Monday 14 October 2019

Children 'tortured into making confessions of affiliation to Isil'

Queue: Boys wait in line for aid near Baghouz. Photo: REUTERS/Rodi Said
Queue: Boys wait in line for aid near Baghouz. Photo: REUTERS/Rodi Said

Josie Ensor

Hundreds of children in Iraq have been charged with links to terrorism, many of them based on confessions obtained through torture, a human rights group has found.

Iraqi and Kurdish authorities are detaining approximately 1,500 children, 158 of whom have been charged with alleged affiliation to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). The report claims the prosecutions are often based on dubious accusations and forced admissions.

The 52-page report, entitled 'Everyone Must Confess: Abuses against Children Suspected of Isis (Isil) Affiliation in Iraq', criticised what it described as a deeply flawed screening process that often leads to detention and prosecution of children regardless of whether they have any involvement with Isil, or the extent of that involvement.

Of the children interviewed by HRW who admitted association with Isil, most said they joined because of economic need, peer or family pressure, or to escape family problems or gain social status. Some said they worked as guards, cooks or drivers. Others denied personal involvement, though some said that family members belonged to Isil.

It cites the case of a 17-year-old detainee, who said he worked at a restaurant in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul that served Isil members, and believed his name appeared on a "wanted" list because jihadists took his identification so he could be paid.

"This sweeping, punitive approach is not justice, and will create lifelong negative consequences for many of these children," warned Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director for HRW.

She said those under 18 recruited by armed groups should be recognised as victims and be rehabilitated.

Iraq declared victory against Isil in December 2017 after three years of costly battles that killed tens of thousands and left Iraqi cities in ruins.

The country is grappling with a massive legacy from the fight. In a rush to deliver justice to Isil's victims, the government has sped through thousands of trials of suspects. 'The Daily Telegraph' has attended hearings in Baghdad and Mosul, witnessing torture, five-minute judgments where suspects were not always given legal representation, and cases of mistaken identity.

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