Government security forces used excessive force against peaceful and other protesters, some of whom were shot dead. Others were arrested and tortured. Thousands of people were detained; many had been arrested in previous years and held without charge or trial. Torture and other ill-treatment remained rife. Hundreds of people were sentenced to death, many after unfair trials, and dozens of prisoners were executed. US forces also committed serious human rights violations. Armed groups opposed to the government and the presence of US troops continued to commit gross human rights abuses; they carried out numerous suicide and other bomb attacks, killing hundreds of civilians.
Inspired by the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, thousands of Iraqis demonstrated in Baghdad, Basra and other cities against corruption, unemployment and lack of basic services, and in favour of greater civil and political rights. The largest demonstrations, held across Iraq on 25 February, were forcibly dispersed by the security forces.
On 18 December, the last US soldiers left Iraq in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement signed by the US and Iraqi authorities in 2008. A proposed deal, under which several thousand US troops would remain in Iraq as military trainers, fell through because of legal issues relating to immunity.
In July, Iraq became party to the UN Convention against Torture.Top of page
Armed groups opposed to the government and to the presence of US forces continued to commit gross human rights abuses, including indiscriminate killings of civilians and kidnapping. Many such attacks were carried out by al-Qa’ida in Iraq and its allies.
Thousands of people remained detained without charge or trial. In July, the Chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) said there were around 12,000 untried detainees, referring only to those held in facilities controlled by the Justice Ministry. Many other detainees were believed to be in prisons run by the Ministries of Defence and Interior. Many detainees had no access to lawyers or their families.
In July, the US authorities transferred two half brothers of former President Saddam Hussain and his former Defence Minister, all under sentence of death, to Iraqi custody together with almost 200 detainees who were alleged members of armed groups. These were the last prisoners and detainees under the control of the US military in Iraq. They all remained in al-Karkh Prison (formerly Camp Cropper), near Baghdad International Airport.Top of page
Torture and other ill-treatment were widespread in prisons and detention centres, in particular those controlled by the Ministries of Interior and Defence. Commonly reported methods were suspension by the limbs for long periods, beatings with cables and hosepipes, electric shocks, breaking of limbs, partial asphyxiation with plastic bags, and rape or threats of rape. Torture was used to extract information from detainees and “confessions” that could be used as evidence against them in courts.
The security forces used excessive force in response to anti-government protests in Baghdad and other cities, particularly in February and March, using live ammunition, sound bombs and other weapons to disperse peaceful protests. At least 20 people were killed in the protests that began in February.
Hundreds of people were sentenced to death; in July, the SJC Chairman said that courts had imposed 291 death sentences in the first half of the year. In September, an SJC spokesperson revealed that 735 death sentences had been referred to the Iraqi Presidency for final ratification between January 2009 and September 2011, of which 81 had been ratified. According to the Ministry of Justice, 65 men and three women were executed during the year.
Most death sentences were imposed on people convicted of belonging to or involvement in attacks by armed groups, kidnapping or other violent crimes. Trials consistently failed to meet international standards for fair trial. Defendants commonly complained that “confessions” accepted as evidence against them had been obtained under torture when they were held incommunicado and interrogated, and that they could not choose their own defence lawyers. In many cases, these “confessions” were broadcast on television, in some cases in advance of trials, undermining the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. The government rarely disclosed information about executions, especially names of those executed and exact numbers.
The Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (SICT) continued to try former senior Ba’ath and army officials associated with Saddam Hussain’s rule who were accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other offences. The court, whose independence and impartiality has been undermined by political interference, imposed several death sentences. In September, the President of the SICT told Parliament that the court was no longer operating as it had completed all of the criminal cases it was due to hear.
A new law passed in August, ostensibly to protect the rights of journalists, was criticized as inadequate by media organizations and journalists, who continued to face politically motivated threats and attacks by the security forces in what appeared to be an orchestrated clampdown on the media. Those working for independent or opposition media outlets were particularly targeted. Several journalists were arrested and tortured.
US forces were involved in a number of incidents in which civilians were killed in suspicious circumstances.
Iraqi security forces continued to tighten their grip on and use violence against residents of Camp Ashraf, some 60km north of Baghdad. Renamed Camp New Iraq, it still housed some 3,250 Iranian exiles, members and supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, which opposes the Iranian government. On 8 April, Iraqi troops stormed the camp using grossly excessive force, including live ammunition, against residents who tried to resist them. Some 36 residents – 28 men and eight women – were killed and more than 300 wounded. Subsequently, those injured and others who were seriously ill were prevented or obstructed from leaving the camp to obtain specialized medical treatment.
Senior Iraqi government officials insisted that the camp would be closed by the end of 2011, leading UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, to call for an extension to allow it to interview residents seeking to register as refugees. At the end of the year, the Iraqi government agreed to extend the deadline to April 2012 provided that the residents would be moved to Camp Liberty near Baghdad International Airport.Top of page
People also staged demonstrations in the Kurdistan region, especially in Sulaimaniya, protesting against corruption and calling for political reform.
Several new laws were enacted. A new law on NGOs simplifies the legal registration process, permits NGOs to receive funds from both local and foreign sources, recognizes that NGOs have a role to monitor government institutions and access information, and allows them to open branches and form networks. A new law to combat violence against women prohibits a wide range of acts of violence within the family, requires that the identities of victims are protected and establishes a special court to try cases of violence against women.
Kurdish security forces used excessive force, including live ammunition, to quell protests in Sulaimaniya and Kalar, resulting in at least six deaths.
A number of pro-democracy activists, including members of opposition political parties, were detained and tortured and otherwise ill-treated.
Several journalists, particularly those working for independent media, were threatened, harassed or attacked, apparently by security officials.