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Report (HHRO) of a Visit to Women's Prison in Baghdad

Report of a Visit to Women's Prison in Baghdad
Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, September 2012

On September 20, 2012, a joint delegation from the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization and the Ministry of Human Rights visited the women prison under the Ministry of Justice in Baghdad, to assess the financial and moral situation of the prison.  The delegation was led by Ms. Pascal Warda, former Minister, and Public Relations Officer of Hammurabi Organization and Ms. Helen, member of the Public Relations Committee in our Organization, in addition to three women members from the Ministry of Human Rights.

The visit was implemented with the support of Mr. Mohammed Shiya Al-Sudani, Minister of Human Rights, to whom we are grateful. After a request was submitted by Hammurabi Human Rights Organization to conduct such visit, given that such project is the core of  our Organization’s focus and efforts in promoting the rehabilitation process and protecting the dignity of  the detainees, and developing the quality of humane treatment required by international conventions.

The delegation started its visit by meeting with prison administration.  The discussion was about issues concerning women prisoners, in which the prison administration confirmed that there is a continues of services provided by the prison administration,  Ministry of Interior,  Ministry of Justice, Ministry of  Human Rights and  various government entities concerned with prison issues.  This constitutes a big difference between what was provided during the era of the former regime and what the current system provides, according to statements by the aforementioned administration…

The delegation raised questions and inquiries with the prison administration on everything that could improve inmates’ conditions including nutritional, health and psychological condition, to ensure a level of respect for the right to life for those individuals who are deprived of freedom and normal human life, regardless of whether they are being punished because of violation of the law or if they are victims of crimes committed by others such as their relatives. Those inmates signify our largest portion of the concerns presented in our report and demands, not to mention those who committed crimes against others.  Those individuals must be treated humanely and not with cruelty at these rehabilitation places, in order to respect the dignity of the individual in line with human nature, and in conformation with what is been established by international conventions, such as in the Agreement to prevent all forms of torture, which was recently ratified by Iraq without stipulation on any of its Articles.  Without a doubt, the importance of these international agreements lies in its ability to influence the legislation in place, in order to humanize the means of discipline, and to build a community on the foundations and principles of justice, equality and establishing a culture of violence rejection, regardless of the sentence served by the culpable person for committing acts which limited his freedom.

The visit also included a meeting with the prison judge, who affirmed the validity of the legal measures taken against all inmates by, at least, recording the statement of all of them, as the Judge stated, "The statement of each inmate was recorded with the presence of a lawyer and the prosecutor".   The prison Judge continued, "The delay in processing is due to either lack of documents or absence of witnesses or relatives."  She added, "Despite this, the law has provided the accused or the convicted inmates with true assurance by assigning an attorney free of charge to represent them through the competent court, in case the accused is unable to afford an attorney. This is mandatory for all without exception.  We asked the Judge about the status of women during the course of investigation, from the beginning of their arrest by the police:  Are there policewomen in the investigation, especially during the process of transferring subjects from the investigation to the prison or any other place?  We are inquiring about this because we heard that women have been subjected to sexual assaults and other acts of degrading their dignity, how much truth is in that?

She replied, "There is one policewoman presents during the investigation", she added, "There are indeed several violations that occur during the processes of investigation and transferring. Therefore we demanded and insist on requesting that women be transferred after an investigation directly to the prison, and from the women's prison to the court without obtaining approval of the Correction Department, in order to expedite the transfer and avoid the dully routine of the various cases."  She stressed on "the need for women escort during the transfer process, in order to prevent any violations that may occur ".   She also emphasized "that the financial situation is not at the required level, especially with prison facilities in need for expansion, and the need to implement the room system instead of joint halls which are very crowded", where you find prisoners of different age groups and types of crimes mixed together ... The delegation noted that everyone of the prison administration agree that the place is not suitable to be a correctional  center, because it is not suitable for maintaining the dignity of the punished persons and the rights of their visitors, to benefit from the visitation, particularly at the psychological level.
The prison administration indicated that the Minister of Justice has made the issue of getting another facility or build an appropriate prison as one of the priorities of his ministry, which allows the administrative team the chance to provide and practice means of rehabilitation in a civilized manner suitable to human dignity, and the possibility of organizing awareness, practical or technical workshops for passing the free time of inmates.  Through the delegation’s survey of the sewing kits, embroidery and other handcrafts in the designated workshop, they found them to be in no way at the required level, due to limited and primitive of supplies. It rather seemed unsuitable to the ability of the young women who are continuing their studies by taking evening classes, as they dream of future prospects after their return to society and after the end of their sentence term they are serving, for the purpose of reform and abiding by the law.  The delegation noted that the inmates need means for rehabilitation and empowerment that are more advanced scientifically and technologically in order to bear and face the burden of society’s view of them, and because the matter is related to the psychological and intellectual growth and development that will benefit the prisoners after they get their freedom back.

