Cairo, March 6 (IANS) Iraqi and Kurdish authorities have charged hundreds of children over alleged links with the Islamic State terror organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.
In a report titled “Everyone Must Confess: Abuses against Children Suspected of IS Affiliation in Iraq”, HRW said that prosecutions were seldom based on real evidence and that many children were subjected to torture in forced confessions, reported Efe news.
“Children accused of affiliation with ISIS (another acronym for the IS) are being detained, and often tortured and prosecuted, regardless of their actual level of involvement with the group,” children’s rights advocacy director for HRW, Jo Becker, said.
“This sweeping, punitive approach is not justice, and will create lifelong negative consequences for many of these children,” Becker added.
HRW said that international law treats children recruited by armed groups as victims in need of help and not as criminals.
“Children involved in armed conflicts are entitled to rehabilitation and reintegration, not torture and prison,” Becker said.
According to the Iraqi government, at least 185 foreign children have been charged with terror offences and sentenced to prison, while approximately 1,500 were being held.
The report also discussed the extent of psychological damage those children have been suffering, many of whom fear returning home as they think they might face revenge attacks for their alleged association with the Islamic State.
Children detained by the regional authorities said they feared re-arrest by federal forces if they return to territory controlled by Baghdad, the report said.
“Iraq and the KRG’s (Kurdistan Regional Government) harsh treatment of children looks more like blind vengeance than justice for ISIS crimes,” Becker explained.
HRW interviewed 29 teenagers who were previously detained, and quoted a 17-year-old boy who claimed they were tortured, saying: “You need to say you were with ISIS. Even if you were not, you need to say it.”
Another said that he was told he would receive further torture if he revoked his “forced” confession.
The human rights NGO called on the country’s authorities to modify its anti-terrorism laws “to end the detention and prosecution of children solely for ISIS membership, recognizing that international law prohibits the recruitment of children into armed groups”.
It urged them to “release all children who have not committed other crimes and ensure their rehabilitation and reintegration.”
In December 2017, Iraq’s former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the liberation of the last remaining Iraqi region under IS control located near the border with Syria.