U.N. urges Iraq to close secret detention centers

The watchdog said the suspects are held in secret detention centres for extended periods of time, during which they are severely tortured

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A U.N. human rights watchdog called on Iraq on Friday to close what it described as secret detention centres where militant suspects, including minors, are “severely tortured”.

The panel of 18 independent experts, who reviewed Iraq's record in preventing torture and ill-treatment last month, had challenged Iraqi officials to name a single person the country had jailed for torture in a justice system that had “gone astray”.

In its findings issued on Friday, the watchdog voiced concern at information pointing to a pattern whereby militant and other high-security suspects, including minors, were arrested without warrants and detained in facilities - especially those run by the defence and interior ministries.

It said they were “detained incommunicado and held in secret detention centres for extended periods of time, during which they are severely tortured in order to extract confessions”.

The U.N. Committee against Torture called on the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to “ensure that no one is detained in any secret detention centres, as these facilities are per se a breach of the Convention (against Torture) and should be closed”.

Iraqi officials were not immediately available to comment but at last month's session Iraqi delegates rejected any form of torture, regardless of who was the perpetrator, and gave assurances that torture was not systematic in the country.

The panel called for access to detention facilities such as that it said was at a military airport in Baghdad.

The facility at the old Al Muthenna military airport in West Baghdad, “which was uncovered in 2011, is still open and continues to secretly operate under the control of the 54th and 56th brigades of the army”, the committee said, citing allegations it had received.

The army and pro-government militia are battling Islamic State militants who have captured swathes of Iraq. Fighters on all sides are reported to rape female captives and commit sexual violence, the committee said, calling for prosecutions.

Committee member Alessio Bruni said: “Where the problem of treatment torture is acute is especially in those places of detention run by the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defence.

“One recommendation we made is to transfer authority of the prison system to the Ministry of Justice.”

Long pre-trial detention periods also allow for torture, he said, citing reports by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) that has said detainees can be held up to 10 years before going before a court.

He said UNAMI monitored 92 criminal trials between January and June 2014 and total of 50 defendants alleged torture before the court but no investigation into those allegations was ordered by the judge.