Conditions inside the prison

After meeting with the prison management, the delegation met with inmates inside the prison. Inside the crowded halls we found assembled beds that were in up to standard condition, where the inmates take care of its cleaning and organization.  But what astonished us of the women testimonies was the severe contamination of scabies on the skin of several inmates who are on death row, as one of them mentioned "We are only allowed to change our gowns and bathe once a month.”  The inmates claimed that they had been tortured by various methods, including by electricity, and they have been beaten and raped during the investigation." Lack of environmental concerns and poor hygiene due to lack of bathing (once a month), represent damage and even demeans human dignity.

The delegation was briefed on the quality of nutritional supplies provided to inmates on a daily basis. It appeared that the quality of the provided food is at an acceptable level, but it needs wider varieties. The inmates complained about repeated items of dry grain on the menu such as lima bean, rice and groats.With regard to meat, the inmates revealed that chicken is frequently served, but they requested adding red meat, vegetables and sweets, candy, juices and other items. Some of the inmates asked for luxury items such as perfumes and cosmetics…!

Are all inmates treated equally in the prison?
The women complained of discrimination in dealing with their visitors.  It appears that when the visitor is a male, he is allowed to bring in all that he can bring of food or specific items. However, if the visitor is a female, she is not allowed to bring in anything into the prison, "Even though there are items the women need, which they cannot do without, and some women cannot ask their men visitors to bring them in, because they are specifically female items.  This issue was raised by a number of inmates, as they appealed to the visiting delegation to intervene and change this treatment.

We believe that this raises a number of important questions regarding the extent to which they are considered as human beings firstly, and understanding their privacy as women secondly.  This very subject represents the main focus of our visit with the inmates, which establishes the idea of ​​ our organization’s attention on prisons to serve the purpose of defending and preserving the human dignity, despite the crimes committed by a person or sentences he/she may deserve including the death penalty, humanity of a person remains worthy of a humane treatment to help that person repent and correct his/her behavior inside the penitentiary. Even if his/her death penalty is confirmed, a compassionate death is required because, a human being will remain human being and his / her dignity is worthy of respect.

Also on the level of meetings between mothers and children or between a man and his prisoner wife, seemingly these meetings are conducted only through an iron wall of meshed wire, where a child cannot enjoy or get some of his mother’s affection during the visitation time allocated to them by law. As a result, the meeting takes place in a cruel manner that needs to be made more humanized than it is now, if not for the prisoner, let it be for the visitor, especially if it involves a child or a mother or a husband. Perhaps this manner can bring a little psychological comfort the visitor deserves and in turn, the visitor will transmit that back to the prisoner, too. This is one of prisoner’s simplest rights while she is paying the price for her deeds inside the prison.

Are there any other victim prisoners?
evidently during the Delegation’s visit, they met with women prisoners, who consider themselves innocent and victim of their husbands or a relative who committed the crime, and because of such kinship, they refrained from reporting the crime to the police, or participated in one way or another in the crime by virtue of being a family member or she was misled by, for example, her husband.

