Thousands of people were detained; hundreds were sentenced to death or prison terms, many after unfair trials and on terrorism-related charges. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained rife and were committed with impunity. Hundreds of prisoners were on death row. At least 129 people were executed, including at least three women. Armed groups opposed to the government continued to commit gross human rights abuses, killing hundreds of civilians in suicide and other bomb attacks. Harassment, intimidation and violence against journalists and media workers continued to be reported. Over 67,000 refugees from Syria sought safety in Iraq.
The political stalemate in parliament continued to stifle the legislative progress, preventing, among other things, the adoption of an amnesty law. Political tensions were exacerbated by the arrest of scores of people associated with Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, who fled from Baghdad after he was accused of organizing death squads. In December 2011 Iraqi television broadcast “confessions” by detainees reported to have worked for him as bodyguards, who said they had been paid by the Vice-President to commit killings. The Vice-President evaded capture but was charged, tried and sentenced to death in his absence in September, together with his son-in-law, Ahmad Qahtan, in connection with the murder of a woman lawyer and government official. They received further death sentences in their absence in November and December following further trials.
Relations between the Baghdad authorities and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) remained fraught due to differences over the distribution of oil revenues and the continuing dispute over internal boundaries.
Young people, particularly those seen locally as nonconformists, were subject to a campaign of intimidation after flyers and signs targeting them appeared in the Baghdad neighbourhoods of Sadr City, al-Hababiya and Hay al-‘Amal in February. Those targeted included youths suspected of homosexual conduct and those seen as pursuing an alternative lifestyle because of their distinctive hairstyles, clothes or musical tastes.
In March, the League of Arab States held its summit meeting in Baghdad for the first time since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Prior to the meeting, the security forces carried out mass arrests in Baghdad, apparently as a “preventive” measure.
In April, parliament approved the establishment of an Independent High Commission for Human Rights.
In December, tens of thousands of mostly Sunni Iraqis began holding peaceful daily anti-government protests against the abuse of detainees. The unrest was triggered by the detention of several bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafi’e al-Issawi, a senior Sunni political leader, and by allegations of sexual and other abuse of women detainees. Parliamentary committees delegated to examine these allegations reached conflicting conclusions.Top of page
Armed groups opposed to the government continued to commit gross human rights abuses, including indiscriminate killings of civilians.
Torture and other ill-treatment were common and widespread in prisons and detention centres, particularly those controlled by the Ministries of the Interior and Defence, and were committed with impunity. Methods included suspension by the limbs for long periods, beatings with cables and hosepipes, the infliction of electric shocks, breaking of limbs, partial asphyxiation with plastic bags, and sexual abuse including threats of rape. Torture was used to extract information from detainees and “confessions” that could be used as evidence against them at trial.
Deaths in custody
Several detainees died in custody in circumstances suggesting that torture or other ill-treatment caused or contributed to their deaths.
The authorities arrested and detained hundreds of people on terrorism charges for their alleged participation in bomb and other attacks on security forces and civilians. Many alleged that they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in pre-trial detention and were convicted and sentenced after unfair trials. In some cases, the authorities allowed Iraqi television stations to broadcast footage of detainees making self-incriminating statements before they were brought to trial, gravely prejudicing their right to a fair trial. Some were subsequently sentenced to death. The Ministry of Interior paraded detainees before press conferences at which they “confessed”. The Ministry also regularly uploaded detainees’ “confessions” on its YouTube channel.
As in previous years, many, possibly hundreds, of people were sentenced to death, swelling the number of prisoners on death row. Most were convicted on terrorism-related charges. Ramadi’s Tasfirat Prison held 33 prisoners sentenced to death during the first half of the year, 27 of whom had been convicted on terrorism charges. Trials consistently failed to meet international standards of fairness; many defendants alleged that they were tortured during interrogation in pre-trial detention and forced to “confess”.
At least 129 prisoners were executed, more than in any year since executions resumed in 2005. The authorities sometimes carried out multiple executions; 34 prisoners were executed in one day in January and 21 prisoners, including three women, were executed in one day in August. In September at least 18 women were reported to be on death row in a prison in the al-Kadhemiya district of Baghdad.
The process of gradually relocating some 3,200 Iranian political exiles from Camp New Iraq (formerly “Camp Ashraf”) to Hurriya Transit Center (“Camp Liberty”), north-east of Baghdad, began in February and was nearly completed at the end of the year. They were long-term residents of Iraq and most were members or supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. They accused Iraqi security forces of attacking some of them while they were being relocated and criticized living conditions at Camp Liberty. In July, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, publicly urged the international community to offer resettlement places or other forms of humanitarian admission to the residents of Camp Liberty.
The worsening conflict in neighbouring Syria impacted heavily on Iraq. Over 67,000 refugees from Syria crossed into Iraq, mostly after 18 July, and mostly entering the Kurdistan Region. Thousands of Iraqi refugees returned from Syria. In October, the Iraqi authorities violated international law by closing al-Qaem border crossing to refugees fleeing Syria, except in emergency cases. Following an earlier closure in August, restricted access had been allowed.Top of page
Tension between the KRG and the central government in Baghdad remained high. In June, Kurdistan’s parliament adopted a general amnesty law applicable to the Kurdistan region. The amnesty law excluded prisoners convicted of “honour” killings, rape, terrorism and drug trafficking crimes.
The KRG authorities continued to target some who spoke out against official corruption or expressed dissent. Incidents of torture or other ill-treatment continued to be reported.