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Iraq: New report says US must clarify fate of prisoners after handover and stop holding 'ghost' detainees

In a new report, Amnesty International expresses concern that the US has recently said that it intends to hold without charge between 4,000 and 5,000 detainees despite a legal requirement to release them or transfer them to Iraqi custody. The US has recently said that it was holding 6,400 prisoners.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'After the scandalous torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib it is all the more alarming that the Coalition is failing to clarify the basis on which it intends to hold without charge thousands of prisoners. International law states that these prisoners should be transferred to Iraqi control or released.

'Prisoner abuse has rocked the credibility of the Coalition in recent months: now it must come clean over what will happen to prisoners at the handover.

'There must be an end to holding 'ghost' detainees: no-one must be held in secret in Iraq.'

Amnesty International is concerned that the resolution for handover of power (United Nations Resolution 1546) is silent on the question of the Coalition's prisoners. In early June Amnesty International wrote to the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, John Negroponte, expressing serious concern that Resolution 1546 failed to clarify the fate of prisoners held by the occupying powers. Amnesty International has received no reply to this letter. Meanwhile, in comments to international media on 13 June, Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, a US spokesman for detention operations in Iraq, said the US would continue to hold between 4,000 and 5,000 detainees. No legal basis for these detentions was given.

Amnesty International's report, Iraq: human rights protection and promotion vital in the transitional period , makes clear that any further detentions by the US and other members of the multinational force after 30 June would be unlawful. Suspects may only be re-arrested by the Iraqi authorities if there are grounds under Iraqi law, consistent with international standards, to detain them.

The Statute of the Iraqi Special Tribunal is also criticised in Amnesty International's report. The present statute, as adopted by the Iraqi Governing Council in December 2003, allows arbitrary arrest, does not prohibit torture and has unnecessarily limited jurisdiction. Amnesty International is urging that the statute be amended before the tribunal becomes operational.

Amnesty International is also urging the new Interim Government of Iraq to refrain from reintroducing the death penalty. Coalition forces suspended the death penalty last year, though senior Iraqi officials have recently spoken of their intention to reintroduce it. Thousands of prisoners are believed to have been executed under the previous Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein, many without formal trials.

Amnesty International's report sets out a series of recommendations to the UN, the Interim Government of Iraq (IGI), the US-led Multinational Force (MNF) and armed groups in Iraq. Among the recommendations are:

  • The MNF must end the practice of holding 'ghost' detainees and immediately provide full, up-to-date details of all persons currently in custody as well as clarify their legal status.
  • Any alleged abuses of detainees must be promptly and independently investigated, those responsible brought to justice and the victims be given reparation.
  • Both the IGI and the MNF must ensure unhindered access to all detainees by international bodies, lawyers, families and human rights organisations.
  • Human rights monitors should be deployed to supervise all places of detention and make public their recommendations to the detaining authorities.
  • The IGI must make it clear that it will not tolerate violations of human rights irrespective of who is implicated.
  • The UN should establish an independent commission of legal experts to review Iraq's justice system with the aim of bringing Iraqi law into line with international human rights standards.
  • An independent and impartial commission should be set up to vet any militia members wishing to join the army and police forces and proper human rights training should be established for all involved in law enforcement.
  • The rights of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights must be guaranteed with effective measures to combat torture, rape, domestic violence and murder as well as a complete review of discriminatory laws and practices.
  • All armed groups in Iraq must respect minimum standards of international humanitarian law and, in particular, stop the hostage-taking, torture and killing of civilians.

Read the report: 'Iraq: Human rights protection and promotion vital in the transitional period' /b>

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