Feb 17, 2019 Last Updated 6:33 PM, Feb 5, 2019

Human Rights Violations after 2003


Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, international NGOs reported on numerous human rights abuses by the coalition forces, local insurgents and terrorists, some private militia and Iraqi security forces. Besides, the situation of minorities, women and children and other vulnerable groups remains a subject of great concern.

Torture, inhuman treatment and lack of equal protection of the law

Iraq adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ratified the UN Convention against Torture in 2011. Yet, there remains a striking difference between de jure adherence and de facto realization. Independent international bodies and NGOs report severe human rights abuses in Iraqi detention facilities since the end of the Ba`ath regime. These include torture and inhuman or degrading treatment in prisons, some eventually leading to death, denial of due process and fair trial standards, arbitrary, unlawful or secret arrest and detention, impunity of perpetrators and absence of external monitoring.

One of the most controversial incidents was the torture of Abu Ghraib detainees at the hands of US prison guards. The systematic abuse of the prisoners included solitary confinement, blindfolding, beating, threats of rape, suspension in stressful positions, sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures and loud music as well as various methods of humiliation. Also UK troops were recently accused of systematic torture of Iraqi detainees. Their assaults are currently being investigated.

After a short period of abolition under US occupation, the death penalty was reinstated in Iraq in 2004. With at least 129 executions in 2012, Iraq is globally one of the leading countries in enforcing the death penalty, mostly for terrorist offences. This is all the more worrying with regard to the weak criminal justice system in Iraq, which cannot guarantee trial by fair standards and often bases convictions on unfair proceedings or forced confessions extracted under torture. Progress is only to be seen in the Kurdistan Region, where the government has implemented a moratorium on the use of the death penalty since 2008 and has recently issued a draft bill on the abolition of the death penalty.

Threats to life, liberty and security of person

Since 2003, insurgents, terrorists and sectarian groups launch attacks against coalition forces, Iraqi officials and security forces as well as the Iraqi population.

Bomb attacks, kidnappings, ransom demands and targeted killings are common means to intimidate and eliminate opponents, to destabilize the country, to gain influence or raise funds. More than 120,000 civilian deaths have been recorded in Iraq from 2003 until 2012. Suicide bombings caused the death of approximately 12,500 and injured another 30,000 persons of which 98% were civilians. Most of the abuses by armed groups amount to sectarian violence and can be traced back to Al-Qaeda and many other extremist groups, paramilitary forces and private militia. Nonetheless, also the US forces must be held accountable for the killing of civilians during security operations.

Following the withdrawal of coalition forces in 2011, the wave of violence has not decreased but shifted its weight on dominantly sectarian and anti-government insurgency.

Authorities in Baghdad particularly fail to protect their citizens living in South and Central Iraq as well as in Kirkuk from armed attacks. At the same time, the situation in the three Northern provinces remains relatively stable and secure.

Discrimination against minorities and vulnerable groups

Up until today, a large number of marginalized religious and ethnic communities in Iraq face discrimination on a daily basis. Minorities such as Christians, Yazidis, Assyrians, Mandaeans and Shabaks are continuously facing persecution in terms of killings, bomb attacks, death threats, destruction of worship places, kidnappings, and forced displacement and flight.

The ancient religious tensions between Shia and Sunni Muslims intensify largely due to aspirations for political influence. Since the Sunni dominated dictatorship has been toppled, more Shia members have access to political mandates. Conversely, Sunnis are now increasingly marginalized from politics and complain about massive discrimination in education, housing and employment. Both groups terrify each other using bomb attacks and death squads, demanding many civilian casualties.

Widespread gender inequality constitutes another violation of the fundamental right of equality. Iraq has acceded to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. Nonetheless, Iraqi women remain second-class-citizens who are being denied their most basic rights, such as freedom of choice and opinion, access to education or physical self-determination. In many households and families, it is assumed that the use of psychological and physical violence against female relatives is the natural right of the man. Although a new Law Against Domestic Violence was passed in the Kurdistan Region in 2011, it remains poorly implemented. So-called honor-related violence, including forced marriage and honor killings, are still being practiced throughout the country.

Next to women, children represent one of the most vulnerable groups of Iraqi society. Iraq has acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, children suffer under widespread domestic violence and abuse. Girls are still being married at a very young age even though there exists a provision prohibiting child marriage in the new Law on Domestic Violence of 2011.


Amnesty International (2006): Beyond Abu Ghraib: Detention and torture in Iraq 

Amnesty International (2010): Iraq. New Order, Same Abuses. Unlawful Detentions and Torture in Iraq

Amnesty International (2013): Annual Report 2012

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2012): Human Rights and Democracy: Iraq

Human Rights Watch (2007): Caught in the Whirlwind. Torture and Denial of Due Process by the Kurdistan Security Forces

Human Rights Watch (2009): On Vulnerable Ground. Violence against Minority Communities in Nineveh Province's Disputed Territories

Human Rights Watch (2011): Iraq. At a Crossroads. Human Rights in Iraq Eight Years after the US-Led Invasion

Human Rights Watch (2013): Iraq: Urgent Need for Death Penalty Moratorium

Iraq Body Count: Casualties of suicide bombings in Iraq, 2003-2010

The Guardian (2013): British army's investigations into Iraq deaths to be reopened

UNAMI Human Rights Office/OHCHR, Baghdad (2011): 2010 Report on Human Rights in IraqUNAMI Human Rights Office/OHCHR, Baghdad (2011): 2010 Report on Human Rights in Iraq

UNAMI: Human Rights Reports on Iraq