Security officers tortured detained children in Kurdistan Region, says HRW

Using ‘beatings, stress positions, electric shocks’
Exterior of the Women and Children's Reformatory in Erbil, where several dozen children are held in pre-trial detention or are serving sentences for alleged ISIS affiliation. Jo Becker/Human Rights Watch

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SULAIMANI — Human Rights Watch (HRW) has alleged that Kurdish (Asayish) forces have tortured children into confessing involvement with Islamic State (ISIS), even if they had no involvement with the militant group.

HRW released a report on Tuesday (January 8) saying that children had told the human rights monitor that Asayish officers had used beatings, stress positions, and electric shocks on boys in their custody in 2017 and 2018.

Most of the children said they had no access to a lawyer and they were not allowed to read the confessions Asayish wrote and forced them to sign, according to HRW.

“Nearly two years after the Kurdistan Regional Government promised to investigate the torture of child detainees, it is still occurring with alarming frequency,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

“The Kurdistan authorities should immediately end all torture of child detainees and investigate those responsible,” she added.

HRW had investigated this issue two years ago in December 2016. Their findings released today appear to show that children are still being tortured in much the same way.

At the time, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) assured HRW that they would "establish an investigative committee in conjunction with the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq."

HRW said it had interviewed 20 boys, aged 14 to 17, in November 2018 who had either been charged with or convicted of ISIS affiliation, at the Women and Children’s Reformatory in Erbil, which is one of three detention centers for children in the Region.

While several of the boys told HRW that they had some involvement with ISIS and some others said that their families had ties, others had no involvement whatsoever.

Under international law it is a crime to recruit children as soldiers or members of militant groups and those children who do join are considered to have been coerced. Moreover, acts of torture against detainees, much less children, are prohibited under international law.

In violation of the Kurdistan Region's own domestic law, HRW also found that only a handful of the boys had any access to a lawyer. Only two met with one, who had been privately hired, in advance of their trials. Even if they did have legal representation, the Arabic-speaking boys were unable to understand the proceedings, which were held in Kurdish.

According to the rights monitor, the boys' trials lasted only five to ten minutes, heard no witnesses, or had any evidence produced. Most of the boys received sentences between six and nine months in prison.

In terms of the torture, sixteen of the twenty-three boys interviewed by HRW said that one or more Asayish had tortured them. Three said that members of the Asayish had used electrical shocks on them.

Others reported that they had been put into a stress position called "the scorpion," in which one arm is brought over their shoulder and tied to the other arm, which is brought up around the back.

The KRG’s coordinator for international advocacy Dindar Zebari responded to a letter from HRW on December 18 saying that security officials are not permitted to torture detainees, the HRW said.

Zebari added if detainees were tortured, they have a right to make a formal complaint.

However, he did not make any mention of the investigatory commission, which had been promised by the KRG over two years ago.

“Many of these children have already been scarred by conflict and ISIS abuses,” Becker said.

“Instead of achieving justice, torture and coerced confessions only compound their suffering and contribute to further grievances.”

(NRT Digital Media)


“Jabar,” 17, said that Asayish officers tied his arms in a stress position known as the “scorpion” pose for an hour during his interrogation. (HRW Figure)