BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq authorities are illegally detaining thousands of women, including many subjected to torture, the threat of sexual abuse and other ill-treatment despite promises of reform, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
The findings by the New York-based rights group raise new concerns about Iraq's ability to handle those detained in massive security sweeps targeting militants amid an escalation in violence. International rights groups are worried about the weakness of the Iraqi judicial system, accusing it of being plagued with corruption and falling short of international standards.
Human Rights Watch said that women have been held for months or even years without charge before seeing a judge. Many were rounded up for alleged terrorist activities by male family members. Interviewed detainees described being kicked, slapped, raped or threatened with sexual assault by security forces.
"Iraqi security forces and officials act as if brutally abusing women will make the country safer," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "In fact, these women and their relatives have told us that as long as security forces abuse people with impunity, we can only expect security conditions to worsen."
Militants have frequently cited the mistreatment of women as a justification for their attacks.
The group also called on the Iraqis to acknowledge the prevalence of abuse, promptly investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment and to urgently make judicial and security sector reforms.
It said senior Iraqi officials dismissed reports of abuse of women in detention as exceptional cases. Government and judicial officials did not return phone calls seeking further comment on the report.
One detainee entered her interview with the group in Iraq's death row facility in Baghdad's Kazmiyah prison on crutches, saying nine days of beatings, shocks, and being hung upside down had left her permanently disabled.
The woman said she had been arrested by U.S. and Iraqi forces in January 2010 when she was in her cousin's home. She said she was taken to the Interior Ministry's Criminal Investigations Department where she was tortured until she confessed to terrorism charges against her will.
She said Iraqi security forces repeatedly called her "bitch," ''slut," and "daughter of a dog" while in investigation. She described how they handcuffed her, forced her to kneel and beat her on her face, breaking her jaw. When she refused to sign confessions, they attached wires to her handcuffs and fingers.
"When they first put the electricity on me, I gasped; my body went rigid and the bag came off my head," she was quoted by the report as saying. "I saw a green machine, the size of a car battery, with wires attached to it," she added.
She then signed and fingerprinted a blank piece of paper after officers told her that they had detained her teenage daughter and would rape her. She says her lawyer later told her she was accused of blowing up a house and other attacks.
The woman was executed seven months after meeting with HRW, in September 2013, despite lower court rulings that dismissed some of the charges against her because a medical report documented she was tortured into confessing to a crime.
The report entitled "'No One Is Safe': Abuses of Women in Iraq's Criminal Justice System," was based on interviews with 27 women and seven girls in custody between December 2012 and April 2013, as well as their families, lawyers, medical officials in detention centers, Iraqi officials, activists and the U.N. It also cited courts documents and government decisions and reports.
The release of detained women was one of the main demands of demonstrators who protested throughout Sunni areas in Iraq for most of last year.
In late December, Iraqi authorities dismantled one of those camps in Anbar province, prompting militants to seize the city of Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital Ramadi. Government forces and allied tribesmen are trying to recapture those areas.