Torture in Iraqi Prisons: The Systematic Methods Used by Security Personnel



I.         Introduction

After the change that took place in Iraq in 2003 following the invasion and the end of the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, it was expected that torture in Iraqi prisons would be abolished, or at least become less prevalent, with the end of that era, and the establishment of a “democratic regime” in Iraq. However, it has become clear over the years that torture in Iraqi state prisons has continued, and often in systematic forms. The Iraqi authorities have failed throughout 17 years to find solutions to this issue, and have not held the perpetrators accountable.

Free media and the tighter monitoring undertaken by local, regional and international human rights activists and organisations have not prevented some security personnel from practicing torture and ill-treatment of prisoners. Moreover, they often videotaped the torturing of victims, as they feared no consequences of such actions.

The incidence of torture in Iraqi prisons has increased over time, particularly during what came to be known as the “secret informant” period during the two terms of Nouri Al-Maliki’s government between 2006 and 2014. This provision remained in effect until the cabinet put an end to it in 2013, a few months before the end of the second term of Al-Maliki's government, during which practicing torture in prisons increased.

Despite the fact that Iraq acceded to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in law no. 30 of 2008, the law was not made effective, and did not introduce ways to implement its provisions and hold the perpetrators who commit violations against prisoners accountable.

The Iraqi authorities use torture in various stages of law enforcement, but most notably during investigation, where defendants are subjected to severe torture, especially those accused or suspected of committing terrorist acts and joining Da'esh (which refers to itself as the Islamic State).

The practice of torture was not limited to being used on the aforementioned suspects, but was also used against  activists who were arrested by the Iraqi authorities during protests in Al-Basra province during the second half of 2018, in addition to participants in the protests that have been ongoing throughout 2020 in some southern Iraqi provinces. 

The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) has issued over the past six years a series of written reports and testimonies of released prisoners or relatives of prisoners and detainees, and appealed to the governments of Haider Al-Abadi (2014-2018) and Adel Abdul Mahdi (2018-2019), but neither government responded; on the contrary, torture in prisons escalated, and sometimes even targeted minors.


 II.         Methodology

Since the inception of the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) in January 2014, it strived to ensure that the main source of its reports are direct interviews with the victims, their relatives or at least eyewitnesses. The IOHR pursued the same methodology in undertaking this study on torture in Iraqi prisons.

The research methodology included:

●      A legal study of Iraqi prisons’ framework and the state's definition of torture.

●      Interviews with victims and relatives of victims.

●      Interviews with activists and members of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR).

●      Reports by Iraqi national institutions.

●      International reports on torture in Iraqi prisons.

●      Reports by local and foreign media outlets on the issue of torture in Iraqi prisons.

The study covers several Iraqi provinces, since the IOHR aimed for the study to be as comprehensive as possible. Research involved Iraqi prisons in the central, southern and western provinces, which have been under the control of Da’esh for nearly three years, in addition to northern provinces. However, it doesn’t include the provinces of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region because they are subject to different legislation and powers.

This report was written and researched by the IOHR in cooperation with the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) through a project funded by the European Union to address torture and accountability in the Gulf region.


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