External Affairs

Iraq Accused of Violating Due Process for ISIS Suspects

ISIS suicide bomber shot dead by Iraqi special forces member in Mosul, Iraq March 3, 2017 Credit: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

Baghdad: Iraqi federal and Kurdish regional judiciaries are violating the rights of ISIS suspects with flawed trials, arbitrary detentions under harsh conditions and broad prosecutions, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.

As the Sunni militant group’s self-proclaimed caliphate crumbles following its defeat in Iraq and Syria, thousands suspected of joining it have been captured, detained and put on trial. At least 200 people have been sentenced and at least 92 executed, according to HRW.

Iraq faces the task of exacting justice on ISIS members, while preventing revenge attacks on people associated with the group, but not directly involved in their activity. Acting otherwise would only undermine efforts to create long-term stability in the region.

According to HRW, its 80-page report released early on Tuesday “finds serious legal shortcomings that undermine efforts to bring (ISIS) 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 detain them. Wanted lists or community accusations without proper evidence can result in the detention of anyone suspected for months, even if they have been wrongly accused.

– Detention centres are overcrowded. Authorities fail to separate children from adult detainees. Although detainees must be produced before a judge within 24 hours of arrest under Iraqi law, this is not implemented, violating due process of law.

– Detainees are often subject to torture. They are refused access to lawyers and their families are not informed of their whereabouts. Iraqi authorities say they have investigated these allegations, but are yet to release any findings.

Iraqi and Kurdish courts rely heavily on counter-terrorism laws to prosecute suspects, rather than using other provisions of the Iraqi Criminal Code. As a result, victims are not included in the process as suspects are not tried for individual acts of murder, rape, torture or slavery, but for terrorism.

– Proving guilt under counter-terrorism laws is easier as a judge only needs proof that a defendant was a member of IS to find them guilty. This means that anyone from cooks and doctors servicing members of the group to actual fighters is subject to the same sentences, ranging from life imprisonment to death.

Casting such a wide net is also inefficient, as courts would not have enough time or manpower to go through all the cases, the HRW report says. This prevents victims from accessing justice and violates the rights of detainees and arrested persons.

HRW said that when it raised concerns over prosecutors not charging suspects with crimes under the criminal code, judicial authorities said they felt there was no need to do so. “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.