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The torture of children in Iraq's Kurdish region must stop

  • Tallha Abdulrazaq
  • 10 Jan 2019

A Human Rights Watch report on the treatment of children in custody of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq should lead to an inquiry and accountability by the Iraqi government.

( AP )

For those casually following the war against Daesh, they often hear about how various Kurdish factions across both Iraq and Syria have been at the forefront of the battle against the hard-line militants.

Groups like the terrorist PKK-linked People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, or the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Peshmerga fighters in Iraq have been lionised as being bastions of holding the line for the ‘civilised world’ against the radical threat emanating from Daesh. However, those who have followed the so-called heroics of these actors will know that there is nothing heroic let alone civilised about torturing children.

Asayish behaving like the Gestapo

In a damning report, international rights monitor Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Tuesday that the KRG was detaining children on terrorism offences linked to Daesh, and Asayish Kurdish security forces (the primary intelligence agency operating in the Kurdish region of Iraq) were using electric shocks and beatings to extract confessions of Daesh membership from these vulnerable minors.

Children visited and interviewed in detention centres by HRW in Iraq's Kurdish region told investigators that they signed confessions to make the torture stop, and they were not allowed to read the confessions until they were standing before a judge who would invariably convict them on the basis of  confessions extracted under torture.

Most children were denied access to lawyers, and when they complained of the torture to judicial officials, they were ignored and their confessions processed as evidence against them regardless.

While some might be tempted to argue that this may be an isolated incident, it most certainly is not.

In December 2016, HRW interviewed children being held by the Kurdish authorities at the Women and Children’s Reformatory detention facility in Erbil, the KRG’s capital. The HRW investigation found that children – all from the Sunni Arab demographic apart from one Kurdish child – had been held arbitrarily, denied contact with their families, denied access to lawyers, and savagely tortured to extract confessions of association with Daesh terrorists.

Children have been beaten with pipes, cables, punched and kicked, forced into stress positions, electrocuted and burned with cigarettes by Asayish interrogators. Many of these children were picked up and arrested by Asayish operatives from camps for the internally displaced. In other words, these children were fleeing Daesh and the government-sponsored Shia militias battling them.

At the time, HRW’s investigation caused KRG officials to promise to investigate any allegations of torture and take action to ensure that no child is tortured. However, more than two years on and more than a year since Daesh was formally declared defeated by the Iraqi government, the KRG continues to detain, and torture children and the Asayish continue to behave like the Gestapo rather than dealing with actual security threats and safeguarding the security of citizens.

Human rights abuses rife in KRG

Daesh has always been used as a handy excuse whenever the KRG or the authorities in Baghdad want to ignore human rights abuses.

In a panel discussion during the battle for Mosul in 2016 on TRT World’s The Newsmakers, I confronted Baghdad official Saad al Muttalibi who admitted Iraqi forces were conducting field executions without trial of suspected terrorists. 

At the time, it was enough to be accused of being a Daesh supporter, let alone a member, for the Iraqi military and allied Shia militias to simply pull people off the streets of Mosul and kill them in cold blood. No courtroom, judge or jury was required.

Similarly, following Daesh’s horrific sexual enslavement of thousands of Yazidi women, the Kurdish authorities turned a blind eye and stood back as enraged sectarian Yazidi militias who were now fighting as part of the Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation Forces were actively attacking Sunni Arab villages in Iraq’s northern Nineveh governorate.

In January 2015, and in full view of the KRG’s Peshmerga force, Yazidi militias attacked the Sunni Arab village of Buhanaya, killing unarmed men and children. Reports at the time indicated that these sectarian Yazidi militants then proceeded to abduct the women and subjected them to sexual slavery, precisely the same treatment that Daesh had inflicted on Yazidi women.

It's anyone's guess why the Iraqi Kurdish authorities simply stood back and allowed the villagers to be brutalised in such a way, or why they failed to take any action to bring those in their security forces to justice for so savagely torturing children over many years. 

However, it's possible that they're motivated by a desire to force demographic change over the region by forcing mostly Arab but also Turkmen populations out of areas they wish to claim as part of a future state.

In behaving in this way, separatist factions who have a vested interest in pursuing racist policies are no different from the Baathists they despise. Rather than ensuring that the cycle of violence ends by embracing one another as kin, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives these different ethnic groups historically have been, they have instead opted to perpetuate the deadly lie that the various ethnic groups who inhabit the area must by default oppose each other. This could not be further from the truth, and it is the duty of those who hold the reins of power to see past their prejudices to avoid the harrowing tragedies of the past. Torturing children into false confessions will only ensure the violence continues unabated.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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