Amnesty: Serious rights abuses continue in Iraq | World| Breaking news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 11.03.2013
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Amnesty: Serious rights abuses continue in Iraq

Ten years after the US intervention in Iraq, unfair trials and torture are still common, says Amnesty International. The former occupying powers have also not dealt with the abuses for which they were responsible.

US troops marched into Iraq ten years ago on March 20, and Amnesty International has used the anniversary as an occasion to look at developments in the country since then. On Monday (11.03.2013), it published its findings under the title "A Decade of Human Right Abuses."

It concludes that, ten years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, human rights abuses are still common. Iraqis may enjoy more freedom now under the rule of the Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, but torture and unfair trials are still the order of the day.

Carsten Jürgensen, Iraq expert with Amnesty International Germany, can only offer a gloomy summary: "Neither the Iraqi government nor the former occupying powers act according to basic standards of human rights, and the people of Iraq are paying the price for that," he told Deutsche Welle.

Unfair trials and torture

In around 100 pages, the report describes a large number of cases in which Iraqi authorities have offended against human rights and proper legal procedures. There are few clear statistics - Amnesty says the number of unreported cases is extremely high.

U.S. Army soldiers are seen through the haze of burning trash (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

The US intervention in Iraq meant more freedom, but not an end to torture

Political scientist and specialist on the Muslim world Udo Steinbach says Amnesty's picture is accurate: "There needs to be a new approach in domestic and foreign policy if the human rights situation in the country is to be improved," he told DW.

According to Jürgensen, "Theoretically there are laws prohibiting torture and saying that confessions made under torture are not admissible as evidence." But many judges think that once a confession has been made, it's more credible than the withdrawal of a confession. "Prisoners are often tortured early on in their imprisonment in order to get confessions. That's not just what prisoners and their lawyers say; you can find it documented indirectly in court records."

Abuses by the occupying powers

Among the methods of torture, Amnesty lists electric shocks to the genitals and elsewhere, as well as food, water and sleep deprivation. Prisoners are threatened with the detention and rape of their female relatives. Many suspects are sentenced to death on the basis of confessions they have made under torture. With 129 executions in 2012, says Jürgensen, Iraq leads the world.

An image of an Iraqi prisoner in Abu Ghraib prison in Bhagdad allegedly standing on a box with his head covered by a hood and electrical wires attached to his hands. EPA/DSK EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Only junior officers were ever charged over offenses such as those at Abu Ghreib prison

Amnesty also accuses British and US troops of human rights abuses. US troops may have left by the end of 2011, but they have failed to deal with the offenses they committed during their occupation.

"There have been some verdicts in the US and in Britain," says Jürgensen, "but they have only been against the lower ranks."

Basic reforms are needed: "Change must come from Iraq itself," he says. "Naturally, international solidarity is important and useful in the field of human rights."

Inadequate legal structures

For all their criticism, both Jürgensen and Steinbach admit that the situation has improved since 2003.

Saddam Hussein. (ddp images/AP Photo)

The situation is certainly better now than it was under Saddam Hussein

"People in Iraq have much more freedom now than they did under Saddam Hussein," says Jürgensen, "but the country hasn't succeeded in building up functioning legal structures which respect fundamental human rights."

Amnesty wants to see mechanisms in place to prevent torture: "It would be a considerable improvement if people were not kept in prison for days or weeks without contact with family or lawyers."

Steinbach thinks developments following the US intervention were to be expected: "The state institutions, the military and the security apparatus were all destroyed," he notes. "What we observe now as a dictatorial use of power along confessional lines is a consequence of these wrong policies."

At the same time, though, the intervention also opened the door to democracy, which the international community must now actively support.

"I think Amnesty has published this at the right time," says Steinbach. "The people in Iraq are demonstrating against the abuses: this report will provide them with support for their protests."

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