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Iraq: UN human rights report voices concern over conduct of ISIL fighter trials

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UN Special Representative Hennis-Plasschaert visits Sinjar on the fifth anniversary of the gross atrocities committed by ISIL terrorists against Iraq’s Yazidi community. (August 2019) UNAMI PIO/Sarmad As-Safy

A new UN report published on Tuesday shows that while considerable effort has been made by Iraqi authorities to bring former ISIL terrorist fighters to justice, there are “serious concerns” about the fairness of the proceedings. 

The joint report by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN human rights office found that basic fair trial standards were not respected in terrorism-related trials, thus placing defendants at a serious disadvantage. 

“A fair and just criminal justice system is a central element to the democratic way of life, and key to building trust and legitimacy, and promoting and protecting human rights”, said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.  

“Those responsible for widespread atrocities against the Iraqi population must be held to account for their crimes, and it is important that the victims see that justice is delivered. At the same time, those accused have the right to a fair trial, and these standards must be strictly applied.” 

Nearly 800 trials monitored 

The terrorist group ISIL, most commonly referred to in Arabic as Daesh, waged a campaign of widespread violence against the Iraqi population between June 2014 and December 2017, holding large swathes of territory across the country, as well as northern Syria, until its military defeat. 

Fighters committed atrocities, including mass murder, abductions, sexual slavery and destruction, which may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide. 

The report is based on independent monitoring of 794 criminal court trials mainly involving ISIL defendants held in eight Iraqi provinces from 1 May 2018 through 31 October 2019. The majority of the hearings, 619, concerned people facing anti-terrorism charges. 

Overreliance on confessions 

While proceedings were generally orderly and well organized, with judges who were routinely prepared with investigation files, UN human rights officers found defendants had ineffective legal representation and limited possibilities to present or challenge evidence. 

Prosecutions mainly focused on “association” or “membership” of a terrorist organization, with no distinction being made between people who participated in violence and those who joined ISIL for their own survival, or through coercion. 

For example, UNAMI observed a trial in Erbil where the wife of an ISIL fighter was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment based on an informer’s evidence that she used to cook meals for her husband and other fighters.   

In another case, a 14-year-old boy in Baghdad was condemned to 15 years in jail based on the admission that his family was among civilians forced to act as “human shields” to protect ISIL fighters from aerial attack. 

Furthermore, the report stated “the over-reliance on confessions, with frequent allegations of torture that were inadequately addressed—while constituting a human rights violation in itself—further added to the concerns”. 

Strengthen criminal justice proceedings 

Through its mission, UNAMI, the UN supports Iraq in promoting accountability, protection of human rights, and judicial and legal reform. 

The joint report praises the efforts made by the authorities to seek justice and accountability for the crimes committed by ISIL, with more than 20,000 terrorism-related cases processed between January 2018 and October 2019, and thousands pending. 

However, the authors call for a thorough review of trial and sentencing practices, aimed at strengthening criminal justice procedures. 

Report recommendations 

Recommendations include revising the anti-terrorism laws to comply with international law, and ensuring defendants have sufficient time to prepare and present their cases. 

“Robust safeguards for detention, due process and fair trials not only demonstrate commitment to justice: they are a necessary building block for resilience. We are well aware that a variety of grievances, including unfair trials and detainee abuse, have been exploited in the past by ISIL to fuel its violent agenda,” said UNAMI chief, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert. 

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Human Rights

Human rights breaches in Belarus, Ethiopia, and Algeria

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A girl stands outside her home in the Tigray Region, Ethiopia. © UNICEF/Tanya Bindra

On Thursday, the European Parliament adopted three resolutions taking stock of the human rights situation in Belarus, Ethiopia, and Algeria.

Human rights violations in Belarus, in particular the murder of Raman Bandarenka.

Parliament condemns in the strongest possible terms the murder of Raman Bandarenka in Belarus, and expresses its condolences to his family and to all families who have lost loved ones as a result of the repression of Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s regime.

Mr Bandarenka, a 31-year-old art teacher, was brutally beaten on the evening of 11 November by a group of plain-clothed men in masks who reportedly had close ties to the regime. Mr Bandarenka was taken into detention where he was subjected to further beatings. He later died as a result of his injuries.

MEPs demand prompt, thorough, and independent investigations into his death and the protest-related deaths of other Belarusian civilians. They reiterate their support for the protesters’ demands for freedom, democracy, dignity, and the right to choose their own destiny, while condemning the ongoing human rights violations, intimidation, and disproportionate use of force by the authorities towards peaceful demonstrators.

The text was adopted by 613 votes in favour, 41 against and 35 abstentions.

The situation in Ethiopia

MEPs are deeply concerned by the current armed conflict between the federal government of Ethiopia and the regional administration of Tigray led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), including the ongoing violence and allegations of serious breaches of fundamental human rights. They call on both parties to commit to an immediate ceasefire and to settle political differences by democratic means within the framework of the country’s constitution.

