Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see also section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, case of Hisham Mohammed). Nongovernmental militias and ISIS affiliates also engaged in killings (see section 1.g.).
The country experienced large-scale protests in Baghdad and several Shia-majority provinces that began in 2019 and lasted through mid-2020. Sporadic protests continued during the year amid a continued campaign of targeted violence against activists. According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR), 591 protesters were killed from October 2019 until the end of May. For the same period, the IHCHR stated 54 protesters were still missing and that there were 86 attempted killings of activists, 35 of which were carried out successfully.
The government took minimal steps to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths. The prime minister ordered an investigation committee to determine if prosecution should be pursued. The committee is composed of the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, the National Security Service (NSS), and the operations command where the incident took place. The judiciary also investigated incidents at the behest of families of the victims. Although there have been several arrests related to targeted killings, few cases appeared to have moved beyond the investigative phase.
Human rights organizations reported that Iran-aligned Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militia groups engaged in killing, kidnapping, and extortion throughout the country, particularly in ethnically and religiously mixed provinces. Unlawful killings by unidentified gunmen and politically motivated violence occurred frequently throughout the country. On May 9, unidentified gunmen purportedly from PMF militias shot and killed prominent activist and protest movement leader Ehab al-Wazni near his home in Karbala. Wazni’s death sparked protests in Karbala that saw demonstrators block roads and bridges with burning tires; dozens of protesters also burned tires and trailers outside the Iranian consulate the same night. The government announced in May the arrest of two suspects based on a third suspect’s confession; the case remained ongoing.
During the year the security situation remained unstable in many areas due to intermittent attacks by ISIS and its affiliated cells; sporadic fighting between the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and ISIS strongholds in remote areas; the presence of militias not fully under the control of the government, including certain PMF units; and sectarian, ethnic, and financially motivated violence.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution prohibits torture and forced confessions, there is no law setting out the legal conditions and procedural safeguards to prevent torture. Consequently, noncompliance enabled the practice of torture in jails, detention facilities, and prisons to be hidden from effective legal oversight. Moreover, the types of conduct that constitute torture are not legally defined under the law, and the law gives judges full discretion to determine whether a defendant’s confession is admissible, often without regard for the way it was obtained. Courts routinely accepted forced confessions as evidence, which in some ISIS-related counterterrorism cases was the only evidence considered. Numerous reports from local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) indicated that government officials employed torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Federal Police, Popular Mobilization Forces, and certain units of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Asayish internal security services, operated with impunity.
For example on July 28, social media outlets circulated widely news of the death of a young man, Hisham Mohammed, who was severely beaten by police officers during his arrest by the anticrime directorate in Basrah Province. His lawyer asserted that Mohammed had been arrested because of a similarity in his name to that of a fugitive accused of murder. Mohammed died from his injuries after police officers reportedly employed torture to secure a confession. The Ministry of Interior formed an investigative committee, but its results were not published.
As in previous years, there were credible reports that government forces, including Federal Police, the NSS, and the PMF, abused and tortured individuals – particularly Sunni Arabs – during arrest and pretrial detention and after conviction. Former prisoners, detainees, and international human rights organizations documented cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in Ministry of Interior-run facilities and, to a lesser extent, in Ministry of Defense-run detention facilities.
Human rights organizations reported that both Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense personnel tortured detainees. According to government forensics officials, some victims showed signs of excessive beating, in addition to bone fractures. Local NGOs reported that deaths at pretrial detention facilities, deportation prisons, and prisons were due to the continuation of systematic torture and the poor conditions in detention centers.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and occasionally life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, and the threat of COVID-19 and other communicable illnesses. In June the Ministry of Justice announced it had carried out a vaccination campaign of its entire prison population against COVID-19. The ministry spokesperson confirmed that prison staff were vaccinated and that there had been no positive cases recorded since May.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in government-run prisons was a systemic problem exacerbated by the number of alleged ISIS members detained by the government. The Iraqi Correctional Service, a part of the Ministry of Justice, administered 29 facilities in the country. The Justice, Defense, and Interior Ministries operated 24 detention facilities. In August a senior Ministry of Justice official warned that the overcrowding at Ministry of Justice-administered prisons could lead to the spread of communicable diseases.