Through this context, the delegation listened to a story of one of the inmates a mother of nine children. She said ‘My husband was unjust’ and he is the one who incriminated and forced her into acts of kidnapping and murder which led the court to sentence her to death by hanging, according to more than one Article of the law, including Article (4) that pertains to terrorism. This sentence was then commuted from death to a life imprisonment because of her confession that her husband was forcing her and her children to participate in terrorist activities. Her husband is in prison now because of committing terrorist crimes and has been sentenced under the same Article of the law. And he has caused two of her sons to be imprisoned for acts of terrorism and kidnapping and were sentenced under the same Article of the law. According to this female prisoner “one of her sons is currently in the hospital treated for burns inflicted as a result of a terrorist attack on the police station for Crimes, of which he was an employee. Thus this family has fallen apart and suffers from psychological distress experienced by this mother intensively and continuously bringing tears to her eyes continuously, and she is in a deadlock situation with no salvation but God’s mercy, and therefore she was begging and hoping to be released by a “general amnesty”.  Even though she still considers herself innocent and mocks the accusations presented against her , saying “ What are these papers” referring to a copy of the verdict of charges she’s accused of , saying “ I do not deserve this sentence, as I was misled” , and she continues with a loud voice rejecting all the accusations against her and deprivation from her children , to the point of  professing verbal abuse and insults against her husband , who brought her a life imprisonment and disintegration of family … But as it is known, the law does not protect the ignorant .

The visiting delegation noticed the presence of women inmates from minorities, some were Kurdish women from Erbil and Turkmen women who asked to be transferred to a prison in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and to Kirkuk to facilitate visitation by their family members. In addition, some women from the south demanded to be transferred to Women Prison in Babel Province. We also met with two Christatin women who were serving sentences for job related misconduct.

All of these women suffer from lack of interest in aspects of education and awareness, as well as from lack of space and inadequate ventilation which limits them to one fan per room. They also demanded some kitchen and cleaning supplies.

Most of the committed crimes were murder for terrorism and for restoring honor. There were also some delinquencies of financial and administrative corruption. On the basis of testimonies and talk with prisoners in general, the delegation believes that the overall treatment is adequate, and can be developed in the future by the administration of prison, as it currently focuses on:

-           Visits to the prison doctor, however, there were complaints about lack of quantity or quality of stomach or joints medications.

-          Each inmate is allowed to call her family once a week, albeit they are demanding more calls.

-          Family visitation, each inmate is granted one visit per month.

-          Prisoners are allowed to watch TV, but only preselected channels by the prison administration.

All prisoners are demanding to be covered by a general amnesty, as they consider it a grace and a great mercy.

What Does Women Prison in Baghdad, under the Ministry of Justice, Represent?

Concerning the body counts in this prison we have seen that there are 414 female inmates, one of them is in the hospital. They are classified as 269 detained, 115 sentenced and 17 with unconfirmed death sentence, so the total number of inmates with death sentence is 18 women. There include also 21 child and 4 foreigners among them one Ethiopian, and 3 Syrians. And according to one of those foreign inmates, they are not sure about their fate yet, and are being transferred from one court to another without determining their fate. As for the guard force it is appropriate and suffices.

Our Demand to the Authorities, as a Defender Organization of Human Rights.

1- A number of accused or sentenced women with infant children suffer from having their children carry the burden of their punishment. Thus, it is necessary in this case to find a humane solution for those children, as there are 21 child serving penalties for crimes they didn’t commit .The State can find special means to deal and take care of those children inside the prison during the early stages of their life. One way would be by inviting child related Civil Society Organizations to help those innocents to live a normal childhood unlike the one they are living currently which is limited to watching their mothers and hearing stories that could make them ticking time bombs for unpromising future , as they are forced to live a life that can lead them to form  a wrong vision about life based on the reality of prison since they were born inside it, lacking any taste of freedom, as they were robbed of their freedom and humanity from an early age.

In this respect lies the importance of close corporation between the relevant State authorities and the Civil Society Organizations whether they are governmental or non-governmental to seek other means to specially rescue these innocent children and to create a healthy human environment for them, such as hand them over to their relative families who have certain level of financial and psychological capabilities, or by finding volunteered families to receive a number of those children in line with their acceptance and capabilities or placing them in specialized houses to raise them in a civilized manner which will open create and a future for them close to a normal life necessary for an innocent human being.

