The Iraqi government has allegedly tortured hundreds of children on suspicion of ties to the Islamic State, according to a report from the New-York campaign group Human Rights Watch.
In their latest report, “‘Everyone Must Confess’: Abuses against Children Suspected of ISIS Affiliation in Iraq,” researchers estimate that by the end of 2018, Iraqi and Kurdish officials had detained around 1,500 children for suspected involvement with the Islamic State, but claimed the prosecutions often are based on little evidence and on forced confessions obtained through torture.
“Children accused of affiliation with ISIS are being detained, and often tortured and prosecuted, regardless of their actual level of involvement with the group,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “This sweeping, punitive approach is not justice, and will create lifelong negative consequences for many of these children.”
The group goes on to urge the federal and Kurdistan Regional governments to change anti-terrorism laws to end such detentions, which represent a violation of international laws stating that children recruited by terrorist organizations are primarily victims and must be rehabilitated into society.
“The approach that Iraq has adopted is one that completely fails to acknowledge what is commonly understood and reflected in international law, which is that children who were forcibly recruited are, indeed, victims, they should be treated as victims, not as criminals,” explained Belkis Wille, senior Iraq researcher at Human Rights Watch.
According to dozens of children interviewed by the organization, authorities tortured them through beatings with plastic pipes, rods, and even electric cables. One 14-year-old claimed he was forced into a confession by officers of the Kurdish Asayish police force back in 2017.
“They were beating me all over my body with plastic pipes,” the boy testified. “First they said I should say I was with IS, so I agreed. Then they told me I had to say I worked for IS for three months. I told them I was not part of IS, but they said, ‘No, you have to say it.'”
Aside from the torture, the children are also subject to extremely harsh, overcrowded, and unsanitary living conditions, which involves confinement to their rooms for 48 hours at a time, the denial of outside contact, and a failure to provide any formal education.
“Iraq and the KRG’s harsh treatment of children looks more like blind vengeance than justice for ISIS crimes,” Becker concluded. “Children involved in armed conflicts are entitled to rehabilitation and reintegration, not torture and prison.”