In September a senior Ministry of Justice official reported that the five correctional facilities for juveniles held more than 150 percent of their maximum capacity, with more than half of juveniles held for terrorism-related convictions. Local NGOs published photos of overcrowded prison cells and called on the government to improve prison conditions, especially juvenile prisons. According to Ministry of Justice data, in prisons that held alleged ISIS-affiliated women, authorities also detained children up to 12 years old with their mothers. The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights published photos of juveniles being held with adults at detention centers in Ninewa Province.
In October the Ministry of Justice released 68 juveniles under a special amnesty, and in August a senior ministry official stated that 1,300 inmates, including 86 juveniles, received special pardons to reduce overcrowding.
Across the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR), there were six correctional centers: three for male prisoners and three for women and juvenile pretrial detainees and prisoners. The centers designated for women and juveniles held both pretrial detainees and prisoners, while male pretrial detainees were held at police station detention sections throughout the IKR. The total number of detainees incarcerated exceeded the designated capacity of each facility. The Independent Human Rights Commission Kurdistan Region (IHRCKR) reported in September that the Erbil Correctional Center, for example, which was built to house 900 detainees, held 1,875 inmates. In some detention centers and police-run jails, KRG authorities occasionally held juveniles in the same cells as adults.
The IHRCKR reported that IKR correctional centers suffered from long-term problems of overcrowding, inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities, use of violence during preliminary detention, and outdated infrastructure at women’s and juvenile centers. The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic also adversely affected prisoners’ health, and several died in custody. Limited medical staff was unable to provide adequate medical services to all prisoners.
Administration: The government reported it took steps to address allegations of mistreatment in government-administered prison and detention facilities, but the extent of these steps was not known. Both local and international human rights organizations asserted that judges frequently failed to investigate credible allegations that security forces tortured terrorism suspects and often convicted defendants based solely on coerced confessions. In addition, despite their concerns being raised, authorities ignored physical signs of torture, and the complaints procedures appeared to be neither fair nor effective. Many detainees chose not to report such treatment due to a lack of trust or fear of reprisals.
Prison and detention center authorities sometimes delayed the release of exonerated detainees or inmates due to lack of prisoner registration or other bureaucratic problems, or they extorted bribes from prisoners prior to their release at the end of their sentences. International and local human rights groups reported that authorities in numerous instances denied family visits to detainees and convicts. Guards allegedly demanded bribes or beat detainees when detainees asked to call their relatives or legal counsel.
The KRG inconsistently applied procedures to address allegations of abuse by KRG Ministry of Interior officers or the Asayish security forces. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reported in August and December some IKR prisons failed to respect basic standards and procedural safeguards and that the mechanisms in place to receive complaints of torture did not appear to be effective or to provide remedy.
Independent Monitoring: Corrections Service prisons allowed regular visits by independent nongovernmental observers. Following virtual monitoring visits due to COVID-19 in 2020, observers during the year again were permitted physical visits to prisons. While such visits were irregular due to COVID-19 concerns early in the year, by December the Ministry of Justice reported 40 visits to adult correctional facilities and 20 visits to juvenile correctional facilities had taken place. Visits also included the provision of technical, health, and training support.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and laws prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Despite such protections there were numerous reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions, predominantly of Sunni Arabs, including internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law prohibits the arrest or remand of individuals, except by order of a competent judge or court or as established by the code of criminal procedures. The law requires authorities to register the detainee’s name, place of detention, reason for detention, and legal basis for arrest within 24 hours of the detention – a period that may be extended to a maximum of 72 hours in most cases. For offenses punishable by death, authorities may legally detain the defendant as long as necessary to complete the judicial process. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for updating and managing these registers. The law requires the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the NSS to establish guidelines for commanders in battlefield situations to register detainees’ details in this central register. The law also prohibits any entity, other than legally competent authorities, to detain any person.
