Thousands of Iraqi women illegally detained on suspicion of terrorism - HRW
The Voice of Russia
February 9, 2014
Thousands of women are being illegally held by Iraqi authorities and are subject to torture, rape and threats to their family. This comes from a Human Rights Watch report released on Thursday. The report has more than a hundred pages and explorers the extent to which such cases of abuse occur. The majority of more than 4,000 women detained in Interior and Defense Ministry facilities are Sunni, but the abuses the report documents affect women of all sects and classes of the Iraqi society. Erin Evers, Iraq Researcher of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, comments.
One of the women talking to the Human Rights Watch said that Iraqi women do not know who they fear more, Al-Qaeda or SWAT-Special Weapons And Tactics units. Why, in your opinion, it is ever possible that thousands of women are subject to such terrible treatment in Iraq?
That goes actually not from one of the woman that I interviewed but from a Fallujah resident. But I think that it definitely gets one of the major issues that the report highlights, which is that the counterterrorism measures that the Government is using in order to counter the terrorist threat in Iraq is actually harming innocent civilians more than it seems to be actually tackling terrorism.
And it was definitely born out in our interviews with women in prisons, particularly the women who are detained on the suspicion of terrorism. Because the Iraqi antiterrorism law is so broadly defined, we found that women were frequently detained simply for their relationships to somebody who is suspected of terrorism as opposed to for acts they�ve actually committed.
Last year Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki promised to reform the criminal justice system. However, some say that things have not improved since then. What can be done to protect the rights of women in Iraq?
I think the Government needs to make good on the promises that it made over a year ago. That is really the only solution. That is the only solution both to protect women�s rights and to protect the security of Iraqis at large. Back in January 2013, when the issue of illegal detentions of women and abuses of women in detention first gained publicity, Maliki responded in a great way by forming committees through which he promised that women who are illegally detained will be released and that there will be investigations into the allegations of torture and abuse, and perpetrators will be held accountable.
We haven�t found any evidence that any of that has taken place. And again in the current situation we are seeing the results of that right now. I saw a video just last week of an Al Qaeda or ISIS operative (now it is kind of unclear which is which) entering Ramadi and saying to people in Ramadi � how can we just stand by while our women�s screams in prisons go unheard, how can we stand by while our women and children are being imprisoned. And to me this is really heartbreaking, because you basically have militant groups exploiting the abuse that the Government has exposed the population to in order to strengthen themselves. Whilst had the Government met on its promises of over a year ago and actually carried out reforms, I think we wouldn�t be seeing this serious security deterioration that we are seeing now.
It really sounds like women are caught in the middle here. You have militants groups on the one hand and Government�s special police forces on the other, and there is no one really to turn to. But in your opinion, what is the most challenging aspect of working for women�s rights in Muslim countries?
That�s a good question. It hard to generalize for Muslim countries, I can really answer through my experience in Iraq. On the one hand, we wanted to publicize this information because we hope that it will lead to some kind of justice. On the other hand, if women are seen or found out to have been talking to us either by Government forces or, perhaps by militant groups, you could be put at risk. And that�s a big challenge for us. We want to do more good than harm, obviously.
So, that�s why to answer that question I can�t really speak about challenges in other countries. But I think in general the real retrograde direction of women�s rights in Iraq in general definitely makes it harder, because women have less opportunity socially and politically than they did several decades ago and even before the occupation that started in 2003.