‘It was a truly shocking sight - hundreds of human beings packed together like sardines in a tin’ - Salil Shetty
More than 1,000 detainees, including some as young as 15, are being held without charge in horrendous conditions at makeshift holding centres in Anbar governorate, west of Baghdad, said Amnesty International today.
An Amnesty delegation led by the organisation’s Secretary General Salil Shetty gained access on 30 April to a centre run by Anbar’s counter-terrorism agency (Mukafahat al-Irhab) in Ameriyat al-Fallujah, where 683 male detainees are held without charge. The detainees are crammed into several rooms within a complex of disused warehouses being used as a detention and interrogation facility.
The detainees, who are suspected of having collaborated with the Islamic State armed group, were plucked off the streets or taken from their homes when Iraqi forces recaptured their home towns. Their detention is often based merely on the fact that they had remained in towns and villages under ISIS control. None of the detainees have been charged, even though weeks or months have passed since their arrest. Some told Amnesty they had lost contact with their families as they fled clashes between ISIS and government forces.
Members of the local counter-terrorism force holding the detainees told Amnesty they lack the manpower to carry out investigations into their cases or even the material resources to treat the detainees humanely.
Salil Shetty said:
“It was a truly shocking sight - hundreds of human beings packed together like sardines in a tin and held in inhumane and degrading conditions for months on end.
“The detainees are squeezed into a space of less than one square metre each, sitting in a crouching position day and night, unable to stretch or lie down to sleep and are rarely allowed outside for fresh air.
“A lack of resources is no excuse - neither for such inhumane conditions nor for prolonged detention without charge, which is symptomatic of the deep flaws in Iraq’s justice system. Those arrested on suspicion of links to IS must be either promptly charged with recognisable criminal offences and tried in fair proceedings or released.
“There is no doubt that Iraq is currently facing unprecedented security challenges, with deadly attacks against civilians being perpetrated by IS on a daily basis. However, that in no way exonerates the Iraqi authorities from their responsibility to protect the human rights of all Iraqis.”
Not an isolated case
The horrific situation faced by these detainees is not an isolated case. Hundreds of other detainees are being held in similar conditions in another makeshift holding centre in nearby Habbaniya, according to the counter-terrorism force.
Amnesty also visited several camps housing thousands of internally displaced people in Ameriyat al-Fallujah, where families described their daily struggle to survive in dire conditions. Many had risked their lives to escape from areas under ISIS control now to find themselves stranded in makeshift camps where there is little humanitarian aid, with shortages of basic necessities, including food and medicine, and conditions set to worsen with the onset of Iraq’s summer heat.