Human rights organizations reported that Iraqi Security Forces, among them the Federal Police, NSS, PMF, as well as the Peshmerga and Asayish security forces in the Kurdistan Region, frequently ignored the law. Local media and human rights groups reported that authorities arrested suspects in security sweeps without warrants, particularly under the antiterrorism law, and frequently held such detainees for prolonged periods without charge or registration. The government periodically released detainees, usually after concluding that it lacked sufficient evidence for the courts to convict them, but many others remained in detention pending review of other outstanding charges.
The law allows release on bond for criminal (but not security) detainees. Authorities rarely released detainees on bail. The law provides for judges to appoint free counsel for the indigent. Attorneys appointed to represent detainees frequently complained that insufficient access to their clients hampered adequate attorney/client consultation. In many cases detainees were not able to meet their attorneys until their scheduled trial date.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were numerous reports of arbitrary arrest or unlawful detention by government forces, including by the ISF, NSS, PMF, Peshmerga, and Asayish security forces. There were no reliable statistics available regarding the total number of such acts or the length of detentions. Authorities often failed to notify family members of the arrest or location of detention, resulting in incommunicado detention if not enforced disappearance. Humanitarian organizations also reported that, in many instances, federal authorities did not inform detainees of the reasons for their detention or the charges against them. Many reports of arbitrary or unlawful detention involved suspected members or supporters of ISIS and their associates and family members.
There were reports of Iran-aligned PMF groups also arbitrarily or unlawfully detaining Kurds, Turkmen, Christians, and other members of minority groups in Ninewa Province. There were numerous reports of 30th and 50th PMF Brigades’ involvement in extortion, illegal arrests, kidnappings, and detention of individuals without warrants. Credible law-enforcement information indicated that the 30th PMF Brigade continued to operate secret prisons in several locations in Ninewa Province, which held unknown numbers of detainees arrested on sectarian-based and reportedly false pretenses. Leaders of the 30th PMF Brigade allegedly forced families of the detainees to pay large sums of money in exchange for the release of their relatives.
Human rights organizations reported frequently that KRG authorities arbitrarily detained journalists, activists, and protesters. These detentions included individuals who came to be known as the Badinan detainees, arrested in Duhok Province in 2020 for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Many were denied access to their lawyers and were not informed of the charges against them, nor were their families informed of their whereabouts in a timely manner. Many of those arrested were held in detention for lengthy periods without being brought before a judge, in violation of the law, only to be released without charges (see section 2.a.).
Pretrial Detention: The Ministries of Justice, Defense, Interior, and Labor and Social Affairs are authorized by law to hold pretrial detainees. The NSS intelligence agency and the Counterterrorism Service, which both report directly to the Prime Minister’s Office, may also hold pretrial detainees in limited circumstances, for a brief period. Lengthy pretrial detentions without due process or judicial review were a systemic problem, particularly for those accused of having ties to ISIS.
The Ministry of Justice ran five pretrial detention facilities, the Ministry of Defense ran two, and the Ministry of Interior ran 17 such facilities. In its annual report for 2020, the IHCHR reported 28,853 detainees held in detention facilities under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, 197 under the Ministry of Defense, and 116 under the Counterterrorism Service, the latter of which reported directly to the prime minister and were in the Counterterrorism Command. There were no independently verified statistics, however, concerning the approximate percentage of the prison and detainee population in pretrial detention, or the average length of time held.
The lack of judicial review resulted from several factors, including the large number of detainees, undocumented detentions, slow processing of criminal investigations, an insufficient number of judges and trained judicial personnel, authorities’ inability or reluctance to use bail or other conditions of release, lack of information sharing, bribery, and corruption.
Lengthy pretrial detentions were particularly common in areas liberated from ISIS, where the large number of ISIS-related detainees and use of makeshift facilities led to significant overcrowding and inadequate services. There were reports of detention beyond judicial release dates and unlawful releases. In May a local human rights organization reported that PMF-affiliated militias ran two makeshift detention facilities in Diyala and Salah al-Din Provinces, reportedly holding more than 7,000 ISIS-related detainees without due process or judicial review.
