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UN: Islamic State Militants Not Getting Fair Trials in Iraq

FILE - Defense lawyers leave Nineveh Criminal Court, one of two counterterrorism courts in Iraq where suspected Islamic State militants and their associates are tried, in Tel Keif, Iraq, Apr. 26, 2018.

A U.N. report says Islamic State militants in Iraq are often not getting fair trials and the judicial processes in the country are not up to international standards. The report, jointly published by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq and the U.N. Human Rights Office, is based on hundreds of trials monitored between May 2018 and October 2019.

The report says those responsible for widespread atrocities in Iraq must be held accountable. At the same time, it says it is important that those accused of crimes be given a fair trial. It says justice must be seen to be done.

U.N. human rights spokesman Jeremy Laurence says the report is based on independent monitoring of 794 criminal trials of suspected Islamic State militants who were prosecuted under Iraq’s anti-terrorism laws.

"Prosecutions under the anti-terrorism legal framework mainly focused on membership of a terrorist organization, without distinguishing between those who participated in violence, committed international crimes, and those who joined ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] for survival and/or through coercion,” said Laurence.

The report notes trials of IS defendants generally are conducted in an orderly, organized manner and judges are prepared with investigation files. However, it says defendants are placed at a serious disadvantage because they have limited access to lawyers and usually are unable to challenge the evidence presented by the prosecution.

Laurence tells VOA Iraq’s judicial system is unfairly applied to all defendants even in cases where the death sentence is imposed. He cites one case that UNAMI observed in a court in Baghdad in which the defendant was sentenced to death.

"The court appointed the defense lawyer on the day of the trial itself," he said. "He had not seen his client and had not had access to the court files before the hearing and during the course of the trial remained silent.”

Of the 794 criminal trials monitored by the U.N., Laurence notes 109 defendants were sentenced to death.

The report expresses grave concern at the court’s over-reliance on extracting confessions and frequent allegations of torture. It says these actions violate the human rights of defendants and strip Iraq’s judicial system of any semblance of fairness.