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HRW report documents abuses suffered by Iraqi women in prison

BAGHDAD, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Iraqi authorities detain thousands of Iraqi women, subjecting them to torture and mistreatment, including threats of sexual abuse, Human Rights Watch said.

Because of Iraq's weak and corrupt judiciary, trial proceedings are well behind international standards and many women are detained for months or years without charge before seeing a judge, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday.

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"Iraqi security forces and officials act as if brutally abusing women will make the country safer," Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a release. "In fact, these women and their relatives have told us that as long as security forces abuse people with impunity, we can only expect security conditions to worsen."

The report, "'No One Is Safe': Abuses of Women in Iraq's Criminal Justice System," documents abuses of women in detention based on interviews with incarcerated women and girls, both Sunni and Shiite, their families and lawyers, and prison medical service providers, Human Rights Watch officials said.

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Despite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's pledge in January 2013 to reform the criminal justice system, beginning with releasing detained women with judicial orders of release, conditions have remained essentially the same a year later, the report said.

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Many of the 27 women who spoke with Human Rights Watch said they were beaten, kicked, slapped, hung upside down and beaten on their feet, received electric shocks, and were raped or threatened with sexual assault during interrogation. They said they were questioned about their male relatives' activities, not crimes for which they themselves were implicated, and weren't given access to a lawyer. They also told HRW they were forced to sign statements, which they were not allowed to read and later repudiated in court.

The report recommended Iraqi authorities acknowledge the prevalence of abuse of female detainees, investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment, prosecute those responsible and disallow coerced confessions. The report also said Iraqi officials should make judicial and security sector reform a high priority.

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"The abuses of women we documented are in many ways at the heart of the current crisis in Iraq," Stork said. "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."

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