Amnesty International recently released its annual review of human rights in the Middle Est for 2018. The section on Iraq could have been taken from any of the previous reports from the last fourteen years. The government’s forces continue to use torture. There is no rule of law nor due process for those that go through the justice system. The government also went after protesters in southern and northern Iraq. People associated with the Islamic State face group punishment. This is the underside of Iraq. Not only does it have a poor human rights record it also lacks some of the basics necessary for it to develop into a full democracy.
At the end of 2018 there were almost two million people still displaced in Iraq (IDPs), and the number returning slowed down in the second half of the year. On top of that there is secondary displacement going on, when people try to go back to their homes, but leave again and even new displacement. Some of the reasons for this are damaged homes, lack of jobs, infrastructure and services, unexploded ordinance, and those associated with the Islamic State facing arbitrary arrests and harassment. IS families for example have been denied food, water, health care, government IDs, pensions and education for their children. They also often have restrictions on their movement and have been banned from returning to many areas by their neighbors, tribes, local governments, and the Iraqi forces. Some who have returned have been evicted, detained, or had their homes destroyed. The government has no program to deal with either of these issues. Baghdad said it wants all the IDPs to go home, but has not addressed the issues preventing people from doing that such as rebuilding war stricken parts of the country. It has also shut down some of the IDP camps forcing people out whether they want to leave or not. Finally, there is no reconciliation plan. The Iraqi forces and locals therefore have been able to enforce their own rules, usually based upon revenge, against those they consider to be IS members and their families.
During 2018 protests spread across southern Iraq and Kurdistan over jobs, services, better governance, and austerity measures. Over a dozen demonstrators were killed and hundreds injured by the Iraqi forces in Basra during the summer and fall, and there were arbitrary arrests of activists in other provinces. Many times excessive force was used such as firing into crowds. Journalists were also attacked and arrested for covering the events. Prime Minister Haidar Abadi ordered an investigation into these matters and some officers were dismissed. Similarly demonstrations were broken up in Irbil and Dohuk in March by the authorities, and reporters were detained. Iraq is supposed to have freedom of assembly and press, but too many times when protests persist the government cracks down upon them. This has often escalated leading to the death of activists.
Iraq continues to lack due process. Torture and abuse is endemic. This is usually applied to obtain a confession. Such evidence is supposed to be inadmissible in court, yet judges routinely accept forced admissions. In terrorism cases those confessions often lead to death sentences. Islamic State suspects have also been denied an adequate defense, and their lawyers have been threatened and arrested by the security forces. Iraq’s justice system is broken. The common use of torture is a holdover from the Saddam years, which has not ended. Trials routinely violate rules and practices. It’s not just terrorism suspects that face this abuse and unfair treatment but common criminals as well. What’s worse is that the Islamic State committed some of the worst crimes, and yet the authorities can’t conduct a fair trial to find them guilty. Rule of law is a basic tenet of a democracy, which Iraq lacks.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, the U.S. government and others have been making these same findings every year since Iraq was returned its sovereignty in 2005. The government doesn’t follow its own rules and laws when it comes to protests, the media, detentions, and courts. Not only that, but none of the post-Saddam government have made a serious attempt to fix these issues. Usually they only talk about action when they get exposed, and then set up a committee promising an investigation and little to nothing comes of it. That means in the following years Amnesty and others will be reporting much of the same occurrences. This is a setback for Iraqis who do not have the full protection of the law, and for the government, which is hindered in its democratic development by these continued violations.
Amnesty International, “Human Rights In The Middle East And North Africa, Review Of 2018,” 2/27/19