2- We call for building or transferring the prison into another location which suits the required specifications for a prison in terms of area where inmates are housed in rooms instead of housing them in halls. Also, provide rehabilitation services to them to be able to preserve their human dignity as well as enabling them to be reformed through activities and awareness- raising courses that could help inmates think and live the repentance life for what she have done and get rehabilitated for a better future, so that when they get out of prison, they would have learned a lesson on how to respect the law and understand its benefits and respect their freedom and freedoms of others.

3- We Demand appointing of policewomen to escort women prisoners during interrogations as well as through transferring prisoners from one place to another to prevent incidents of indecency and breach of law.

4- We demand an accurate classification of detention halls by type of crime committed, to prevent bad prisoners from recruiting others, and also to enable them to reform themselves a which is the purpose of the punishment … Because, for example, a prisoner have committed an offense of providing false information on other individuals to the Commission of Integrity for example. Therefore, she is unable to find someone who would guarantee her a release on bail or in the case of females accused of very light and different sentences, which are placed with other female inmates who had committed prostitution or suicide or murder for honor. Because prison halls are open on each other which make it easy for prisoners to make connection with each other.

5- We demand that the judicial authorities re-examine the unsolved cases of prisoners, and not to leave any unsolved cases without legal action, and designate a defense lawyer who would remove the injustice upon the ones that were not proven guilty due to lack of documented evidences.

6 – We demand re-examination of the nutritional and environmental system, especially physical hygiene and adequate clothing inside the prison to provide adequate food and other appropriate disease resistance, as well as providing the means for adequate hygiene and clothing to all inmates, including those with death sentence.

7 - We demand arranging designated areas for visitations, to allow for face to face meeting and not through interlinked iron wires, because women tend to be more affectionate toward their children. Therefore, they are in a great need of human contact during such visits (this is a woman characteristic!).

8 - We demand allowing women and men visitors to bring in nutritional items and necessities required by female prisoners without gender based discrimination toward visitors and within what is legally permitted.

9 - We demand the transfer of female prisoners who are originally from other provinces (outside of Baghdad) to prisons near their communities to allow their families to visit them on a regular basis, as this is one of their most basic human rights.

10 - We demand facilitating official approvals and arrange visits to  prisons by requester organizations, in order to work together in developing the process of respect of human rights in Iraq and thus arrange training to engage these organizations in the process of  developing  and providing services that will lead to a greater understanding of the role of NGOs on this issue  which is not only a secondary role, but a primary one in support  of the rule of law, meaning the democratic system, and impose  respect of human rights, whatever the conditions or circumstances are in which he/she resides in. So long as the person is alive, his rights are worthy of respect and development. This is not only to please God and the conscience, but also to appreciate the human dignity which is undividable, and not to allow any person whatever his position or authority to act on this dignity, regardless of the conditions and justifications.

11 - We demand that the Human Rights Committee in the Parliament and the High National Commission of Human Rights to work on issuing national binding legislations to protect the human rights of detainees, in light of Iraq’s recent ratification of the United Nation Agreement on opposing all forms of torture, and moving forward to achieve the abolishment of death penalty which represents a legitimate source for violence perpetuation that has been escalating seriously in Iraq.

We conclude our report by urging the authorities in all parts of our beloved country, that they should fulfill their international obligations toward the content of the International Bill of Human Rights, of which Iraq was among its first endorsers, such as the announcement of International Human Rights and other international conventions complementary to this Bill, pending the necessary mechanisms to implement the Convention against All forms of torture. So We add our voice to that of the General Secretary of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon in urging Iraq to become an active partner as soon as possible, as Ki-moon stated in his speech of 7 June 2011, in which he called for the Iraqi government to “complete the ratification of the Convention against Torture to send a serious signal of its intention to address this problem”. We also combine our voice to condemn the" forced disappearance and arbitrary detention and torture "in all parts of Iraq, demanding training and preparing the team in charge of the  investigation, imprisonment, custody and daily management of prisons to treat detainees and their families humanely, using humane manners to protect the dignity of individuals, as well as working on rehabilitating them socially, psychologically and medically and in other forms of necessary rehabilitation for individuals victims of Torture.

Hammurabi Organization for Human Rights

Public Relations Committee

10 October 2012