UN raises ‘serious concerns’ about unfair ISIS trials in Iraq

A UN report published on Tuesday raises “serious concerns” about ongoing unfair trials in Iraq against those accused of affiliation to the Islamic State for reasons that include lack of representation, the reliance of confessions, and the use of torture.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - A UN report published on Tuesday raises “serious concerns” about ongoing unfair trials in Iraq against those accused of affiliation to the Islamic State for reasons that include institutional blocks to effective representation, the over-reliance on confessions, and the use of torture.

The report is based on independent monitoring of 794 criminal court trials of defendants mainly associated with the Islamic State from May 1, 2018 through Oct. 31, 2019, which the UN said were conducted with the full support of Iraq’s High Judicial Council.

The joint report by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN Human Rights Office acknowledged that, on the surface, judicial proceedings against Islamic State defendants were generally conducted in an orderly manner, were well organized, and judges were routinely prepared with investigation files.

It found, however, that routine violations of fair trial standards placed defendants at a serious disadvantage compared to the prosecution – with ineffective legal representation and limited possibilities to present or challenge evidence. 

“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,” the report added.

Iraqi courts have put on trial hundreds of suspected Islamic State members, sentencing many to life in prison and others to death, often in groups and with no evidence presented.

Human rights groups and the UN have long criticized critical shortcomings in the judicial process in Iraq and the prominence of flawed trials. 

Read More: Iraq ignored requests to investigate torture allegations, abuse continues in Mosul prison: HRW 

Prosecutions under the anti-terrorism legal framework mainly focused on “membership” of a terrorist organization, without distinguishing between those who participated in violence, committed international crimes, and those who joined the Islamic State for survival and/or through coercion, Tuesday's UN report said.

“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 the 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.” 

The report called on judicial authorities to conduct a thorough review of trial and sentencing practices with a view to strengthening criminal justice procedures, in line with the Constitution of Iraq and the State’s obligations under international law.

“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 (ISIS) to fuel its violent agenda”, said the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert.

Editing by John J. Catherine