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COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE CONSIDERS THE INITIAL REPORT OF IRAQ

30 July 2015

The Committee against Torture concluded today its consideration of the initial report of Iraq on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Presenting the report, Abdulkareem Al-Janabi, Deputy Minister of Human Rights of Iraq, stated that after the fall of the dictatorship in 2003, when efforts had started to establish principles of democracy and pluralism, a national system for human rights had been founded.  The Ministry of Human Rights had been established in the autumn of 2003.  The initial report had been prepared by an inter-sectorial committee, which included various Ministries and courts.  The report had been subject to many revisions, and had been published on the Ministry of Human Rights website for a month.  The Iraqi Government had extended an open invitation to Special Procedures in 2010, and visits had been conducted to Iraq in that framework.  Concerning awareness raising on the Convention, Iraq had taken advanced steps: a national centre for human rights had been established, and workshops and seminars had been held targeting State and judicial officials.   The right to seek justice was a right enjoyed by everyone.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, Committee Experts acknowledged the difficult conditions in Iraq, especially in the context of terrorist activities conducted by the so-called Islamic State, and expressed appreciation for the Government’s willingness to engage with the human rights treaty bodies.  Numerous questions were asked about the matter of forced confessions and their use as evidence in courts.  Experts also wanted to know about the number of prosecuted cases of torture and whether any State officials had been held responsible for that.   Questions were asked about visits to prisons by human rights organizations, conditions in prisons and, in particular, the treatment of women prisoners, the role of the Supreme Judiciary Council, non-refoulement and the treatment of foreign detainees, and human rights training for judges and State officials.

Mr. Al-Janabi, in concluding remarks, said that this had been the first report on the fight against torture prepared by Iraq.  Preparing and presenting the report had provided the Iraqi Government with an opportunity to cooperate closely with the Committee and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  It was hoped that the recommendations by the Committee would help the Government work on the improvement of human rights, and the Committee’s technical assistance in that regard would be welcome.  The Committee’s expertise could help the Iraqi authorities make further progress in the field of human rights, and in particular in combatting acts of torture.

The delegation of Iraq included representatives of the Ministry of Human Rights, Ministry of Labour, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and the Permanent Mission of Iraq to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 3 August at 10 a.m. to start its consideration of the seventh periodic report of Switzerland (CAT/C/CHE/Q/7). 


Report

The initial report of Iraq can be found here: CAT/C/IRQ/1.  



Presentation of the Report

ABDULKAREEM AL-JANABI, Deputy Minister of Human Rights of Iraq, said that Iraq believed in the role of the international protection mechanisms.  After the fall of the dictatorship in 2003, when efforts had started to establish principles of democracy and pluralism, a national system for human rights had been founded and the Ministry of Human Rights had been established in autumn 2003.  That and other institutions had undertaken important steps towards the protection of human rights across the country; the High Commission for Human Rights and the Court for Human Rights had also been established. Courts for domestic violence had been founded in all appeal courts; three of their judges were women.  The Iraqi Constitution contained provisions on liberties and rights.  The Convention against Torture was the first major international treaty that Iraq had acceded to following the fall of the dictatorship, without any reservations. 

The initial report had been prepared by an inter-sectorial committee, which included various Ministries and courts.  The report had been subject to many revisions, and was published on the Ministry of Human Rights website for a month.  Non-governmental organizations had thus had a chance to comment and be involved in the preparation process.  The Iraqi judiciary had its own vision when it came to the implementation of conventions.  The report included responses to the thematic provisions of the Convention.  Workshops and meetings with relevant international organizations had been held in the process of the preparation of the report.

