ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – After French nationals accused of membership in the Islamic State claimed in court that they had been tortured by Iraqi officials, a major international human rights organization called on nations to not rely on Iraq, a country notorious for using torture to extract confessions, to try their citizens.
"France and other countries should not be outsourcing management of their terrorism suspects to abusive justice systems," said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
"These countries should not be sitting idly by while their citizens are transferred to a country where their right to a fair trial and protection from torture are undermined."
On May 26, a Baghdad court sentenced three French nationals to death for fighting with the Islamic State, a source from the Iraqi judiciary told Kurdistan 24. In the days that followed, four more were given the death penalty.
According to HRW, defendants claimed in court that Iraqi officers tortured them or that officers forced them to confess under duress and to sign statements they could not read, a description consistent with known tactics routinely used in Iraqi interrogations.
Despite these allegations, the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, stated on May 29 that the defendants had been given "fair trials," although he also said in a media interview that France was "multiplying efforts to avoid the death penalty for these… French people."
The men are part of a group of foreign detainees, including at least 11 French nationals, whom the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) transferred from northeast Syria to Iraq in early 2019. In these cases, according to HRW, "because of the risk of torture and absence of fair trials, the transfers are unlawful."
The United Nations Convention against Torture, which France and Iraq have both signed, prohibits the transfer of detainees to a country where "there are substantial grounds for believing" they would be in danger of being tortured. Customary international law has a similar prohibition.
"With the exception of one court, the trials Human Rights Watch has observed since 2016 have consisted of a judge briefly interviewing the defendant, usually relying solely on a confession, often coerced, with no effective legal representation," the report continued.
These abuses, says the group, "highlight the urgent need for countries like France that can guarantee due process, to ensure that their nationals can return to their home country. There, any national suspected of war crimes, torture, or other international crimes should be investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted in trials that meet internationally accepted fair-trial standards."
HRW said that countries with fair justice systems "should take all possible measures to ensure that their nationals in custody in northeast Syria can return to their home country, where those suspected of war crimes and other international crimes should be investigated."
There, read the report, the countries "should ensure that trials of those charged with international crimes including rape, torture, killings, and other war crimes allow for victim and witness participation."