The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) released its latest human rights report for Iraq covering the first half of 2009. The U.N. noted the decrease in violence in Iraq, but that there were still deaths everyday in the country. More importantly, it recorded continued institutional abuses in the justice system, and reminders of the old regime.
The number of deaths and unidentified bodies found are down greatly. In the last half of 2008 for example, 434 people were found dead in the streets, compared to 210 in the first six months of 2009. There were still daily attacks, but the U.N. made an important observation that it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell political violence from ones involving crime, especially because many gangs also work as militias and insurgents. The major targets in Iraq are the security forces, government officials, professionals, Sons of Iraq (SOI) members, and tribal leaders. Two generals were killed and one escaped a car bombing during the first half of 2009, along with four SOI leaders killed or wounded in four areas in Diyala.
Iraq’s minorities are also targets. Yazidis, Sabeans, Shabaks and Christians claim that their numbers have been drastically reduced because of the violence, with many becoming refugees. Yazidis say their population went from 500,000 before the war to 300,000 now. Sabeans reported 35,000 followers in 2003, and 7,000-8,000 now. There were 1.4 million Christians in the 1987 census, and they now believe there are only 500,000-800,000. All of these groups complain about being arrested by the Kurdish security forces, and being pressured to vote for pro-Kurdish parties.
With the dramatic decrease in militant activity, cultural and institutional abuses are gaining more prominence. UNAMI has been focusing upon women’s issues for the last year or two, concentrating upon the Kurdistan region. The U.N has found continued honor killings and suicides due to abuses there. Few of these cases are ever reported to the police, as they are considered family matters. Journalists also say they face regular harassment by the security forces and politicians’ bodyguards. One NGO reported 64 cases of abuse in 3 days in Baghdad, Basra, Babil, and Anbar. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has also arrested and convicted journalists for criticizing the authorities.
Most importantly the U.N. reports that Iraq’s justice system remains overwhelmed by the number of detainees, and its reliance upon confessions leads to widespread abuses. From January to June 2009 the number of prisoners held by the government increased from 27,466 to 29,871. Detainees are regularly held for long periods of time without charges or seeing a lawyer. Torture and beatings are common, and this includes against children held. That led to a series of protests by prisoners in June 2009 against corruption, lack of trials, and abuses in Maysan and Qadisiyah provinces. That same month, the Interior Minister announced that 43 police officers were going to be prosecuted for abuses. Similar conditions and treatment are also prevalent in Kurdistan. UNAMI interviewed people who were held for 5 years or more in the region without charges or trials, while noting that the KRG has begun a program to renovate and improve conditions in its prisons.
Finally, the authorities are finding remains of the Saddam era. In May and June 2009 dozens of mass graves were found in Qadisiyah, Najaf, Basra, Karbala, and Tamim. Most of those contained hundreds of Kurdish victims of Saddam’s Anfal campaign, while two sites were found in Karbala that had Kuwaiti prisoners of war that were killed during the Gulf War. The Ministry of Human Rights believes that they may be 270 unopened mass graves throughout the country.
Iraq remains a troubled nation. The insurgency has been largely defeated, but there are still terrorist attacks everyday that continue to take a human toll. With the fighting largely over, other problems are coming to the fore including overcrowding and abuses in Iraqi prisons and the justice system, lack of rights for women, and limits on press freedom. This shows that Iraq remains a fragile, developing state, with a large terrorist threat.
United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, “Human Rights Report 1 January – 30 June 2009,” 12/15/09