Iraq had taken a very distinguished initiative, extending an open invitation to Special Procedures in 2010.  Visits had been conducted to Iraq in that framework.  Concerning awareness raising on the Convention, Iraq had taken advanced steps: a national centre for human rights had been established, and workshops and seminars had been held targeting State and judicial officials.  A governmental programme had been adapted to the current Iraqi circumstances, avoiding some of the mistakes committed in the past.  The Iraqi people had been suffering from terrorism, which had targeted numerous civilian objects.  The peak had been reached in the summer of 2014, when the terrorist group Daesh had conducted attacks against State forces, committing brutal crimes which amounted to crimes against humanity and genocide.  Daesh had executed religious leaders who had refused to pledge allegiance to them, buried people alive, enslaved and sold women, whipped people in public, etc.  Iraq was thus at the very first frontline in the fight against terrorism. 

Iraq knew that the Committee was aware of the daunting challenges faced by Iraq.  The delegation appreciated the technical support of the Committee with the establishment of its national human rights system.

DINDAR ZEBARI, representing the Kurdistan Regional Government, said that his region hosted a high number of refugees and displaced persons.  The rights given by God to people could not be alienated; all acts of torture violated such rights and went against the dignity of human beings.  Torture should not be committed against those arrested.  The right to seek justice was a right enjoyed by everyone, so anyone could complain of being exposed to torture.  The Ministry of the Interior and other relevant bodies took steps against persons alleged to have been involved in acts of torture.  Regular visits were paid to the places of detention with the view of ascertaining conditions of prisoners and talking to prisoners held there.  No person could be detained by the Ministry of the Interior without the approval of a competent court, Mr. Zebari stressed.  The Kurdistan Regional Government welcomed the accession of Iraq to the Convention, and emphasized its commitment to carry out its provisions, especially under the difficult circumstances through which Iraq as a whole was currently passing.


Questions by Experts 

ALESSIO BRUNI, Committee Expert serving as Country Rapporteur for Iraq, asked whether the provisions of the Convention had been incorporated in the national legislation.  Was there a definition of torture in the Iraqi penal code?  What did the Iraqi authorities intend to do in that regard?  A legislative initiative was urgent and necessary in order to have the definition of torture fully in line with Article 1 of the Convention.

On the Iraqi judicial system, the Expert wanted to know more about the election and functions of the Supreme Judicial Council.  The Council had the power to investigate the misconduct of judges and take disciplinary measures when appropriate, but it had failed to investigate allegations of torture during judicial procedures.  Who exercised administrative oversight over the Federal Court of Cassation?

Execution rates in Iraq were among the highest in the world, the Expert noted, which was a matter of grave concern.  Could the delegation comment on the recommendation by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq that Iraq introduce a moratorium on the death penalty? Were there plans, at least, to restrict it just for the gravest crimes?

Was the State party considering accepting the competencies of the Committee to consider individual complaints?

Was the person arrested notified immediately of the reason of his arrest, in a language he understood?  Could he inform his family or another person of his choice of his arrest?
Could the detainee be given access to a doctor of his own choice?  In a number of cases, defendants did not have medical reports to substantiate their claims of having been tortured in detention, as they had had no access to doctors.

Thousands of detainees in Iraq were reported to be held in secret detention, which made inspections of such places impossible.  Some detainees were allegedly held for up to 10 years.  Officials had responded to the allegations that they were still transitioning from dictatorship.  What was being done in concrete terms to stop the security forces abuses?
Had any official been punished for such offences?

There were more than 45,000 inmates, while the official capacity of the Iraqi system was just above 20,000.  What had the Government done to resolve the problems of overcrowding?  What was the maximum duration of solitary confinement?  The Expert wanted to know why the National Human Rights Commission could not visit prisons without prior announcement.  Concrete examples of the application of the Commission’s recommendations were sought.

What was being done about all the allegations of torture in practical terms, the Expert inquired.  How many deaths in custody had been recorded?

The Expert asked about the right of the Governorates to expel any foreigners who had entered Iraq illegally.  Did such persons have access to an appeal system? Did the judicial authorities deal with persons in danger of being tortured if deported to other countries, and which criteria were used in that process?

On the issue of the former residents of the Ashraf Camp, the Expert asked about the people still residing in the temporary Hourriah Camp.  Were they protected from refoulement, so that their safety could be ensured?

ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Expert serving as Country Rapporteur for Iraq, stated that human rights training for State officials was not part of a consistent, comprehensive strategy.  The police, doctors and judges might not be very well informed of the Convention, as some of them might be trained and others not.  A lack of proper training and the scattering of efforts were persistent problems.  Such a scattering of responsibilities was not in the interest of promoting the rule of law in the State party.

There were no independent mechanisms of investigating allegations of torture, and outcomes were not known, the Expert said.  Impunity in absolute terms was just present.   The fact that detainees did not have the right to a lawyer during preliminary investigations was rather worrisome.  Investigations took place behind closed doors in police stations. 

Some trials on terrorism charges had reportedly lasted for several minutes only, with death penalties executed shortly afterwards.  More information was sought.

Iraqi women seemed to be paying the highest price under such difficult circumstances.  They often did not submit their complaints, as the complaint system did not operate as it should. 

The issue of compensation was also raised by the Expert.  Further information was sought about transitional institutions dealing with compensation.  What categories of persons would they encompass and for which period of time?  Transitional justice provided a possibility to a country to reconcile with itself, the Expert commended.

The sentencing of persons was based on confessions, which often led to the death penalty being applied.  That was a matter of serious concern, said the Expert.

Iraqi women who were raped or sold by Daesh should be provided with protection and rehabilitation by the State party.

Another Expert raised the issue of access of detainees to medical doctors, especially in the early stages, before the evidence disappeared.  Would the State party take steps to ensure that detainees could see a doctor from the moment of detention? No signs of torture did not mean that torture had not taken place, the Expert said.  What were the reporting lines of medical doctors conducting examinations of detainees?

Could the State party provide statistics on how many detainees had alleged torture and how many medical examinations had taken place as a result?

The question of the situation at the grassroots level was brought up by an Expert.  Was the State party protecting its citizens in practice?  

The prohibition of torture was absolute and universal, the Expert said.  To what degree were human rights guarantees inbuilt in the law on terrorism?

Were judges trained to identify cases of torture with or without medical certificates?

Another Expert said that the situation in the country was alarming, including beatings, sexual assaults, and serious cases of torture which were not investigated.  No officials seem to have been prosecuted for acts of torture, which probably numbered thousands.

The numbers of women in prisons were not much different from those of male prisoners.  There had been reports that women visited by human rights defenders had demonstrated broken noses, bones, burns and other bodily injuries.  They were often forced to provide testimonies about their relatives or neighbours.

Most convictions seemed to be based on forced confessions behind closed doors.  While Iraqi law prohibited arbitrary detention and guaranteed access to counsel, the practice was different.  Was there a way out of this situation?  The criminal justice system was not functioning; it was meant to protect human rights, but it violated them instead, especially the rights of women.

How was it proven in courts that confessions had not been given under torture, an Expert inquired.  Injuries could sometimes not be conclusively attributed to torture, he added. 

Another Expert wanted to know more about the impact of the fact that the draft report had been posted on the Government website.  Had any changes been made as a result of it?  Had anyone asked for statistics, and did the delegation have any with it now?

The Expert wanted to know about the number of persons charged with offences of torture under the 1969 Iraqi Penal Code.

The issue of the protection of rape victims was also raised.  What could the Government do now to deal with the issue of rape, prosecuting perpetrators and protecting victims?  If the rapist married his victim, could he still go free?  How about the so-called honour crimes?

More information was sought about the status of private shelters for women victims of domestic violence? Had the hotline ever been used?

The Expert asked about the position of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and their treatment by the Government.  Had there been any prosecutions for crimes against that community?  What had the governmental commission for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights done in that regard?

Were investigations of police abuses still being investigated by the Ministry of the Interior?

Another Expert wondered whether there was a minimum and maximum sentence for acts of torture.  Were there examples of sentences handed down?

Referring to the question of refugees, the Expert noted that the Iraqi legislation satisfactorily provided that they were not sent back to a country where they could be tortured.  Nonetheless, there seemed to exist gaps in the legislation, for which a clarification was sought.

