A new UN report
published on Tuesday shows that while considerable effort has been made by Iraqi authorities to bring former ISIL
terrorist fighters to justice, there are “serious concerns” about the fairness of the proceedings.
The joint report by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI
) and the UN human rights office
found that basic fair trial standards were not respected in terrorism-related trials, thus placing defendants at a
“A fair and just criminal justice system is a central element to the democratic way of life, and key to building trust
and legitimacy, and promoting and protecting human rights”, said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle
“Those responsible for widespread atrocities against the Iraqi population must be held to account for their crimes, and
it is important that the victims see that justice is delivered. At the same time, those accused have the right to a fair
trial, and these standards must be strictly applied.”
Nearly 800 trials monitored
The terrorist group ISIL, most commonly referred to in Arabic as Daesh, waged a campaign of widespread violence against
the Iraqi population between June 2014 and December 2017, holding large swathes of territory across the country, as well
as northern Syria, until its military defeat.
Fighters committed atrocities, including mass murder, abductions, sexual slavery and destruction, which may amount to
war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.
The report is based on independent monitoring of 794 criminal court trials mainly involving ISIL defendants held in
eight Iraqi provinces from 1 May 2018 through 31 October 2019. The majority of the hearings, 619, concerned people
facing anti-terrorism charges.
Overreliance on confessions
While proceedings were generally orderly and well organized, with judges who were routinely prepared with investigation
files, UN human rights officers found defendants had ineffective legal representation and limited possibilities to
present or challenge evidence.
Prosecutions mainly focused on “association” or “membership” of a terrorist organization, with no distinction being made
between people who participated in violence and those who joined ISIL for their own survival, or through coercion.
For example, UNAMI
observed a trial in Erbil where the wife of an ISIL fighter was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment based on an
informer’s evidence that she used to cook meals for her husband and other fighters.
In another case, a 14-year-old boy in Baghdad was condemned to 15 years in jail based on the admission that his family
was among civilians forced to act as “human shields” to protect ISIL fighters from aerial attack.
Furthermore, the report stated “the over-reliance on confessions, with frequent allegations of torture that were
inadequately addressed—while constituting a human rights violation in itself—further added to the concerns”.
Strengthen criminal justice proceedings
Through its mission, UNAMI, the UN supports Iraq in promoting accountability, protection of human rights, and judicial
and legal reform.
The joint report praises the efforts made by the authorities to seek justice and accountability for the crimes committed
by ISIL, with more than 20,000 terrorism-related cases processed between January 2018 and October 2019, and thousands
However, the authors call for a thorough review of trial and sentencing practices, aimed at strengthening criminal
Recommendations include revising the anti-terrorism laws to comply with international law, and ensuring defendants have
sufficient time to prepare and present their cases.
“Robust safeguards for detention, due process and fair trials not only demonstrate commitment to justice: they are a
necessary building block for resilience. We are well aware that a variety of grievances, including unfair trials and
detainee abuse, have been exploited in the past by ISIL to fuel its violent agenda,” said UNAMI chief, Jeanine