Iraqi prisoners at risk under the Sofa

Understandably, yesterday’s news was dominated by the appalling and sadly ongoing scenes from Mumbai, with gun battles in the streets and flames licking from the windows of luxury hotels.

But an historic piece of news was somewhat overlooked – the agreement in the Iraqi parliament that U.S. troops will withdraw from cities and towns by the end of June next year and that all troops to leave by the end of 2011. Nearly 150 of the 198 representatives present voted in favour of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

What reportage there has been on the SOFA has largely focused on the withdrawal of US troops. But there’s another story that mustn’t be overlooked – the fate of around 16,000 prisoners currently held in Iraq by US forces, who will be handed over to Iraqi custody on 31 December this year.

Conditions in Iraqi prisons – as exposed by the BBC earlier this week – are pretty shocking. Overcrowding is already a problem, but more worrying are the frequent reports of torture and ill-treatment coming out of Iraqi prisons and detention centres. The SOFA does not provide any safeguards for transferred prisoners, leaving them at serious risk or torture and potentially of execution after unfair trials.

The 16,000 prisoners are already, in the main, being denied their human rights: most are held without charge or trial, some for up to five years. But come New Year’s Eve, their fate will become more uncertain still.

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