An Expert said that the Committee appreciated very difficult circumstances in the State party, especially with the current atrocities being committed by the so-called Islamic State.

What was the delegation’s answer towards allegations that it took a very long time before convicts were brought before a judge, and that they were often tortured in custody?  

Was there anyone in Iraq in prison for torturing another human being?  Had anyone been compensated for being tortured? 

The Expert asked why the State party would not invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, to visit some of the facilities in the vicinity of Baghdad which were alleged to be places of torture?

Trafficking in persons was a modern form of slavery, the Expert said and asked if anyone had been prosecuted for such crimes?

Given that the definition of torture was missing, the State party was expected to undertake a concrete initiative to correct that deficiency, an Expert said.  How could a judge establish an offence for an act which had no definition? How was the penalty decided in such cases?  It was difficult to apply the law for a crime which lacked a definition.

Was Iraq ready to prosecute perpetrators of torture no matter how highly placed they were?

Another Expert commented that the legal system needed to be strengthened in terms of resources – financial and human, but also training and ethics.  The judiciary had to be overhauled if it was going to build trust and gain confidence.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation stressed that Iraq had a strong will to cooperate with all mechanisms of the United Nations, in spite of the numerous difficulties it was facing.  That was why Iraq had started the dialogue with the Committee, while Iraqi people were being targeted by Daesh terrorists in the most atrocious manner.

The number of killed and wounded Iraqi nationals stood in the tens of thousands since 2004.  Iraqi national forces continued to defend the population and human values.  As the result of a fatwa issued in 2014, there had been significant popular mobilization, which now constituted part of the popular defense of Iraq against terrorists. 

Iraq had presented its reports to a number of human rights treaty bodies over the previous two years.  All those activities had been carried out after Daesh had taken over several Iraqi towns and regions.  The current dialogue should help improve the situation of human rights in Iraq. 

The authorities in Iraq categorically rejected all kinds of torture.  If some cases had been carried out, those had been individual occurrences and appropriate actions were taken.  In some mass media, there had seemed to be a preconceived perception of Iraq even before the dialogue had started.  Such reports might undermine the relationship of State parties with human rights treaty bodies. 

The delegation said that there was a draft law on torture which covered all principles, and had been prepared with the help of international partners.  The definition of the crime of torture included any acts causing harm, pain, physical or mental suffering, deliberately inflicted on a person with the view of obtaining from that person information or confession, or punishing him for an act he was believed to have committed.  The draft law also included a definition of cruel or degrading punishment.

It was explained that the Court of Cassation was elected by the Council of Ministers.  The competence of the Supreme Judicial Council included the supervision of all judicial bodies, the delegation said. 

Regarding capital punishment, the delegation said that it existed in Iraqi and many other countries’ legislation, reflecting the conditions prevailing in the society.  The Iraqi legislative system had not yet been able to cancel that punishment.  Iraq should not be compared in that regard with stable, peaceful countries.  The death penalty was applied only to the most dangerous crimes.  Decisions on death penalty were taken meticulously and not in a rushed manner.

The law on foreigners had been adopted in 1978, and was not in line with practical reality.  Administrative detention was now prohibited.  A new draft law on foreigners residing in Iraq was being carefully studied.  The principle of non-refoulement was being practically applied.  No attempts had been undertaken by the Iraqi authorities to expel residents of the former camp Ashraf.  Iraq kept its arms open to those who were in need of safe haven, and remained neutral vis-à-vis events in neighbouring countries.

The Iraqi judiciary was independent, the delegation stressed, and the public prosecution was very serious on following up on cases.  There were, nonetheless, insufficient personnel given the ever-rising number of cases.  Very few judges were graduating and available, which was why the judicial system had not been fully functional.  Decisions taken by judges during investigation or trial were always subject to a review by public prosecutors, including through appeals.  The Directorate for Internal Affairs was another oversight mechanism.

The law did not distinguish between men and women involved in terrorism.  Women were not spared from custody just because they were women.  The number of women in detention centres was far lower than that of men. 

