Detained for months and years without charge, women in Iraq spoke up in a Human Rights Watch report about the country’s judicial system.
The report — released Thursday — details interviews with 27 women who alleged abuse at the hands of Iraqi security forces, cross-referenced with reports from their families, lawyers and medical service providers.
Sexual abuse, beatings and electrocutions riddled the testimonies. Many said they were questioned over the activities of their male relatives rather than crimes they themselves were believed to have committed.
“The abuses of women we documented are in many ways at the heart of the current crisis in Iraq,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “These abuses have caused a deep-seated anger and lack of trust between Iraq’s diverse communities and security forces, and all Iraqis are paying the price.”
A spokesperson for Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry called the report “over-exaggerated.”
“We have some limited illegal behaviors which were practiced by security forces against women prisoners,” he said, adding that those responsible would be held accountable. “Iraq is still working to put an end to prison abuse.”
In December of 2012, a local Iraqi NGO released a report detailing abuse against female detainees. Parliamentarians called for a government investigation into the allegations, and massive street demonstrations erupted in Sunni-majority provinces to call for justice.
In January 2013 Prime Minister Nuri al-Malaki tasked Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani to negotiate with the protesters and enact reform within the criminal justice system.
But Human Rights Watch researchers say Iraq’s still-broken judicial system only adds fuel to the fire of sectarian infighting and extremism wreaking havoc on the country.
The report includes the review of a video featuring an Al-Qaeda fighter in Ramadi addressing a crowd of onlookers.
“What are we supposed to do when the army is raping our women? What are we supposed to do when they’re imprisoning our women and children?” he charged.
The report was limited to abuses against women because they “suffer a double burden” of the social stigmatization of detention, according to the group.