Expert calls for stringent measures and accountability

Legal perspectives on torture in Iraq

BAGHDAD, December 23 — Iraq’s government, under Prime Minister Mohammed Shiaa’ Al-Sudani, is taking steps towards eliminating torture in detention centers.

The initiative is seen as a departure from the notorious practices associated with Saddam Hussein’s regime and involves drafting a law against torture and inhumane treatment and appointing a special advisor for human rights issues, demonstrating a commitment to address past human rights violations and to safeguard against future abuses.

One of the key proposals made by a leading Iraqi judge, Munir Haddad, and echoed by others, is the removal of internal security officers from interrogation roles. Haddad suggests replacing them with law school graduates and judicial investigators to ensure professionalism and adherence to human rights standards. This move is seen as crucial in preventing torture and ensuring the integrity of the judicial process.

Another measure is the training of officers in humane interrogation techniques. Despite these efforts, the challenge remains substantial. The Iraqi government faces the task of changing a deeply ingrained culture of impunity and brutality in its security forces, a legacy of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Moreover, the Iraqi legal system continues to struggle with the issue of confessions obtained through torture. Legal expert Abbas Al-Aqabi emphasizes that confessions extracted under duress are inadmissible, yet those responsible for torture often evade accountability. This highlights the need for robust legal reforms and stringent enforcement of laws against torture.

The government’s initiative, while seen as a positive step, faces skepticism about its effectiveness in fundamentally altering the practices and culture within Iraq’s security apparatus. The success of these reforms are expected to be dependent on their thorough implementation and the government’s commitment to upholding human rights.

What happened?

During the second conference on the National Human Rights Plan, Prime Minister Al-Sudani stated that his government was working on a legislative project to prohibit torture and inhuman treatment.

Government spokesperson, Basim Al-Awadi, informed 964 that the draft law is still under debate, and serious steps are being considered with the end of this week’s provincial council elections.

Hisham Al-Rikabi, media advisor to the Prime Minister, told 964 that the government has not overlooked the October protests and the targeted actions against the protesters. He emphasized the government’s commitment to addressing violations that occurred in previous years, achieving significant progress in this regard, and sharing the outcomes with the public on various occasions.

Al-Rikabi added that the government has appointed a special advisor, Zaidan Khalaf, to monitor all matters related to human rights violations, especially in security detention centers and the conditions of prisoners.

Courses for torture officers

According to media reports, the Iraqi Parliament’s Human Rights Committee disclosed that the government has received around 5,000 complaints regarding cases of torture and violations within Iraqi prisons.

In recent months, Parliament Member Raad Al-Dahlaki raised the issue of torture at the Nasiriyah Al-Hoot Prison, describing the situation as “systematic extermination.” The harsh treatment has reportedly led prisoners to contemplate suicide.

However, Khalaf clarified to 964 that while cases of torture exist and cannot be denied, they are not systemic, but rather limited to individual cases, which are pursued in response to any complaints received.

He added that, recently, media reports highlighted the death of an individual in a police facility. Following the incident, seven officers accused of misconduct were referred for judicial investigation.

In recent times, official publications have been issued concerning the prohibition of torture and coercion for obtaining confessions. According to Khalaf, these measures also include providing legal guarantees for the accused, including ensuring the presence of defense lawyers during interrogations. He also highlighted visits to detention facilities, the establishment of a hotline for reporting any violations, and emphasized that detention should be by judicial order. Additionally, anyone accused of torture is to be subjected to investigation.

In the same context, the government has reportedly requested training for all investigative officers focused on learning proper interrogation techniques and avoiding human rights violations. The Ministry of Interior has implemented this initiative, conducting hundreds of workshops. Khalaf noted that the issue of overcrowding in prisons, as much as 300 percent capacity, is a major concern negatively impacting all aspects of the criminal justice system, resulting in a lack of humane conditions. The Alternative Sanctions Law was introduced as a solution to address this problem.

Measures against Saddam Hussein’s students

Judge Haddad shared with 964 a vision for three measures that the government should implement if serious about addressing the issue of torture:

  1. Installation of cameras in interrogation rooms–a common practice in many countries worldwide. Successful investigators can obtain evidence without resorting to torture or threats.
  2. Restricting investigations solely to judicial investigators, preferably graduates from recognized law schools, while excluding non-professionals or internal security officers.
  3. Implementing severe and genuine penalties for officers or individuals employing torture and intimidation methods.

Haddad emphasized that cases of torture are not systemic, citing instances where the judiciary brought forth numerous cases, prosecuting officers, and various individuals for torture crimes in internal security courts. However, he described those resorting to such methods as “disciples of the previous regime” and accused them of operating with a bloodthirsty mentality.

He noted the existence of a specific human rights law in parliament, with its first reading completed, but considered it a move related to “image polishing” before elections.

Legal expert Al-Aqabi emphasized to 964 that confessions obtained under torture are not admissible in court. If a suspect changes their statements due to coercion, it should then be presented to a forensic doctor. If torture is confirmed, the confessions are disregarded, and no trial proceeds based on them. However, those responsible for torture or against whom complaints are filed often go un punished, and sometimes the judiciary overlooks such matters.

During trials, a suspect may alter their statements due to coercion without visible signs of torture. In such cases, the judge’s discretion plays a crucial role in comparing confessions within the context of the case, according to Al-Aqabi.

He stressed the need to impose prison sentences, up to one or two years, for those in authority who engage in torture, highlighting the contradiction with the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” when suspects are tortured during interrogation. However, he noted, installing cameras in interrogation rooms may be impractical due to the secrecy of certain cases, such as family or state security cases, where documents go directly from investigators to judges without public access.

Iraq is a signatory to numerous United Nations agreements and thus accountable internationally for human rights violations, as well as adherence to treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Protocols One and Two, and the Convention Against Torture. Failure to comply with those treaties may result in disciplinary sanctions, including restrictions on attending conferences or voting in the United Nations General Assembly, reflecting negatively on Iraq’s international standing.