Authorities reportedly held numerous detainees without trial for months or years after arrest, particularly those detained under the antiterrorism law. Authorities sometimes held detainees incommunicado, without access to defense counsel, presentation before a judge, or arraignment on formal charges within the legally mandated period.
KRG authorities also reportedly held detainees for extensive periods in pretrial detention (see section 1.d.). KRG officials noted prosecutors and defense attorneys frequently encountered obstacles in carrying out their work and that trials were unnecessarily delayed for administrative reasons.
According to the IHRCKR, some detainees remained in KRG internal security service facilities for extended periods even after court orders were issued for their release. Lawyers provided by an international NGO continued to have access to and provide representation to any juvenile without a court-appointed attorney.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media if such does not violate public order and morality, or express support for the banned Baath Party. Despite this provision, media and social activists faced various forms of pressure and intimidation from authorities, making the primary limitation on freedom of expression self-censorship due to a credible fear of reprisals by the government, political parties, ethnic and sectarian forces, militias, terrorist and extremist groups, or criminal gangs. A media environment in which press outlets were closely affiliated with specific political parties and ethnic factions, an opaque judiciary, and a still-developing democratic political system combined to place considerable restrictions on freedom of expression, including the press.
Freedom of Expression: Individuals were able to criticize the government publicly or privately but not without fear of reprisal. Paramilitary militias harassed activists and new reform-oriented political movements online and in person, including through online disinformation, bot attacks, and threats or use of physical violence to silence them and halt their activities.
Iraqi Security Forces (mostly those under the Ministry of Interior, within the NSS, or from the PMF), in addition to KRG forces (primarily Asayish), arrested and detained protesters and activists critical of the central government and of the KRG, respectively, according to statements by government officials, NGO representatives, and press reports.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: Despite the constitutional protection for freedom of expression, central government and KRG oversight and censorship sometimes interfered with media operations, at times resulting in the closure of media outlets, restrictions on reporting, denying access to public information, and interference with internet service.
Local media was active and expressed a variety of views, largely reflecting owners’ political viewpoints. Media also self-censored to comply with government restrictions against “violating public order” and because of a fear of reprisal by political figures and parties, militias, terrorist groups, criminal organizations, government officials, and private individuals. Political parties strongly influenced or controlled outright most of the several hundred daily and weekly print publications, as well as dozens of radio and television stations.
The KRG’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) prioritized access to the outlets they owned. In KDP strongholds, Kurdistan Television, Rudaw, and K24 had access to all public places and information, while in PUK-dominated Sulaymaniyah Province, Kurdsat News and GK Television enjoyed the same privilege. Conversely, outlets belonging to opposition parties or lacking party affiliation had limited access to public information in the IKR.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face threats, intimidation, and attacks by militia or security forces.
Government forces occasionally prevented journalists from reporting, citing security reasons. Some media organizations reported arrests and harassment of journalists, as well as government efforts to prevent them from covering politically sensitive topics, including security matters, corruption, and government failure to provide adequate services. For example on June 21, security forces confiscated the equipment of media crews of the BMC, Rudaw, and Kurdish Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) to stop them from covering a confrontation between security forces affiliated with the IKR vice president and Sulaymaniyah Asayish. Impunity in cases of violence against the press and a lack of a truly independent judiciary and press regulation body diminished the effectiveness of journalists.
During the year parliament introduced a revised draft of the Combatting Cybercrimes bill that was the subject of intense national debate. NGOs shared concerns that the law would most likely be used to restrict free speech and the work of journalists, whistleblowers, and activists.
Throughout the IKR there were reports of beatings, detentions, and death threats against media workers, particularly toward journalists working for opposition-affiliated outlets. In some cases the aggressors wore KRG military or police uniforms. On August 11, the local NGO Metro Center reported that while covering public demonstrations protesting the lack of water in Erbil, government-affiliated persons attacked an NRT crew and prevented NRT and Speda TV crews from covering the protest. On July 13, security forces affiliated with PUK co-leader Bafel Talabani raided the headquarters of IPlus TV, a new outlet preparing to open reportedly affiliated with PUK co-leader Lahur Talabani. Security forces held the reporters inside the building for a few hours, following political disputes between the two leaders. The outlet was then shut down and was not permitted to open.
