HRW condemns France ‘outsourcing’ of ISIS trials to Iraq

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Human Rights Watch on Friday condemned France’s “outsourcing” of trials of ISIS group suspects held in Iraq where seven of its nationals have this week been sentenced to death.

Two of them have “alleged that they were tortured or coerced to confess,” the New York-based watchdog said in a statement.

“France and other countries should not be outsourcing the management of their terrorism suspects to abusive justice systems,” said HRW’s acting Middle East director, Lama Fakih.

“These countries should not be sitting idly by while their citizens are transferred to a country where their right to a fair trial and protection from torture are undermined.”

A Baghdad court sentenced a Frenchman to death on Wednesday for joining ISIS, bringing to seven the number of French extremists on death row in Iraq.

Yassin Sakkam was among 12 French citizens handed over to Iraqi authorities in January by a US-backed force which expelled the extremist group from its last bastion in Syria.

Sakkam’s sentence came despite France reiterating its opposition to capital punishment this week. Iraq has taken custody of thousands of extremists in recent months after they were captured in neighboring Syria.

They include hundreds of foreigners suspected of ISIS membership, raising the question of whether they should be tried in the region or repatriated.

France has long insisted it's adult citizens captured in Iraq or Syria must face trial before local courts, while stressing its opposition to capital punishment. Iraqi law provides for the death penalty for anyone joining a “terrorist group” -- even those who did not take up arms.

HRW said it had documented cases of Iraqi interrogators “using a range of torture techniques, including beating suspects on the soles of their feet, internationally known as ‘falaka,’ and waterboarding, which would not leave lasting marks on the person’s body.”

It also condemned “the routine failure of the Iraqi justice system to credibly investigate torture allegations.”

In all but one case observed by HRW since 2016, trials had consisted of “a judge briefly interviewing the defendant, usually relying solely on a confession, often coerced, with no effective legal representation.”

A group representing the families of French extremists has asked the government in Paris to “do everything possible to stop this fatal chain of death sentences” and to try them “on our soil.”

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France was stepping up efforts to stop Iraq executing those convicted.

Baghdad declared victory over ISIS in Iraq in 2017 but the group’s cross-border “caliphate” was only eliminated when US-backed fighters conquered its last scrap of territory in Syria in March.

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