Abadi Must Demonstrate Commitment to Justice for Iraqis | The Center for Victims of Torture

Abadi Must Demonstrate Commitment to Justice for Iraqis

Friday, March 24, 2017

Marie Soueid is CVT policy counsel.

Not everybody knows that today is the 6th annual International Day for the Right to Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims. Thinking about this day has caused me to reflect about Iraq. I have been asking myself this question:  What steps must Iraq and its external partners take to establish truth and justice in a dignified manner for victims across the country?

Haidar al-Abadi, the Iraqi Prime Minister was recently in the United States primarily for discussions on countering ISIS or the Islamic State. However, during an appearance at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on Monday afternoon, the victims of ISIS and anti-ISIS troops were very much on the agenda. The Iraqi Prime Minister has repeatedly shown his desire to at least publicly acknowledge the need for justice and accountability for Iraqi victims of both ISIS and other militant actors—including his own military. Because a pattern of abusive behavior does not only stem from ISIS and counter-ISIS measures, Abadi should extend human rights and humanitarian law training to state actors in all provinces and localities and work toward justice for victims across the country.

Individuals and families from all over Iraq have sought refuge in Jordan over the past 10 years. The Center for Victims of Torture began extending rehabilitative care to Iraqis in Amman in 2008. Significantly, beginning in 2014, the numbers of Iraqis seeking CVT’s services rose once again. Victims recount instances of brutal torture, kidnapping, home raids, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance, which CVT has detailed in 2016 reports. They come from Basra, Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk, Ramadi, Tikrit, Fallujah and small villages across the country. They are Sunni, Shia, Christian, Sabaean-Mandaean and Yazidi, among others. Often, they can’t specify their perpetrators, but they know the local government actors are either complicit or powerless to stop the perpetrating militias. More importantly, survivors sit together in group counseling sessions and discuss the most violent acts perpetrated against them with Iraqis of various religious and ethnic backgrounds—expressing trust in both fellow Iraqis and their Jordanian counselors. The experiences they share can stem as far back as the 1970s. Young Iraqis can’t recall stable peacetime, just lulls in an ongoing series of wars or attacks. These victims, too, deserve the truth and justice that Prime Minister Abadi discussed. 

Encouraging signs of progress on the protection and promotion of human rights have emerged in the past several months. Credible efforts are even being made to uncover the truth about enforced disappearance during the Saddam Hussein regime and bring closure to the families. There are reports that Iraq is pursuing investigations of war crimes and human rights violations among its own counter-ISIS forces. In his opening remarks at USIP, the Prime Minister reiterated his intention to continue such investigations and hold all sides to account for violations. Iraqi counter-ISIS forces are receiving training on the laws of war—or international humanitarian law—and making serious efforts to enforce it in their military campaign.

It is high time to move past mere rhetoric and to implement concrete steps toward holistic justice. The opportunities to make serious commitments are available and practical. At the United Nations, Iraq’s Prime Minister could give the Security Council the green light to a UK-penned resolution to investigate ISIS’s crimes in Iraq.  He acknowledged the resolution in his answer to a question at USIP, but fell short of promising his support. Victims of genocide, forced conversions, sexual violence and slavery await this important step. But the Prime Minister can go a step further and promote justice for all Iraqis—including those who have been victimized by militias allied with his troops or acting as criminal gangs in various localities—recognizing their shared humanity. He can instruct local prosecutors and police to document and investigate all credible instances of torture or enforced disappearances reported to them, regardless of the identity of the victims or perpetrators. Support from local human rights and victims’ groups as well as international experts in such investigations should be welcomed.

In doing so, his first step should be to acknowledge the right of all Iraqis to truth by mandating investigations of torture, enforced disappearance, sexual and gender-based violence and other gross violations of human rights by independent and impartial investigators in the whole country, regardless of who the perpetrators may be. If Prime Minister Abadi continues to pursue the integration of militias whose units have perpetrated gross violations of human rights, he must simultaneously ensure that those units are held to account, or U.S. aid to those units should be cut off in accordance with U.S. law until there are credible steps toward accountability.

Training on international humanitarian law to units engaged in the fight against ISIS is an important step. This training should be expanded across Iraqi military and associated forces, and training on human rights and the role of state actors in protecting human rights should be extended to arms of the state most present in the everyday lives of Iraqis—police and local officials. When Iraqis discuss their torture or enforced disappearance with CVT, they often describe being turned away or laughed at by local police who tell them nothing can be done. This is unacceptable. Justice should be equally extended to victims from Mosul to Basra, including victims of the Saddam Hussein regime from the Anfal campaign to the Iran-Iraq war, ISIS atrocities and Iraqi military and pro-government militia abuses.

Prime Minister Abadi seems keen to promote a national Iraqi identity, one based on dignity for Iraqis of all religious and ethnic groups. He expressed his hope that Iraqis will be able to return to their homes, particularly those most recently displaced. Assurances of their protection and respect for their rights to life, truth and dignity are preconditions for their return. Rhetorical guarantees are important, but serious pursuit of investigations and prosecutions conducted in accordance with international law, regardless of the identity or affiliation of the victims and perpetrators, can prove the sincerity of the Prime Minister’s words. 



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