Certain KRG courts applied the more stringent criminal code and laws in lawsuits involving journalists rather than the KRG’s local press law, which provides greater protection for freedom of expression and forbids the detention of journalists. For example, the KRG security forces detained KNN journalist Qahraman Shukri on January 27, and the court sentenced him on June 27 in the absence of legal counsel, on unknown charges. On June 12, the Halabja court sentenced freelance journalist Nasih Abdulrahim to six months in prison on charges of defamation and misuse of a telecommunication device following a lawsuit filed by the Halabja Health Directorate concerning a Facebook post concerning an investigation into a workers’ complaint at the Health Directorate.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits producing, importing, publishing, or possessing written material, drawings, photographs, or films that violate public integrity or decency. The penalties for conviction include fines and imprisonment. Fear of violent retaliation for publishing facts or opinions critical of political factions inhibited free expression. The Ministry of Culture must approve all books published in or imported into the country, thereby subjecting authors to censorship.
On July 14, the Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq (PFAA) reported that security forces had raided and closed the Baghdad bureau of RT (Russia Today), confiscating equipment and briefly detaining Ashraf al-Azzawi, the Baghdad correspondent of RT’s Arabic channel. According to PFAA, the order had come from the Communication and Media Commission (CMC), but the CMC provided no reason for the raid.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes slander, blasphemy, and defamation, including the insulting of government leaders. The judiciary, militias, and government officials used arrest warrants in defamation cases to intimidate, silence, and in some instances apparently “flush out” activists and journalists from hiding. Human rights organizations recommended the government revise the law, which they said was used to silence dissent and calls for reform. In November the judiciary issued an arrest warrant against prominent activist Ahmed al-Washah for defaming Mohammed al-Sadr, the father of Sadrist Trend leader Muqtada al-Sadr, based on Washah’s social media posts criticizing the Sadr family.
National Security: Paramilitary militias in the PMF frequently threatened Sunni and minority communities with terrorism charges to silence their dissent, especially in areas where the militias have taken over local land and economic activities and blocked the return of Sunni IDPs.
Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental and quasi-governmental actors, including militias outside of state control, terrorist groups, and criminal organizations, threatened journalists with violence for reporting on sensitive subjects. According to the PFAA, on May 31, al-Tagheer TV channel employees and its owner received death threats from unknown militias in response to a television program criticizing militias in the country. The PFAA also received reports of other threats to media correspondents by militia groups.
The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content, and there were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Government restrictions on access to the internet were overt, but the government denied that it monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Despite restrictions, political figures and activists used the internet to criticize politicians, organize demonstrations, and campaign for candidates through social media platforms. Militias used bots and disinformation campaigns to attack and defame activists, independent elections candidates, and the electoral commission.
Civil society organizations reported their activists’ social media pages were monitored by government and militia forces, and that the activists faced harassment or criminal charges filed against them based on what they posted on Facebook and other social media platforms. For example on November 16, the Kirkuk Province misdemeanor court charged Hazhar Kakai, a lawyer and a human rights advocate, 510,000 dinars ($350) for a Facebook post allegedly describing the acting governor of Kirkuk Rakan al-Jabouri as a Baathist.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. Social, religious, and political pressures significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of choice in academic and cultural matters. In all regions various groups sought to control the pursuit of formal education and the granting of academic positions. Despite hosting several concerts and festivals during the year, the Tourism Security Directorate in some Shia provinces attempted to restrict the staging of concerts and use of public, non-Islamic music.
