by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) issued a statement accusing Iraqi military members of screening men who are fleeing Mosul for Islamic State (“ISIS”) membership and secretly detaining them in undisclosed prisons.
The HRW report indicated that fighters with the Popular Mobilization Units (“PMU”) have been abducting such men and holding them at detention centers for interrogation. HRW urged that the men are at “heightened risk of abuse, including arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance” as PMU’s are not trained in screening. The rights group further highlighted that the screenings and detentions are carried out abnormally, while prisoners are denied contact with the outside world.
The deputy Middle East director at HRW, Ms. Lama Fakih, stated that relatives are increasingly reporting male family members’ disappearance following questioning by PMU fighters. She further stated that the “lack of transparency” with regards to the detained mens’ whereabouts is a “cause for real concern.”
HRW interviewed families which stated that PMU fighters had evacuated their village to a refugee camp. They indicated that five men never returned to the village after they had left to sell sheep. The same men were later shown on a television broadcast depicting them as captured ISIS militants. One of these men stated that he had been attacked and detained by PMUs after leaving the village to sell sheep. Although he had been released and reunited with his family, the remaining men have not resurfaced.
The HRW report stated that the interviewed families all provided the same description for the screening process. Notably, they indicated that screening would be carried out overnight by members of the Iraqi military, who would separate men and boys over the age of fifteen from women and children. The military forces would crosscheck the men and boys’ IDs against Iraqi watchlists for suspected ISIS associations. They would then be detained without any justification for interrogation.
Ms. Fakih indicated that men have been disappearing with increasing frequency, even though official screenings by Iraqi security forces reveal that they are not on a watchlist. She noted that only those with a “screening mandate” should be permitted to screen individuals, while calling upon Iraqi authorities to ensure that prisoners are kept only at “recognized detention center[s]” which provide access to “independent monitors” and guarantee due process rights. She stated that all detention must be based on “clear domestic law.” Ms. Fakih further highlighted the importance of guaranteeing that each prisoner be brought before a judge promptly, as Iraqi law mandates a judicial hearing within 48 hours of detention. Additionally, she also indicated that prisoners’ family members should be made aware of their whereabouts.
PMUs were officially integrated into the Iraqi army in November. Yet they remain autonomous and have attracted widespread criticism regarding mistreatment of prisoners and “carrying out indiscriminate sectarian retributions.”
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