa and Maliki], rather than for their professional qualifications”.

HRW regional director Joe Stork said: “Iraqi security forces act if brutally abusing women will make the country safer . . . These women and their relatives have told us that as long as security forces abuse people with impunity we can expect security conditions to worsen.”