Spotlight: It’s Difficult To Prosecute ISIS Sympathizers In Iraq
Iraqi forces retook the city of Mosul last month, but the city’s justice system remains in flux.
Human rights lawyer Sherizaan Minwalla said she is concerned for minority communities living in areas held by the Islamic State.
“There have been reports of just extrajudicial killings on the battlefield,” Minwalla said. “People feel like there's no point in waiting to send prisoners to court.”
Minwalla joined Worldview host Jerome McDonnell to discuss how the war with the Islamic State has affected justice in Iraq. Below are highlights from the conversation.
The current conditions in Iraq
Jerome McDonnell: What does the Iraqi state look like after pushing out ISIS from the north?
Sherizaan Minwalla: The Iraqi state is a very fragmented state so you don't just have this unified governing or political structure or military structure. Then you also have the Kurdish government, which itself also is to some extent fragmented.
The battle to retake Mosul was led by the Hash'd al Shaabi, which is an umbrella term for primarily Shia militias. But you also had Yazidi and Christian forces as well, and it’s not necessarily a unified front. And they did unite to retake Mosul, but now the question is what’s going to happen when ISIS is gone, which it is.
I don't think there's a really clear idea about who is going to govern. What happens to the Sunni Arab population or to the minority populations that have been persecuted? It’s all up in the air.
On extrajudicial killings
McDonnell: So, worst case scenario, Shia forces run the government in Mosul and decide on their own who was an ISIS collaborator or not.
Minwalla: Yes and no. There have been reports of extrajudicial killings on the battlefield. That has been reported by a number of human rights organizations. People feel like there's no point in waiting to send prisoners to court. Now there is an attempt to investigate and prosecute people for crimes committed by ISIS. People who have been detained by the Kurdish government or by Iraqi forces are being investigated through a court in Qaraqosh which is called the United Courts of Nineveh, then they’re referred to a court in Baghdad for trial, conviction, and sentencing.
On the difficulty of prosecuting and defending alleged ISIS sympathizers
McDonnell: Is the process fair? What’s the evidence?
Minwalla: There have been reports about people not really getting a fair trial. There are a lot of very negative feelings about the atrocities that have been committed. So you have people labeled as ISIS militants even before they've been tried. People feel very strongly about wanting revenge and justice, but what that justice looks like is not necessarily what we think of as justice. So no real proceedings, hearing, or opportunity to present evidence. In a number of cases people are getting five to fifteen minute interviews in front of a judge. Many don’t have attorneys. The attorneys that do show up say they feel ashamed to be representing those accused of ISIS collaboration. I recently heard that there were three attorneys who were arrested for representing alleged ISIS militants.
There are a lot of documents that were captured from Mosul that really detail ISIS crimes and who was complicit. From what I understand there are 60-70 thousand names that the Iraqi government is running people's names against. When people enter refugee camps from ISIS territory, their names are cross-checked with this database.
McDonnell: A list with 60,000 to 70,000 names on it isn’t going to necessarily be right.
Minwalla: Yeah, and you have people who might be retaliating for whatever reason against their neighbors by giving their names to the Iraqi government and saying they were with ISIS. There's so much pressure right now that a lot of those safeguards are being completely ignored and people want to just move people through the system.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview, which originally aired on August 15, 2017. Web story written by producer Julian Hayda.