NGOs in the IKR reported that university president, dean, and senior professorship positions were easier to obtain for those with links to the KDP and PUK ruling parties. Privilege was also given to those affiliated with political parties in the pursuit of higher degrees.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government occasionally limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration “regulated by law,” and the government generally respected this right. Regulations require protest organizers to request permission seven days in advance of a demonstration and submit detailed information regarding the applicants, the reason for the protest, and participants. The regulations prohibit all “slogans, signs, printed materials, or drawings” involving “sectarianism, racism, or segregation” of citizens. The regulations also prohibit anything that would violate the constitution or law; encourage violence, hatred, or killing; or prove insulting to Islam, “honor, morals, religion, holy groups, or Iraqi entities in general.” Authorities generally issued permits in accordance with the regulations.
In June Amnesty International reported its investigation of 14 out of the more than 100 cases from the IKR’s Duhok Province known as the Badinan detainees. Observers alleged the detainees were arbitrarily arrested between March and October 2020 by Asayish and Parastin forces (Kurdistan Democratic Party intelligence) in connection with their participation in protests, criticism of local authorities, or journalistic work. Amnesty International found all members were held incommunicado for up to five months and at least six were forcibly disappeared for periods of up to three months; eight of them claimed they had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated during detention. Amnesty International further documented four instances of harassment or intimidation of family members of these individuals in detention or hiding, including by arrest and verbal threats. A December UNAMI and OHCHR report raised similar concerns. While trials for some Badinan detainees have concluded (see section 1.e), others remained in detention without charges.
Freedom of Association
The constitution provides for the right to form and join associations and political parties, with some exceptions. The government generally respected this right, except for the legal prohibitions against groups expressing support for the Baath Party or “Zionist principles.”
NGOs registered in Baghdad could operate in the IKR, but NGOs registered solely in the IKR could not operate in the rest of the country. As a result, some NGOs registered only in the IKR could not operate outside the IKR and KRG-controlled disputed territories.
c. Freedom of Religion
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and sexual assault of women, men, and children, but does not specifically mention spousal rape; it permits a sentence not exceeding 15 years, or life imprisonment if the victim dies. The rape provisions of the law do not define, clarify, or otherwise describe “consent,” leaving the term up to judicial interpretation. The law requires authorities to drop a rape case if the perpetrator marries the survivor, with a provision protecting against divorce within the first three years of marriage. The survivor’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape. There were no reliable estimates of the incidence of rape or information on the effectiveness of government enforcement of the law.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, UNAMI reported a significant increase in the reports of rape, domestic violence, spousal abuse, immolation and self-immolation, self-inflicted injuries due to spousal abuse, sexual harassment of minors, and suicide due to increased household tensions because of COVID-19 lockdowns, as well as economic hardship due to the country’s declining economy. In February the Federal Police stated that domestic violence increased by nearly 20 percent because of the pandemic.
In the absence of legislation to combat domestic violence, each relevant central government ministry devised its own way to respond to domestic violence. Although the constitution prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family,” the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. Men may discipline their wives and children “within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom” and reduced sentences for violence or killing are applicable if the perpetrator had “honorable motives” or if the perpetrator caught his wife or female relative in the act of adultery. Domestic violence remained a pervasive problem.
Harassment of legal personnel who sought to pursue domestic violence cases under laws criminalizing assault, as well as a lack of trained police and judicial personnel, further hampered efforts to prosecute perpetrators.
The central government and KRG also struggled to address the physical and mental trauma endured by women who lived under ISIS rule. The Yezidi Survivors’ Law, passed by the COR in March, mandates a new Survivors’ Affairs Directorate under the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to provide psychosocial support to victims of ISIS, including women and members of minority groups.
The Ministry of Interior maintained 16 family protection units under police authority, located in separate buildings at police stations around the country, designed to resolve domestic disputes and establish safe refuges for victims of sexual or gender-based violence. These units reportedly tended to prioritize family reconciliation over victim protection and lacked the capacity to support survivors. NGOs stated that survivors of domestic violence feared approaching the family protection units because they suspected that police would inform their families of their testimony. Some tribal leaders in the south reportedly banned their members from seeking redress through police family protection units, claiming domestic abuse was a family matter. The family protection units in most locations did not operate shelters.
