Erica Goode / New York Times & United Nations Press Office – 2008-03-18 00:59:40
As Attacks Lessen, UN Stresses Human Rights
Erica Goode / New York Times
BAGHDAD (March 16, 2008) — The United Nations called on the Iraqi government and the United States Saturday to take advantage of a period of reduced attacks to address the human rights problems that plague Iraq, including violence against civilians, abuse of detainees, persecution of women and ethnic minorities, and a lack of food and shelter for displaced people.
In a new human rights report, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq noted some progress, including “a marked decrease in violent attacks involving mass casualties” from July to December, the period covered in the report. It applauded the Iraqi government’s decision to ratify the UN convention against torture and the government’s efforts to alleviate overcrowding in prisons, and it took note of new judicial safeguards for detainees.
But “even with improvements, this is not enough,” said Staffan de Mistura, the UN special representative to Iraq.
Among the concerns cited in the report are an increase in the number of juveniles held in detention, the so-called honor killings of women in the northern Kurdish region, the killing of civilians by private security contractors — among them, the shooting of 17 Iraqis by employees of Blackwater in Nisour Square in September — and “continuing reports of the widespread and routine torture or ill treatment of detainees, particularly those being held in pretrial detention facilities.”
At the end of December, according to the report, 51,133 people were being held in prisons across Iraq, either for security reasons or because of crimes, including 24,661 by the US authorities, 16,607 by Iraq’s Justice Ministry and 3,673 by the Interior Ministry.
Among other recommendations, the report urged the Americans to allow human rights monitors to visit detainee camps, something the Iraqi government already allows. And, noting that legal consequences have yet to result from the Blackwater episode, the report calls for private contractors to be prosecuted when they kill civilians.
Past human rights reports by the United Nations have included overall statistics on the deaths of Iraqi civilians, but the Iraqi Health Ministry now refuses to provide such figures, said Said Arikat, a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq.
De Mistura attributed a drop in violence in Baghdad and in other areas of Iraq from October to December of last year to three factors: an increase in US troops; the cease-fire called by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr; and what he characterized as “a feeling of tiredness” among Iraqis and an increasing realization “that violence has not produced anything except violence.”
The Iraqi government has been critical of some previous human rights reports by the United Nations. But government officials did not offer any response to an earlier draft of the report — a silence that de Mistura said he was inclined to interpret as a positive development.
In the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, human rights abuses have included the arrest of journalists who have written unfavorable articles about the government, the detainment of people for long periods without their being charged, and the killing of women for adultery or other transgressions. Other women have died, possibly in suicides, “typically by burning, to protest spousal abuse or after disputes with family members, while others were found shot dead,” the report said.
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UNAMI Issues its 12th Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Iraq
United Nations Press Office
BAGHDAD (15 March 2008) — The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) issued its twelfth report on the human rights situation in the country covering the period 1 July — 31 December 2007. The report recognizes that the last three months of 2007 were characterized by a marked decrease in violent attacks involving mass casualties, including suicide attacks and car bombings.
The report notes the enormous challenges the Government of Iraq continued to face during the reporting period in its efforts to bring sectarian violence and other criminal activity under control against a backdrop of political instability and stalled efforts in revitalizing a national reconciliation process.
UNAMI cautions that, “as security improved in parts of Baghdad and other locations, it deteriorated elsewhere with heightened activity by insurgent groups and others in governorates such as Mosul and Diyala.” Armed groups and militia continue to target civilians or attack densely populated residential areas systematically and deliberately, causing horrific suffering.
The twelfth Quarterly Human Rights Report welcomes measures taken by the Government of Iraq and the judicial authorities to improve the handling of detainees, including efforts to ensure more effective judicial oversight and alleviate overcrowding.
Additional and sustained efforts are needed, however, to address continuing prolonged delays in reviewing detainee cases; the lack of timely and adequate access to defense counsel for suspects; the failure to promptly and thoroughly investigate credible allegations of torture and to institute criminal proceedings against officials responsible for abusing detainees.
UNAMI also recognizes the positive measures taken by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to address a range of human rights issues. However, the detention of suspects for indefinite periods without charge remains of serious concern.
The plight of women across Iraq requires urgent measures to combat both gender-based violence, including so-called honor crimes, and to assist women who have been displaced with their children as a result of violent attacks perpetrated by armed groups and the sectarian violence in many parts of the country.
The MNF authorities introduced measures designed to improve the handling of detainees’ cases by expediting reviews and decisions on releases. However, UNAMI’s long-standing concerns with respect to due process rights of detainees within the legal framework adopted by the MNF remained unaddressed, and large numbers of juvenile detainees remain in MNF custody.
UNAMI also remained concerned about civilian deaths resulting from actions by private security contractors and in the course of military operations conducted by the MNF-I.
Finally, UNAMI welcomes the Iraqi Government’s decision to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture.
• UN Humanitarian Briefing Fact Sheets on Iraq. April 2005-October 2007.