As Iraq looks forward to the March 2010 elections and hopes for another step towards democracy, other parts of Iraqi society remain largely unchanged such as its prison system. On January 26, 2010 the head of parliament’s Human Rights Committee said that there are on going abuses in Iraq’s detention centers. The Committee is conducting an investigation into stories of increasing use of torture and prisoners having to pay bribes to be released.
The roots of these problems are two fold. First, Iraq’s justice system is based upon confessions, and the preferred way to gain them is through beatings and abuse by the authorities. Another major problem is that there have been so many detentions for terrorism and involvement in militant activities over the years that the prison system is overcrowded, which is straining facilities and leading to some horrible conditions. Prisoners are regularly held for days, weeks, and months without hearing their charges or seeing a lawyer.
Back in June 2009, detainees held protests in several prisons against corruption, the lack of trials, and abuse. This led to the Interior Ministry investigating facilities in Maysan and Qadisiyah provinces, and 43 police officers being charged with abuses. A member of the Ministry’s review said that conditions were just as bad as during Saddam’s time, echoing an earlier December 2008 Human Rights Watch report that said the same thing.
Parliament’s Human Rights Committee has often complained about conditions in the country’s justice system, but little has changed. Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry has plenty of similar stories as well, but both groups lack the power to do anything about it. Democracy is more than holding elections and having a parliament, it also means rule by law and having a fair and equal justice system. Iraq is working on one of those, but not the other.
Aswat al-Iraq, “Dangerous violations in detention centers – committee,” 1/26/10
Fordham, Alice, “In Iraq’s prisons, a culture of abuse,” Christian Science Monitor, 9/13/09
Latif, Nizar, “Horrors of Iraq prison torture continue,” The National, 9/5/09
United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, “Human Rights Report 1 January – 30 June 2009,” 12/15/09
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