Local and international NGOs have expressed concern over a clause in a proposed US-Iraq security agreement that would allow the transfer of all detainees in US military custody to Iraqi authorities.
“It is obvious that the situation of detainees in US military-run prisons is better than those in prisons run by Iraqi security forces as US forces are known for their professionalism in running prisons, despite some human rights violations,” Iraqi activist Basil al-Azawi told IRIN on 1 November.
“We find a lot of mistakes and mistreatment in the Iraqi-run prisons as a remarkable number of their facilities are not fit for those detainees and those who are in charge do not have enough knowledge of human rights so ill-treatment can occur,” al-Azawi added.
Al-Azawi, who heads the Baghdad-based Commission for Civil Society Enterprises, an umbrella group of over 1,000 NGOs, supports the idea that the Iraqi government should run all detention facilities in the country but said security forces must undergo special training for that.
“It is a must that Iraq gains all its sovereignty and prisons must be under its full management but there must be comprehensive programmes by human rights organisations for Iraqi security forces on how to deal with prisoners,” Al-Azawi said.
“There must be unlimited cooperation between the government and NGOs to have full access to prisons as it is still very hard for NGOs to visit them. Involving all concerned NGOs gives a significant role to society to monitor violations and put an end to them,” al-Azawi said.
Since May, Iraq and the US have been negotiating a security pact that would allow US forces to stay in Iraq until 2011. The proposed agreement is designed to replace the UN mandate for foreign troops in Iraq, which expires on 31 December.
One of the many clauses of the agreement states that anyone detained by the Americans must be handed over to the Iraqis within 24 hours, and that all detainees currently held by the US must be released or transferred to Iraqi control.
Since hearing about this clause in the local media, the family of Hassan Gaitan Kadhim has been worried. Kadhim is a 38-year-old father-of-two being held at Bucca detention centre, one of the main US prisons in Basra Province, about 600km south of the capital, Baghdad.
He was arrested in March 2007 during a raid in Binok, a neighbourhood in east Baghdad, on suspicion of being member in an anti-US Shia militia group.
“We heard of this [new clause] in the news and frankly speaking we believe that it will be better for them [prisoners] to stay in US custody where they have good living conditions with food, sanitary facilities, good clothes and other things,” said Kadhim’s brother Salman. “I don’t think that they will find the same treatment in Iraqi prisons.”
On 29 October, Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based human rights watchdog, called on the US government to ensure that detainees under its control in Iraq would be given the right to contest any transfer and that the conditions of Iraqi detention facilities would be verified before any transferral.
“Since the United States made itself synonymous with abuse of detainees in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib scandal, the least it can do now is assure that a security agreement does not pave the way for further abuse,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, said in a statement.
The statement said there were about 17,000 detainees in US military-run prisons in Iraq, most of them Iraqis but also including other Arabs or foreigners who took part in the Sunni insurgency after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The draft security agreement is awaiting approval by Iraq’s cabinet and parliament.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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