04/05/2023, 16.04
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UN reports a million Iraqis went missing over 50 years

The United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances released a report whose findings are based on a visit to Iraq in November 2022. In it, the UN body calls for action to shed light on a practice that is still going on. Iraq, however, lacks specific legislation to deal with the matter.  Disappearances occurred under Saddam, during the US occupation and as a result of the rise of the Islamic State group.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – In the last 50 years of Iraq’s troubled history, about a million people have gone missing, this according to a report by the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances.

Over this period, which spans Saddam Hussein’s regime, the US occupation and the rise and fall of the Islamic State group, the Arab country has had one of the highest numbers of enforced disappearances.

In view of this situation, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances has called on Iraq to seek victims and punish perpetrators. The lack of a clear definition of the offence in Iraqi law has hampered action so far.

To fill the gap, the report urges “Iraq to immediately establish the basis to prevent, eradicate and repair this heinous crime”. The Iraqi government has not yet responded to the request.

The Committee’s report was published yesterday based on findings made during its visit to Iraq in November 2022.

It was drafted by independent experts chosen to monitor the implementation of the UN’s Convention for the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearance.

While acknowledging that Iraqi authorities are open to cooperation, the Committee notes that enforced disappearances continue amid a culture of impunity. 

Up to 290,000, including 100,000 Kurds, disappeared in the first wave under Saddam Hussein’s “genocidal campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan” between 1968 and 2003.

This continued after the US invasion that led to the fall, arrest and execution of the dictator when US-led military forces captured at least 200,000 Iraqis, almost half of whom were held in prisons administered by the United States and the United Kingdom.

The UN experts note that some detainees were arrested, without warrants, for alleged involvement in insurgency operations, while others were simply “civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The rise in the summer of 2014 of the Islamic State group was followed by a wave of kidnappings and disappearances in the territory under its control (about half of Syria and Iraq at the time of its maximum expansion).

Another common pattern concerns the alleged enforced disappearance of children, particularly from the Yazidi minority community, born after their mothers were sexually abused in camps operated by the Islamic State (also known by its Arabic acronym Da’esh). 

During the visit, the members of the Committee heard testimonies and gathered evidence.

In a testimony that highlighted what the experts describe as “a typical, ongoing pattern,” an Iraqi mother said: “My son went to visit his cousin. I called him soon after he left because he had forgotten the bread I wanted him to offer my nephew. He replied, saying that he was at a checkpoint and some men in uniform were checking him, and that he would call me immediately afterwards. He never did.”

“Since then, I have searched for him everywhere, in all prisons, with all the authorities. But nothing, nothing, nothing.”

Like this woman, hundreds of other families are looking for loved ones, most likely held in Turkey, Syria or Iran "where contact with the outside world is impossible.”

In view of the situation, the UN Committee urges Iraq to change the law, as well as set up an independent task force to verify detention places and detainees’ names, as well as inform their families of their circumstances.

Even today allegations persist of secret places of detention, which the authorities deny. To address this issue, a fact-finding mission should be created, and be provided with all available technical means, such as satellite pictures and drones, to investigate.

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