At the end of June 2012, Iraq’s parliamentary human rights committee visited a notorious prison in Salahaddin province. There they found cases of torture, poor conditions, and a lack of due process. The Human Rights Ministry immediately seemed to criticize the committee’s findings, while admitting that such problems existed. This is just the latest example of the widespread abuses that exist within Iraq’s justice and prison systems.
Parliament’s human rights committee visited Taji prison in Salahaddin on June 26, 2012. There the lawmakers found cases of torture, prisoners who were held for up to eight years with having never gone to court, lost files, people who were supposed to be released, but who were still being held, and a lack of medical care. The committee blamed the judicial system for the abuses that they found, and said that they had been working on torture for the last eight years with no resolution to the problem. The Human Rights Ministry responded by saying that allegations of torture did not prove that it happened. At the same time, the Ministry did not deny that torture took place noting that it found 430 cases last year. The differences in opinion were likely because of political differences. Salim Jabouri of the Centrist List, which is part of the Iraqi National Movement, heads the human rights committee, while Human Rights Minister Mohammed Shaia’a Sudani is from the rival Dawa Party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The premier’s party has been especially resistant to any criticism, and that’s probably why the Human Rights Ministry did not seem concerned with the findings at Taji prison.
Taji is an especially troubled facility. When the prison was turned over to the Iraqis from the Americans in March 2010, it was said that the Sadrist prisoners had taken control of it. That’s probably the reason why there have been a number of escapes there all of which have been connected with prison guards and officials. In January 2011, a leader in the League of the Righteous got out, followed by five members of the Mahdi Army escaping in May. After that last one, the head of the prison was replaced. (1) The United Nations has also received reports of torture at the prison, and in February, prisoners at Taji went on a hunger strike over their mistreatment. Iraq’s prison system is notorious for overcrowding, abuse, and poor conditions. Taji has seen examples of all those, and apparently continues to do so according to the human rights committee.
Iraq’s justice and prison systems were supposed to be remade by the Americans after the 2003 invasion. Little was actually done before Iraq’s sovereignty was returned in 2005. Afterward, political appointees took over both. Almost all of them had either lived under Saddam or other dictatorships in the region such as Iran or Syria. It was therefore no surprise that they would follow many of those practices when they took power. What the human rights committee found at Taji is the result. There is no due process in Iraq with detainees regularly being denied the right to a lawyer, not told what their charges are, being held incommunicado, not being released after they’ve been found innocent, and facing abuse. This is a major reason why the country does not have a true democracy yet. More cases like these will be found, but they will not be solved, because there is no will to do so by Iraq’s new elites.
1. Alsumaria, “Iraq Justice Ministry: Prisoners escape is an organized scheme,” 5/21/11
AIN, “PHRC reveals “torture cases” against Taji Jail prisoners,” 6/27/12
Alsumaria, “5 Mehdi Army chiefs escape from Taji prison,” 5/20/11
- “Iraq Justice Ministry: Prisoners escape is an organized scheme,” 5/21/11
Brosk, Raman, “Torture against prisoners cannot be proven through claims, says Human Rights Ministry,” AK News, 6/27/12
Latif, Nizar, “Corruption blamed for escape of 4,000 militants from Iraq prisons,” The National, 6/3/11
Morse, Dan, “Iraqi security forces raid homes of Sunni politicians,” Washington Post, 1/20/12
Parker, Ned, “Sadr sees star rise again in Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, 11/25/10
UNAMI Human Rights Office and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Report on Human Rights in Iraq: 2011,” May 2012