In an extensive report released Thursday, the Human Rights Watch revealed that Iraqi security forces are systemically abusing imprisoned Iraqi women.
The HRW did their homework on this one: they interviewed many imprisoned women, their families, lawyers and medical providers, looked at court documents and met with high-level Iraqi authorities. And the conclusions they've come to are horrifying.
According to the HRW, the Shiite led government is illegally arresting women, usually in an attempt to suss out the alleged terrorist activities of their male family members. The majority of these women are Sunnis, who the government believes could be connected to Al Qaeda, though the HRW says women of all walks of life have been affected. After they're arrested, the women are often sexually assaulted, sometimes in front of their family members. They have been beaten, electrically shocked or burned with cigarettes. They are not allowed lawyers and are forced into signing documents they cannot read. If and when they do make it to court in front of a judge, that judge will rule against them unfairly, unless they are bribed to release the prisoner. Sometimes they're declared free to go by the courts and kept in prison anyway. One woman's child was kept in prison for seven weeks after she had been executed.
These stories are not new; the Human Rights Watch has been extensively investigating the treatment of detained Iraqi citizens since the fall of Saddam Hussein's government. Despite ample media coverage and protests, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's announcement a year ago that the government would be reforming the justice system, HRW says the corruption remains.
It is not as if those in the United States judicial system fare well either; a report recently released by the Department of Justice showed that while the number of allegations of sexual abuse in prison has steadily risen over the past five years, the number of substantiated incidents has stayed the same. "Between 2009 and 2011, females represented about 7% of all state and federal prison inmates, but accounted for 22% of inmate-on-inmate victims and 33% of staff-on-inmate victims," the report explained. (The book Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women's Prisons is an intense but eye-opening read on this issue.)
But the poor treatment women receive in Iraq has been complicated by the endless state of violence there and what HRW calls "their second-class status in Iraqi society." Even if women make it through prison alive, they have little to go back to:
Once they have been detained, and even if they are released unharmed, women are frequently stigmatized by their family or community, who perceive them to have been dishonored.
The Human Rights Watch has a long list of recommendations for the Iraqi government, the United States government and those who donate money overseas. For Iraq, they want the government to investigate these incidences of abuse and get rid of laws "that allow arrests based on secret testimony and coerced confessions." For the U.S., that means making aid to Iraq conditional. Neither government has addressed the report.