The resolution deplores the loss of life and killing of innocent civilians and the extrajudicial killings, regardless of their perpetrators. Parliament implores Ethiopia’s central government and the TPLF to take immediate action to deescalate the conflict and criticises the severe restrictions preventing humanitarian workers from accessing the area.

The text was adopted by 643 votes in favour, 5 against and 46 abstentions.

Human rights abuses in Algeria, in particular the case of journalist Khaled Drareni.

Parliament strongly condemns the escalation of arbitrary and unlawful arrests, detentions, and judicial harassment of journalists, human rights defenders, trade unionists, lawyers, civil society, and peaceful activists in Algeria. It also urges the Algerian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release journalist Mohamed Khaled Drareni and all those detained and charged for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

In August, Mr Drareni – a correspondent for TV5 Monde – was sentenced to three years in prison and fined 50 000 Algerian dinars for filming police attacking demonstrators in Algiers. He was formally charged with ‘inciting an unarmed gathering’ and ‘undermining the integrity of national territory’. In September, his sentence was reduced to two years on appeal.

MEPs reiterate their call on the Algerian authorities to stop all forms of intimidation, criminalisation, or the arbitrary detention of critical voices such as journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders. They insist that appropriate steps be taken to guarantee for all the right to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. The resolution was adopted by 669 votes in favour, 3 against and 22 abstentions.

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UN Committee urges end to impunity for enforced disappearances in Iraq

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A Yazidi Kurd from Sinjar who was abducted by the ISIL terrorist group, pictured in Mamilyan Camp for internally displaced persons in Akre, Iraq. Photo: Giles Clarke/ Getty Images Reportage

A pattern of enforced disappearance – and impunity for such acts – persists in Iraq, according to a report published on Friday by the UN Committee charged with monitoring how well the country upholds its international obligations in dealing with the issue.

In issuing its findings, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances – a group of 10 independent experts that monitors States’ adherence to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance – also noted that revictimization prevails in these cases.

The Committee called on Iraq to incorporate the offence of enforced disappearance into its domestic criminal legislation and to ensure that no person is held in secret detention.

Legislation Delays

To be sure, the Committee also welcomed that Iraq set up two fact-finding committees, in 2016 and 2018, to address enforced disappearances committed in the country.  It also hailed the drafting of the Bill on the Protection of Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which is currently before the Council of Ministers.

But the experts also expressed concern at delays in adopting this legislation, which has fostered a lack of criminalization of the offence.  It recommended that Iraq revise the bill, in compliance with the International Convention, and in consultation with all stakeholders, including civil society.

Lack of data

Committee experts are also worried by the lack of reliable data on cases of enforced disappearance and the large quantity of unidentified bodies and mass graves. It recommended Iraq establish a consolidated nationwide database of all cases of disappearance that have occurred in the country since 1968.

For its part, the Committee said it has received allegations concerning around 420 secret detention sites.  It urged the State party to investigate thoroughly the allegations, and to close any such facilities or convert them into regular registered and supervised detention centres, as well as to take all necessary measures to ensure that no one is detained secretly in the future.

Experts on board

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances monitors States parties’ adherence to the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The Committee is made up of 10 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties.  The Committee’s concluding observations are an independent assessment of States’ compliance with their human rights obligations under the treaty.

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UN: Renew commitment to Palestinian people

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Al-Walaja, a Palestinian village in the West Bank. Photo: UNRWA/Marwan Baghdadi

Commemorating the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to explore every opening to “restore hope” for a two-State solution. 

In a message, the UN chief cautioned that prospects for a viable two-State solution are becoming “more distant”. 

“A host of factors continue to cause great misery, including: the expansion of illegal settlements, a significant spike in the demolition of Palestinian homes and structures, violence and continued militant activity,” said Mr. Guterres. 

“Israeli and Palestinian leaders have a responsibility to explore every opening to restore hope and achieve a two-State solution.” 

The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People is observed each year on 29 November. Established in 1977, it marks the day in 1947 when the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution partitioning Palestine into an Arab State and a Jewish State. 

Committed to supporting Palestinians and Israelis 

The Secretary-General said that he remains committed to supporting Palestinians and Israelis to resolve the conflict and end the occupation in line with relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements in pursuit of the vision of two States – Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous and sovereign Palestine – living side by side in peace and security, within secure and recognized borders, on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States. 

“I hope that recent developments will encourage Palestinian and Israeli leaders to re-engage in meaningful negotiations, with the support of the international community, and will create opportunities for regional cooperation,” he said. 

“Let us together resolve to renew our commitment to the Palestinian people in their quest to achieve their inalienable rights and build a future of peace, dignity, justice and security,” added the Secretary-General.  

In the message, Mr. Guterres also extended his condolences on the passing, earlier this month, of Saeb Erakat, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary-General and Chief Negotiator for Palestinians in the Middle East Peace Process. 

Financial situation of UNRWA 

Mr. Guterres also voiced concerns over the financial situation facing the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provides direct and often life-saving assistance to millions of Palestine refugees. 

“I appeal to all Member States to urgently contribute to enable UNRWA to meet the critical humanitarian and development needs of Palestine refugees during the pandemic,” urged the Secretary-General. 

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