“KRG authorities should ensure the wellbeing of children captured after living under ISIS and not mistreat them,” Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at HRW said. “The brutal abuse of children produces false confessions, can cause lifelong suffering, and blurs the moral line between ISIS and its foes.
In December, HRW researchers visited Erbil, the unofficial capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where they spoke to 19 of at least 183 children, who are being held by Asayish, the KRG security force. Of those interviewed, 18 were Sunni Arabs, and all but one told researchers that they had suffered physical and mental abuse after being captured when KRG advanced on Nineveh, Salah al-Din, and Kirkuk in the past several months.
Boy prisoners in the yard of the Women and Children’s Reformatory in Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Many boys were detained on suspicion of links to the Islamic State © 2016 Human Rights Watch
The boys said they were tortured during interrogations, and even admissions of involvement with IS – some true, others made up to satisfy the captors – did not stop the abuse, as security officers simply concocted ever-greater accusations. The children, some of whom were illiterate or blindfolded at the time, were then forced to sign the confessions with their fingerprints, without being told their contents.
“The interrogator brought an electricity machine with him – it had levels of 10, 14, and up to 20. He set it on 14 and put wires on my left and right big toes and turned on the electricity. I felt it in my legs and he asked me if I would admit to involvement with ISIS and I said no. He then left me for 30 minutes and then he returned and asked me to confess again, then he poured water on me until all my body was wet. He turned the electricity on 16 – I couldn’t stand it. I felt that my eyes were popping out,” said ‘Sammi’ – not his real name – who eventually confessed to being with IS.
“They covered my face with a towel and tied it with tape. I couldn’t breathe and asked them to open it a little. Then he took a plastic pipe and beat me with it…. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. he was hitting me on and off and asking me to confess. He said I would stay in the room for five days if I did not confess. He started to take off my pants and said ‘I will f**k you if you don’t say you are ISIS,” alleged another boy, ‘Yassir,’ who also signed the interrogator’s documents.
HRW said that at least five of the boys still bore physical marks of torture, such as cigarette burn scars, on their bodies. It remains unclear if the purported ‘IS members’ were officially charged with any crimes, but none were granted access to a lawyer, and only seven were allowed to contact their families.
HRW researchers said “most” denied any links to IS, but others admitted to joining the jihadist group – which is notorious for employing children – either due to family connections, desire to earn money, or pressure from recruiters. Those involved claimed that they were used as guards or cooks behind their own lines.
“Legitimate security concerns do not give security forces license to beat, manhandle, or use electric shocks on children. Many children escaping from ISIS are victims who need help, yet face further abuse by Asayish forces,” said Fakih.
Following the interviews, HRW wrote a letter to the KRG president, Masoud Barzani, requesting an explanation. They received a reply from Dindar Zebari, chairperson of the KRG’s High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports, who listed local legislation, relevant to the children’s arrest, but did “not address any of the specific allegations.”
“No cases have been reported against the arrest procedure or misconduct at arrest by Asayish against a civilian,” wrote Zebari.