Injured parties could claim compensation for injuries inflicted on them by the State.  Centres for physical and mental rehabilitation were in place, with all costs covered by the State.

The delegation explained that confessions were not the only evidence used by courts to issue judgments.  The right of appeal was possible in criminal courts, where confessions ought to be substantiated by other physical evidence, photographs, audio or video recordings, forensic examinations, etc.  There was no one single case in which a decision had been based solely on confession.

The delegation said that the popular mobilization forces had risen when Iraq had been at the edge of existence.  Without their intervention, the delegation would not have been able to come address the Committee, and their activities could in no way be compared to those of Daesh.

Responding to the questions on safeguards in fighting terrorism, the delegation said that, for example, pregnant women were spared the death penalty until at least four months after the delivery.  There was a long list of existing safeguards.  The delegation emphasized that not a single word in the Iraqi legislation discriminated against any citizens of Iraq based on their religious or ethnic affiliation.

On the question of the means of implementing sentences, a delegate said that the accused was not obliged to respond to questions asked.  Investigators could not resort to illicit means to extract a confession, including cruel treatment, threats, promises or psychological pressure.

Regarding the crimes committed in regions no longer controlled by the Government, it was stated that the Iraqi State documented such crimes, with the idea of bringing them forward for a trial later.

Permanent medical clinics were available in Iraqi prisons.  Periodic medical visits were also organized two times per week.  They were organized by the Ministry of Health, and all detainees were examined. 

The accused could be filmed after the beginning of judicial proceedings, the delegation said. 

The delegation informed that certain prisons had been closed because they had not met international norms and standards.

With regard to the training of police and judicial officers, a delegate said that the National Human Rights Centre was in charge of both basic training and train-the-trainer activities.  The primary goal was strengthening the knowledge and understanding of the culture of human rights.  The need to reject all practices of torture was emphasized.  In 2013, 20 training sessions had been held, with the participation of some 600 people. 

The number of prisoners in the existing prisons was a matter of concern for the State party as well.  The Iraqi Government was investing funds in expanding the penitentiary infrastructure.  In the meantime, preventive and sanitary measures were being taken to avoid contagious diseases, thanks to which larger outbreaks had been avoided. 

All public officials who resorted to cruel or inhuman treatment would be punished, the delegation said.  It was clarified that the article of the Criminal Code on exonerating rapists if they married their victims was no longer implemented.  Honour crimes were not tolerated.

Transitional justice institutions had been created since 2003, and they were looking into violations and crimes committed by the previous regime, including murders.  The suffering of martyrs and their families was taken into consideration.  The State had been looking into the issues of political prisoners since 2006, providing them with necessary redress on the basis of their suffering during detention. 

It was explained that minors were separated from adults in prisons.  They were given clothes and had the right to listen to the radio and watch television. They were allowed to receive the help of lawyers in order to prepare their defence, in private and without being listened to by policemen. 

Follow-up Questions by  Experts

ALESSIO BRUNI, Committee Expert serving as Country Rapporteur for Iraq, asked whether the State party had a timeline for the adoption of the earlier mentioned definition of torture.

There were no investigations at all in cases of torture, the Expert said, as was indicated by UNAMI reports.  What had the Supreme Judicial Council done thus far with judges who had not taken any action in cases of torture?  Had there been any sanctions until today?  Which departments had been guilty of the acts of torture?

What was the plan regarding the ratification of the Refugee Convention, the Expert asked.

Could the national human rights institution visit places of detention without prior announcement?

The Expert inquired whether there was a judicial authority dealing with cases of persons at danger of being tortured if they were deported to other countries.

ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Expert serving as Country Rapporteur for Iraq, returned to the question of the death penalty, saying that a number of persons executed in recent years had had no recourse against the decision.

The Iraqi judiciary system was coherent, but there were gaps in its functioning, the Expert noted.

While the Committee acknowledged that Iraq was going through extremely challenging times, certain elements were missing and could be improved.  Those committing crimes had to be punished, but the question was what was happening during the period of detention, especially at the first stages. 

