"Since January, Iraq has proceeded with rushed trials against foreigners on charges of illegal entry and membership in or assistance to ISIS (IS) without sufficiently taking into account the individual circumstances of each case or guaranteeing suspects a fair trial," said a statement released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday.
"Most foreign women are being sentenced to death or life in prison.
The Iraqi justice system is also prosecuting foreign children, ages 9 and up, on similar charges, and sentencing them in some cases with up to five years in prison for ISIS membership and up to 15 years for participating in violent acts."
Under Iraq’s counter-terrorism law, being found guilty of aiding, abetting or having membership in a group classified as a terrorist organization, even if no other crime is suspected, is punishable by a sentence of life in prison or the death penalty.
Iraq’s "one size fits all" approach to women who traveled to live in IS territory or to children whose parents brought them along through no fault of their own "is producing unjust outcomes in many instances,” said Nadim Houry, Terrorism/Counterterrorism director at HRW.
“Iraqi justice should take into account their individual circumstances and actions and give priority to prosecuting the most serious crimes while exploring alternatives for lesser ones.”
In preparation for writing the statement, HRW attended the trials of seven foreign women and three foreign children, spoke with relatives of detainees and some of the lawyers representing them, and reviewed media reports of trials of at least 72 foreign women.
The prosecuted women, said the statement, are from a number of countries, including, Turkey, Russia, France, Germany, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Women held in detention told HRW that the food they were getting was barely enough to keep them alive, that medical care was not provided to sick women, and that one woman gave birth on a cell floor.
Despite several requests from HRW, said the statement, Iraq has not issued any statistics about how many trials of foreigners it has conducted.
In the cases monitored by HRW, the statement continued, judges were "quickly dismissive of the defendants’ arguments, including their claims that they had simply followed their husbands or had been coerced to and had not supported or officially joined ISIS."
"Human Rights Watch is not in a position to assess the veracity of these claims and recognizes that some women may have contributed to abuses perpetrated by ISIS," it continued.
“Under Iraq’s current approach, those who killed for ISIS are basically getting the same sentence as those who simply married ISIS members and had children,” Houry said.
“Such an approach does not advance justice nor does it advance victims’ rights.
Iraq should change tack.”
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