Iraq/Kurdistan: 'Asayish' security force ' a law unto itself'-New report

* Detainees held without charge or trial for almost a decade
* Improving Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights’s rights blighted by ‘honour killings’ and forced marriage

Security forces in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq operate beyond the rule of law, Amnesty International said today (14 April), as it published a new report on the human rights situation in the autonomous region of northern Iraq.

The 56-page report details a pattern of abuses committed by Kurdistan security forces, especially by the “Asayish”, the official security agency for the region and one described by Amnesty as “a law unto itself.” The Asayish is not accountable to a Kurdistan ministry, but instead reports directly to the Kurdistan presidency.

Amnesty’s report outlines cases where people have been detained for as long as nine years without charge or trial, where individuals have been taken into custody and “disappeared” without trace, and cases where Asayish detainees have been tortured, including with electric shocks to different parts of the body, beatings with a cable or metal of wooden baton, and beatings on the soles of the feet (a torture method known as falaqa).

Until comparatively recently thousands of detainees - many from Islamic groups - were in long-term detention without charge or trial in Kurdistan; this figure has now dropped significantly but is still believed to amount to hundreds of prisoners.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Programme Director Malcolm Smart said:

“The Kurdistan Region has been spared the bloodletting and violence that continues to wrack the rest of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government has made some important human rights advances.

“Yet real problems - arbitrary detention and torture, attacks on journalists and freedom of expression, and violence against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights - remain, and urgently need to be addressed by the government.”

One case highlighted by the report is Walid Yunis Ahmad, a married father of three in his early forties who worked at a radio and TV station linked to the Islamic Movement in Kurdistan. Originally detained in February 2000 by plain-clothed men believed to be Asayish, as of February this year he was still being held (reportedly in solitary confinement and in poor health) without charge or trial at the Asayish headquarters in Erbil. It took Mr Ahmad’s family three years to even discover that he was detained - after the Red Cross informed them of his detention. In another case, a man has been held without charge or trial for six years, with the Kurdistan human rights ministry now saying he was handed to the US-led Multinational Forces in Iraq last October.

Amnesty’s report shows that human rights abuses in the region are also carried out by members of the Parastin and Dezgay Zanyari, respectively the intelligence agencies of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Both security agencies have threatened journalists, writers and academics who have spoken out against alleged corruption within the KDP and PUK.

Amnesty’s report notes recent efforts to improve Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights’s rights in Kurdistan, including new laws and an attempt to reduce “honour killings”, where a woman is killed by relatives because she is said to have infringed traditional codes of “honour”.

However, the organisation expressed concern at the number of female deaths or severe injuries due to burning (this method is now the most frequent method of suicide for Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights in Kurdistan), pointing out that some Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights are reported to have been burned to disguise a killing. For example, Cilan Muhammad Amin, a 23-year-old woman from the village of Tanjara, near Sulaimaniya, was strangled to death in March last year, reportedly because she had a secret relationship with a man. Her brother, who remains at large, is suspected of her murder; her body was burned after her death, allegedly by the woman’s sister and husband.

Protection mechanisms for Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights are actually more advanced in Kurdistan than in other parts of Iraq, and six shelters for at-risk Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights are now operating. However, even there Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights are vulnerable. In May last year a woman in a shelter in Sulaimaniya was shot and seriously injured by gunmen believed to be the woman’s relatives. They had fired shots into the shelter from a neighbouring building.

A recent World Health Organisation survey found that the proportion of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights in Kurdistan who had never attended school is double that for the rest of Iraq (31% versus 15%) and Amnesty’s report also expresses serious concern at the apparently widespread extent of forced or early marriage of girls and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights in Kurdistan.

The marriage of girls aged below 15 is illegal in Iraq, but Amnesty researchers have come across numerous examples of this law being flouted, and the Kurdistan authorities apparently having no mechanisms for monitoring these. For example, one woman, a 27-year-old mother of three, told Amnesty about how at the age of 13 she was forced to marry an older man and how years later he had falsely accused her of adultery because he wanted to divorce her. She now hopes to be allowed to return to the family home to live as her husband’s “servant” so as at least to be with her Children's rights.

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