Iraq: NGOs concerned about detainees' rights

News and Press Release
Originally published
BAGHDAD, 17 November 2008 (IRIN) - Local NGOs are concerned about the rights of detainees in US military custody due to be transferred to the Iraqi authorities in 2009 in line with a draft US-Iraqi security pact.

"There are fears among human rights activists, NGOs and parliamentarians about what the situation of these detainees will look like when they are transferred to the Iraqi authorities," Iraqi activist Basil al-Azawi said.

"As parliament represents the Iraqi people, it should act in line with the interests of Iraqis... Absolute justice must be achieved and Iraqi and international laws must be implemented when dealing with those detainees in Iraqi prisons," he told IRIN.

Al-Azawi, who heads the Baghdad-based Commission for Civil Society Enterprises, an umbrella group of over 1,000 NGOs, urged parliament to amend the agreement to ensure the rights of the detainees.

"A suitable life inside the prisons must be guaranteed according to the Iraqi constitution and law. More visits to Iraqi prisons must be allowed by international and local human rights activists, and the treatment [of prisoners] must not be based on their sectarian background," he said.

On 16 November, the Iraqi government concluded nearly seven months of negotiations with the US government on a 30-article draft agreement which sets the dates for the gradual handover of sovereignty to Iraqis, the withdrawal of all US forces from Iraqi cities by the end of June 2009, and their withdrawal from the entire country by January 2012.

Parliament is expected to start discussions on the agreement on 17 November and vote on it. If approved by parliament, it will be sent to Iraq's three-man presidential council to be ratified.

It is due to come into force on 1 January 2009 as the UN mandate for the US-led troops in Iraq expires on 31 December.

At a press conference on 16 November in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the Iraqi judiciary "will utter its final say" on the fate of these detainees when they are transferred.

"The Iraqi judiciary will review their files, release anyone who has not been convicted, and further detain those who have been convicted," al-Dabbagh said.

Human Rights Watch

A clause in the draft agreement, which stipulates that anyone detained by US forces must be handed over to the Iraqi authorities within 24 hours, faced criticism by international NGOs.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based human rights watchdog, on 29 October called on the US government to ensure that the detainees under its control in Iraq would be given the right to contest any transfer, and that the conditions in Iraqi detention facilities would be verified before any transfer.

"Since the United States made itself synonymous with abuse of detainees in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib scandal, the least it can do now is ensure that a security agreement does not pave the way for further abuse," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.

HRW said there were about 17,000 detainees in US-run prisons in Iraq. Most are Iraqis but there are also some other Arabs or foreigners who took part in the Sunni insurgency.