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Rights Group Accuses Iraq, Kurds of Torturing Children Suspected of IS Ties

FILE - An Iraqi soldier inspects a former train tunnel displaying the the Islamic State group flag, in western Mosul, Iraq, March 1, 2017.
FILE - An Iraqi soldier inspects a former train tunnel displaying the the Islamic State group flag, in western Mosul, Iraq, March 1, 2017.

Hundreds of children as young as 14 have been arrested, tortured and imprisoned by Iraqi and Kurdish authorities for alleged ties to Islamic State, Human Rights Watch says in a new report.

"Children accused of affiliation with ISIS are being detained and often tortured and prosecuted regardless of their actual level of involvement with the group," HRW's Jo Becker said, using an acronym for the militant group. "This sweeping punitive approach is not justice and will create lifelong negative consequences for many of these children."

The report said, at the end of 2018, Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government were holding about 1,500 children for alleged cooperation with IS.

In November 2018, Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 29 current or former detainees from ages 14 to 18 who were charged or convicted of IS affiliation by the KRG, including 24 held at the Women and Children’s Reformatory in Irbil, the Kurdish capital.

Human Rights Watch said it interviewed a number of teenage boys who were jailed because they were suspected of cooperating with terrorists.

One said he was arrested because he worked in a restaurant in Mosul that happened to serve IS members. He said his name was likely found on a list that IS compiled so they could pay the restaurant workers.

Other boys said they had no direct involvement with terrorism but simply worked as cooks, drivers or guards because their families needed money. Some youngsters said their relatives were IS members and pressured them to join, while others were not part of the group but were denounced because of petty grievances or family feuds.

Torture claims

Some boys said they were beaten with pipes and wires, given electric shocks or hung by their wrists until they confessed. They said they were threatened with more torture if they told judges that a confession was beaten out of them.

HRW said many of the teens were denied lawyers and their trials lasted just minutes.

The report said the Iraqi prisons where the boys are sent are severely overcrowded and filthy. It also said the boys are housed with men.

The report said conditions at jails in Irbil are much better, with good food and separate facilities for children, but they are confined for long periods in cells and are not given educational opportunities.

Human Rights Watch official Belkis Wille tells VOA the allegations leveled at Iran and Kurdistan are not new.

Wille said HRW raised the issue with the U.S. State Department two years ago, which made its concerns known to the Kurdistan Regional Government.

She said the Kurds promised to launch a commission to look into child arrests and torture, but says they never followed through with their promise.

"Iraq and the KRG's harsh treatment of children looks more like blind vengeance than justice for ISIS crimes. Children involved in armed conflicts are entitled to rehabilitation and reintegration, not torture and prison," the HRW's Becker said.

It also called on both governments to abide by international juvenile justice standards when treating young people suspected of crimes.