Another Expert asked about the right of access to medical doctors while being held in police stations.  Which type of doctors could they see? 

In how many cases had allegations of torture been examined by prison doctors and in how many cases had such cases been referred to forensic centres?

The question of the drafting process of the report was brought up by an Expert, who wanted to know about statistics of prosecuted torture cases

Terrible crimes were committed against women by Daesh.   Were there any social  programmes in place to help reintegrate such women? How could it be ensured that such women were not revictimised once released?

The Expert raised the issue of killings of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and asked what had been done to prosecute the perpetrators.

An Expert asked about the text in the domestic legislation banning non-refoulement

Another Expert acknowledged the political will of the State party to engage on pertinent questions in spite of the numerous challenges on the ground.

Could information be provided on distributing identity cards, especially to women? Was there any information on the violence and injustices suffered by women?

An Expert inquired about how many final sentences had been based on confession, and how many had been related to terrorism?

How many cases of torture prosecuted by courts had resulted in sentences, the Expert asked.

Clarification was sought on the access of human rights defenders to places of detention.

Could the delegation comment on the allegations of women prisoners being forced into prostitution or being trafficked

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that the Ministry of Human Rights issued yearly reports on monitoring and surveillance of prisons.  All the views made by competent authorities on the allegations of torture were included there. 

The presentation of Iraq’s report to CEDAW had led to many observations and recommendations, based on which the Government was finalizing an action plan on women.

A delegate explained that in early 2015, 520 prison staff and officers had received training on inmate rights within the Kurdistan Region. 

The Regional Government counted the total number of escaped and returned Yazidi women at 670.  The Government had paid substantial portions of its budget as ransom to secure the release of hundreds of Yazidi women. 

In  Kurdistan, the punishment for honour killings had been increased in 2002, and they were now considered willful murders.  The General Directorate for Violence against Women was active in Kurdistan; in 2012-2013, 36 men had been brought to justice for committing acts of violence against women.  The legal minimum quota of female parliamentarians had been increased from 25 to 30 per cent of the legislature.

Regarding conditions of prisons, the delegation stated that prisons and detention facilities in Kurdistan were open for investigation and examination by international organizations and local non-governmental organizations.  A new milestone law in Kurdistan provided for compensation to those who had been wrongfully detained.

The delegation informed that the law surrounding the death penalty was currently under review by the Kurdistan Parliament.  The current Amnesty Law had seen thousands of prisoners granted bail and thousands more had had their sentences reduced substantially. 

In order to address the issue of overcrowding of prisons in Kurdistan, five more prisons had been constructed, and there were plans to build more in all towns within the Kurdistan region.  Another solution was sending inmates to rehabilitation centres by a court order. 

On the issues of prison visits by human rights organizations, a delegate said that, for the time being, prior authorization was required for such visits. 

The Shura Council would review the draft text on torture, after which it would be submitted to the Council of Ministers and then to the Parliament.  It was difficult to provide an exact timeline.

There was no information on judges being held accountable for failing to prosecute cases of torture.  No information was available on public officials being prosecuted for torture.  Judicial processes were very long, which could be understood in the context of the situation in the country. 

The High Commission for Human Rights was an independent institution, the delegation said.

The delegation informed that a constitutional text prohibited the extradition of political refugees or any persons whose lives would be in danger in their countries of origin.
If a crime of torture was committed in Iraq or a person was on the Iraqi territory after committing a crime of torture abroad, an investigation could be carried out within Iraq.

Concluding Remarks

ABDULKAREEM AL-JANABI, Deputy Minister of Human Rights of Iraq, said that this had been the first report on the fight against torture prepared by Iraq.  It provided the Iraqi Government with an opportunity to cooperate closely with the Committee and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  It was hoped that the recommendations by the Committee would help the Government work on the improvement of human rights, and the Committee’s technical assistance in that regard was welcome.  The Committee’s expertise could help the Iraqi authorities make further progress in the field of human rights and in particular in combatting acts of torture.

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairman, said that the Committee valued the delegation’s input and comments. 


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