At the beginning of December 2014 Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Abadi announced that he would be tackling judicial reform. Specifically he wanted to clean up the process of how people were arrested, processed, held, and taken to trial. Iraq has never been known for its justice system, and post-03 various human rights groups and governments have all said that the country lacks due process and its jails and prisons are overcrowded and full of abuse. Premier Abadi appears to be serious about tackling with some of these institutional problems within the country. Dealing with arrests and courts would not only appeal to Sunnis who have been complaining about arbitrary arrests and people being held without trial for several years now, but it would be a huge step towards the rule of law within the country in general.
December 2 Premier Abadi issued Order 57 calling for the enforcement of due process within the judicial system. It said that all prisoners who were acquitted but still detained should be released. All arrests have to be done with a warrant. All arrests have to be registered. The Defense and Interior Ministries along with the National Security Agency have to create a process to track all of the arrests within the country. Finally, there has to be a time set for when people will go to court, and no one can be held for more than six months without a trial. Simply stated the prime minister wanted the government to enforce the law. Like many developing countries this is easier said then done. Since 2003 Iraq has not had a working justice system. The United Nations, the United States, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others have all noted that Iraq suffers from unwarranted and arbitrary arrests, extended periods of detention without trial, and even being held after charges have been dropped, abuse, and corruption. In February 2014 for instance, the head of the Human Rights Commission told a delegation from the European parliament that the courts and prisons were failing. He told the party that there were delays in investigations and court proceedings that kept thousands of people in prison longer than they should. These problems date back for decades to the Baath period and likely beyond.
So far the Justice Ministry at least has welcomed the prime minister’s initiative. On December 4 the Ministry said that Abadi’s order would help reduce prison overcrowding, and release people held but not charged with any crime. Four days later Justice Minister Haider Zamili stated that 80% of the file on people who were going to be released due to the premier’s order had been completed by a special committee. He went on to say that both an electronic and manual log for tracking arrest information was being created. The registry would record who carried out an arrest, the date, time, place, and cause. The Defense and Interior Ministries along with the National Security Agency would fill out this information. It’s important to include the security agencies and ministries, because they all run their own jails and prisons outside of the control of the Justice Ministry. Without including all of these bodies any attempt at reform would fail.
As with anything the implementation of Prime Minister Abadi’s order will determine how successful or not this attempt will be. It is still a major move by the new government. The justice system has been broken for a long time and impacts not only people accused of terrorism, but common criminals and people who get scooped up by the security forces. The police and army for example are notorious for carrying out mass arrests where all men of age are regularly carted off. Because the justice system is so overcrowded, many people get lost in the system and can stay imprisoned for months with no charges against them. Going through all the available records, especially because they range across different ministries, which have no real history of successful cooperation is a task all by itself. Sunnis demanded these types of reforms when they began their protests against the Maliki government back in December 2012. As stated before various groups and countries have criticized Iraq for the lack of due process for years as well. This will likely take a long time, but the simple act of trying to enforce existing laws regarding arrests and trials is a positive step for the country’s institutions, which have been neglected for too long.
AIN, “Abadi: CG instructs to have fair trial for all detainees,” 12/3/14
Amnesty International, “New order, same abuses: Unlawful detentions and torture in Iraq,” September 2010
Al Forat, “Ebadi instructs to release detainees whom issued release judicial warrants for them,” 12/2/14
Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights/United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Human Rights Office, “Report on Human Rights in Iraq: January to June 2012,” October 2012
Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: A Broken Justice System,” 1/31/13
Independent Press Agency, “Justice completing Abadi’s order and the formation of detainees reporting system,” 12/8/14
Al Mada, “Justice: 200 included in special amnesty and completed 80% of the files,” 12/8/14
- “Justice: speed up the resolution of detainee issues will reduce overcrowding in prisons and will cooperate with any government or parliamentary committee to follow up on the matter,” 12/4/14
- “Parliamentary Human Rights: There are 40 thousand prisoners because of the delay in the investigation..and prisons have become centers for the growing terrorism,” 2/24/14
National Iraqi News Agency, “Breaking News..Abadi: We will cooperate with the judiciary in order to conduct reforms in the judiciary,” 12/8/14
Reuters, “Tens of thousands of Iraqi Sunnis protest against Al Maliki government,” 12/28/12
Al-Salehi, Mohammed, “Iraqi PM sets detainees free and lowers salaries of his ministers by half,” Azzaman, 12/3/14
United States Department of State Bureau of Counterterrorism, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2011,” July 2012