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Erbil, May 22, 2017 – Iraqi government-allied troops arbitrarily detained at least 100 men in late April 2017, in some cases torturing them during interrogations, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch interviewed three men from al-Hadar, a village 90 kilometers southwest of west Mosul, who were detained by the Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha’abi) and two local officials who had knowledge of the detention operations in the area. The men said the fighters detained them as they fled their homes because of the fighting, and held them for up to 15 days in a school building and in one case a home in an area solely under PMF control. Their captors interrogated them about possible Islamic State (also known as ISIS) links, and in two cases beat them with thick metal cables, before releasing them and a small number of other detainees. Other detainees told them they had also been beaten during interrogations.

“Given the previous track records of PMF abuse in the area of screening and detaining local men, Baghdad should treat these findings with the gravest concern,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities should do all in their power to ensure that families fleeing the fighting around Mosul are able to get to safety, not tortured in secret facilities.”

Human Rights Watch heard similar accounts from other men fleeing the fighting earlier in 2017 and raised the issue with the government, but the detentions and abuse seem to have continued. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi should issue a decree banning screening and detention by the PMF and hold those who have committed abuses accountable.

One man, “Hassan,” said that his family and a group of others fled al-Hadar, which was under ISIS control, on April 25, for a camp for displaced people run by the PMF. After two days there, he and 10 of his relatives were then taken to a building they said was a school and held there in a room, along with about 40 others from their village. His family group was interrogated for a week, then released.

Hassan and the other two men interviewed said that they were able to determine that they were being held in a school by speaking to fellow prisoners and guards, and by lifting their blindfolds. A government official from Tal Abta told Human Rights Watch that the PMF held the men in the Tal Abta Janubia primary school and provided the GPS coordinates. The official said that his office had documented the names of 100 men from the area who the PMF had detained as they fled, over the same period, based on calls from their families.

Ali Al-Ahmadi, director of al-Hadar district, told local media outlets on May 1, that the PMF had detained at least 160 people upon their arrival at camps for people displaced by the fighting. The same reports said that the governor of Mosul was calling for a high-level emergency session to discuss these detentions.

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Earlier in the Mosul operation, Human Rights Watch documented cases of the PMF arbitrarily detaining, torturing, and executing civilians. Following a Human Rights Watch report, the PMF Commission issued a statement in early February denying that its forces had screened or detained anyone. The statement said the PMF hands over captured ISIS suspects to state security forces who have a mandate to screen suspects.

But in a meeting on February 6, a PMF Commission representative told Human Rights Watch that in limited circumstances they do detain people captured on the battlefield for at least short periods before transferring them to Iraqi authorities with a detention mandate. One man the PMF had detained for eight days and an aid worker confirmed that.

Iraqi authorities should only allow those with the requisite legal authority to screen people. The authorities should ensure that anyone detained is held in a recognized detention center accessible to independent monitors, and granted their due process rights under international and Iraqi law. All detention should be based on clear domestic law, and every detainee should be brought promptly before a judge to review the legality of their detention. Iraqi law requires authorities to take detainees before an investigative judge within 48 hours.

Human Rights Watch has also documented that Iraqi forces, including PMF forces, have used schools for security or military purposes such as for screening and as detention centers. Such use of schools can delay the re-opening of the schools to teach and provide other services to children, and damage classrooms and equipment. Iraqi forces should avoid using schools except as a last resort, when no other facilities are available.

The United Nations Convention against Torture, which Iraq ratified in 2011, obliges member countries to investigate and prosecute torture and to compensate victims.

“While there may be grounds to detain some people fleeing the fighting who are suspected of criminal acts under ISIS’s rule, they have to be given their rights under Iraqi law,” Fakih said. “That includes the right not to be ill-treated.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Iraq, please visit: https://www.hrw.org/middle-east/n-africa/iraq