KRG law criminalizes domestic violence, including physical and psychological abuse, threats of violence, and spousal rape. The KRG implemented the provisions of the law and maintained a special police force to investigate cases of gender-based violence and a family reconciliation committee within the judicial system, but local NGOs reported these programs were not effective at combating gender-based violence.
Throughout the year the KRG General Directorate for Combatting Violence against Women and Families provided workshops and seminars to its law-enforcement officers and awareness campaigns about the impact of domestic violence on individuals and society. There was also a 24/7 hotline that received reports of violence: an average of 11,000 calls annually. Furthermore, the directorate, in coordination with the UN Population Fund, developed a mobile phone app to facilitate access to the hotline, which provided access to live consultations with psychologists and psychiatrists.
Two privately operated shelters and four KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs-operated shelters provided some protection and assistance for female survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking. Space was limited, and NGOs reported psychological and therapeutic services were poor. NGOs played a key role in providing services, including legal aid, to survivors of domestic violence, who often received no assistance from the government. Instead of using legal remedies, authorities frequently mediated between women and their families so that the women could return to their homes. Other than marrying or returning to their families, which often resulted in further victimization by the family or community, there were few options for women accommodated at shelters.
The Council of Ministers of the Kurdistan Region formed a judicial body after ISIS took control of the Sinjar Region and surrounding areas to investigate and document claims of ISIS crimes including with recorded testimonies of victims, survivors, claimants, and witnesses. Cases filed with the courts through November totaled 4,206, including 1,191 cases that pertained specifically to ISIS crimes committed against women during the period of ISIS’s control over Sinjar district and other areas in the Mosul Province. Similarly, in Duhok Province an additional 2,036 cases of ISIS violence against women were filed with the courts; the cases were elevated to the level of the International Criminal Court.
The KRG also maintained a genocide center in Duhok for treatment, support, and rehabilitation for women who survived ISIS captivity, including investigating and documenting rape crimes; provides health and psychological services within camps; and ran a center through the KRG Directorate of Yezidi Affairs in the Ministry of Religious and Endowment Affairs for the rehabilitation of approximately 163 liberated women.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): NGOs and the KRG reported the practice of FGM/C persisted in the IKR, particularly in rural areas of Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, and Kirkuk Provinces, despite a ban on the practice in IKR law. Rates of FGM/C, however, reportedly continued to decline. NGOs attributed the reduction in FGM/C to the criminalization of the practice and sustained public outreach activities by civil society groups. FGM/C was not common outside the IKR.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permitted “honor” as a lawful defense in violence against women, and so-called honor killings remained a serious problem throughout the country. A provision of the law limits a sentence for a murder conviction to a maximum of three years in prison if a man is on trial for killing his wife or a female dependent due to suspicion that the victim was committing adultery or engaged in sex outside of marriage. UNAMI reported that several hundred women died each year from honor killings. Some families reportedly arranged honor killings to appear as suicides.
The KRG Ministry of Interior’s Directorate General of Combating Violence against Women confirmed 19 honor killing cases in the IKR as of September.
There were reports that women and girls were sexually exploited through so-called temporary, or pleasure, marriages, under which a man gives the family of the girl or woman dowry money in exchange for permission to “marry” her for a specified period. Young women, widowed or orphaned by ISIS offensives, were especially vulnerable to this type of exploitation. In similar cases NGOs reported some families opted to marry off their underage daughters in exchange for dowry money, believing the marriage was genuine, only to have the girl returned to them months later, sometimes pregnant.
Government officials and international and local NGOs also reported that the traditional practice of nahwa, where a cousin, uncle, or other male relative of any woman may forbid or terminate her marriage to someone outside the family, remained a problem, particularly in southern provinces. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called for an end to nahwas and fasliya (where women are traded to settle tribal disputes), but these traditions continued, especially in areas where tribal influence outweighed that of government institutions.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including in the workplace. Penalties for sexual harassment include fines of up to only 30 dinars (approximately two cents), imprisonment, or both, not to exceed three months for a first-time offender. The law provides relief from penalties if unmarried participants marry. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement, but penalties were very low. In most areas there were few or no government-provided women’s shelters, information, support hotlines, and little or no sensitivity training for police. Refugees and IDPs reported regular sexual harassment, both in camps and cities.
