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Iraq not respecting rights of security detainees: UNAMI

[JURIST] Authorities in Iraq are failing to guarantee due process and other basic human rights of some 3,000 detainees arrested after a new security plan was instituted in Baghdad in mid-February, according to a new report [PDF text; press release] released Wednesday by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) [official website]. The report, the tenth in a series issued by the office, also repeated UNAMI's ongoing concerns over "rampant violations of human rights standards by insurgency and various armed groups, and recognizes that these crimes have targeted civilians, law enforcement personnel and government employees."

On the Iraqi government's own conduct, UNAMI noted:

While in his public statements Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged that the government would respect human rights and ensure due process within a reasonable time for those under arrest, there were no references to any mechanisms for monitoring the conduct of arresting and detaining officials. The new emergency procedures announced on 13 February contained no explicit measures guaranteeing minimum due process rights. Rather, they authorized arrests without warrants and the interrogation of suspects without placing a time limit on how long they could be held in pre-trial detention. The use of torture and other inhumane treatment in detention centers under the authority of the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense continues to be of utmost concern. UNAMI re-emphasizes the urgent need to establish an effective tracking mechanism to account for the location and treatment of all detainees from the point of arrest.
In addition to noting a "rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis," UNAMI issued harsh criticisms of the Iraqi court system:
77. UNAMI remains concerned about procedures followed by the [Central Criminal Court of Iraq] and other criminal courts in Iraq, which consistently failed to meet minimum fair trial standards. Such trials are increasingly leading to the imposition of the death penalty. The CCCI, which hears cases referred both by the MNF and the Iraqi authorities, was set up by the CPA in July 2003 to hear serious criminal offences, including terrorism, abduction, money laundering, drug trafficking and acts of sabotage. It also hears cases involving suspects arrested by the Iraqi authorities under the 2004 emergency regulations and the 2005 anti-terror law....

78. Serious pre-trial irregularities, which prejudice the chances of subsequently receiving a fair hearing, include the failure to bring defendants before an investigative judge within a reasonable period of time, and failure to promptly apprise detainees of the reason for their arrest and of the details of the charges and evidence against them. At the investigative stage, there is a lack of adequate access to court-appointed counsel prior to the initial investigative hearing and subsequently. The vast majority of defendants are represented by counsel appointed by the court, whom they have never met and who have little or no knowledge of the substance of the charges or evidence against their clients. With regard to those held in MNF custody, according to current practice, suspects are denied access to legal counsel during the first 60 days of internment. The lack of continuity in legal representation available to defendants is of equal concern. In the vast majority of cases, defendants are not represented by the same counsel at the investigative or trial stage, eroding further their chances of securing an effective defense. This includes the ability of counsel to present and prepare defense witnesses, to prepare effective cross-examination of prosecution witnesses and to submit any other relevant evidence in the case. Proceedings at trial are typically brief in nature, with sessions lasting on average some fifteen to thirty minutes, during which the entire trial is concluded. Deliberations also typically do not last more than several minutes for each trial, including in complex cases involving serious felonies resulting in sentences of life imprisonment or the death penalty. Defendants are also frequently unaware of their rights under the law, including the right of appeal against their conviction and sentencing. Under Iraqi law, appeals must be lodged to the Court of Cassation within thirty days of the pronouncement of the verdict. Denial of prompt and adequate access to counsel, and lack of continuity in legal representation, mean that in many cases those convicted lose the opportunity to appeal their sentences as they become aware of their rights only after the deadline for submissions has passed. Even in death penalty cases, which under Iraqi law are automatically referred to the Court of Cassation, defendants facing capital punishment lose the opportunity to submit information for consideration at the appeal stage.
Last week, an Amnesty International report [text] noted that Iraq's growing use of the death penalty since its reinstatement in 2004 has given the country the fourth-highest execution rate in the world [JURIST report]. BBC News has more.

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