After years of complaints by human rights groups one Iraqi court has finally started implementing rules to assure due process is served. Human Rights Watch reported that the Ninewa counterterrorism court issued new regulations on evidence and court procedures to improve investigations and court procedures.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) visited the Ninewa Court in February 2019 and found that it was demanding better standards for its cases. The major change was that it was reducing its reliance upon confessions, wanted lists and unsubstantiated accusations. Instead, the court found a large cache of Islamic State documents, which it is going through. It is also using social media, phone and text messages, fingerprints and other forensic evidence. Based upon all those sources some 7,000 names were struck from wanted lists because all the authorities had were names of suspects and nothing else. A judge from the court said that warrants would only be issued based upon the IS documents or credible and detailed allegations from witnesses. 50,000 warrants have been issued using these new standards. Finally, the court is demanding that detainees see an investigative judge within 48 hours, which is the law. These new procedures are also being implemented in Baghdad and Diyala. These are all huge improvements for Iraq’s justice system. Human rights groups have complained since 2005 that the courts have regularly flaunted the law. Torture is outlawed yet it is systematically used to get confessions, which are usually the only thing judges are looking for to recommend a case move to court and find a conviction. When defendants have said their confessions were forced judges routinely ignore them and give them a guilty sentence anyway. The Iraqi forces have also been using huge wanted lists usually based upon the accusations of locals with nothing else. Better evidence was badly needed. The huge number of new warrants issued using the IS documents and other sources also show that the procedures will not let guilty people go. At the same time, many innocents have probably been saved from being detained. Finally, many people have been left to rot in prisons never seeing an attorney until their court date. Enforcing the rules that detainees be processed within 48 hours is another important step to ensure the rule of law.
The Ninewa court has also helped out with an illegal prison. In 2018 HRW exposed an unauthorized detention facility run by the National Security Service (NSS) in Ninewa. The court asked that the intelligence service transfer those prisoners to the Interior Ministry, which has largely been done. This was another significant change as hundreds of people are being held by different security and intelligence services across Iraq with no legal authority or oversight. This is the result of the aftermath of war where thousands of people were swept up often by unreliable wanted lists. Many have been held indefinitely since then with no access to a lawyer or a court in violation of Iraqi law. Making sure that all prisoners are being held by the right authorities is at least one small step in righting this situation. It can also help assure that the people will now go through the legal system.
The work at the Ninewa court, and now in Baghdad and Diyala as well are good to hear as Iraq’s justice system has been in desperate need of reform for years. Unfortunately these are only a few of the country’s courts. Lawyers told HRW that torture is still common and that people have died in custody due to abuse. HRW also continued to witness courts accepting forced confessions. The counterterrorism law also remains a concern as it gives such sweeping authority that both violent and non-violent IS suspects have been given the same sentences. Still it’s good to see that at least a few courts are beginning to use real evidence and follow the law. The Islamic State committed horrific crimes. The Iraqi justice system should not need to ignore the rule of law to convict the group’s members.
Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Key Courts Improve ISIS Trial Procedures,” 3/13/19