Female political candidates suffered harassment online and on social media, including posting of fake, nude, or salacious photographs and videos meant to harm their campaigns and their reputations – often labeled as “staining their family’s honor.” The Iraqi Women’s Network NGO cited several cases of women candidates being targeted because of their gender during the election campaign. Local human rights NGOs stated that the harassment was particularly targeted against independent women candidates or those from new political parties that lacked recourse or political connections to government security services.
During the year NGOs reported security personnel asked female IDPs for sexual favors in exchange for provision of basic needs. This was especially prevalent among female IDPs previously living under ISIS control. In other cases criminal gangs exploited female IDPs and forced them into commercial sex.
The KRG’s High Council of Women’s Affairs and Directorate General of Combating Violence Against Women (DCVAW) stated there was a spike in online harassment of girls and women. Per the DCVAW, 75 percent of gender-based violence cases resulted from social networking sites.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Hospitals provided menstrual health services free to women.
Various methods of contraception were widely available, including in the IKR; however, women in urban areas generally had greater access than those in rural parts of the country. A married woman could not be prescribed or use contraception without the consent of her husband. Unmarried single women were unable to obtain birth control. Divorced or widowed women did not have this same restriction.
Due to general insecurity in the country and attendant economic difficulties, many women received inadequate medical care. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that in some provinces the work of reproductive health and pregnancy care units, as well as health-awareness campaigns, had ceased almost entirely because of COVID-19’s impact on the health-care system.
In the IKR the KRG Ministry of Health reported that survivors of sexual violence received treatment from provincial health departments and emergency rooms. Judges, however, rarely considered forensic evidence that was collected. The government stated it provided full services for survivors of sexual violence and rape in all provinces because the law requires that survivors receive full health care and treatment. Emergency contraceptives were available as part of the clinical management of rape through government services and in private clinics, although advocates who worked with survivors reported many barriers to women accessing those contraceptives, as well as significant gaps in service delivery.
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide women the same legal status and rights as men. Criminal, family, religious, personal status, labor, and inheritance laws discriminate against women. experienced discrimination in such areas as marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing.
For example in a court of law, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man in some cases and is equal in other cases. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses but does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony other than child support or in some cases two years’ financial maintenance; in other cases the woman must return all or part of her dowry or otherwise pay a sum of money to the husband. Under the law the father is the guardian of the children, but a divorced mother may be granted custody of her children until age 10, extendable by a court up to age 15, at which time the children may choose with which parent they wish to live.
All recognized religious groups have their own personal status courts responsible for handling marriage, divorce, and inheritance matters. Discrimination toward women on personal status matters varied depending on the religious group. The government’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except members of recognized religious minority groups. In all communities male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they do not, women have the right to sue.
The law provides women and men equal rights in owning or managing land or other property, but cultural and religious norms impeded women’s property rights, especially in rural areas.
Law and custom generally do not respect freedom of movement for women. For example, the law prevents a woman from applying for a passport without the consent of her male guardian or a legal representative (see section 2.d.). could not obtain the Civil Status Identification Document, required for access to public services, food assistance, health care, employment, education, and housing, without the consent of a male relative.
NGOs also reported cases in which courts changed the registration of Yezidi women to Muslim against their will because of their forced marriage to ISIS fighters.
The KRG provided some additional legal protections to women, maintaining a High Council of ’s Affairs and a ’s Rights Monitoring Board to enforce the law and prevent and respond to discrimination, but such protections were applied inconsistently. Other portions of KRG law continue to mirror federal law, and women face discrimination. KRG law allows women to set as a prenuptial condition the right to divorce her husband beyond the limited circumstances allowed by Iraqi law and provides a divorced wife up to five years’ alimony beyond childcare.