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Iraq: bringing humanity to places of detention

15-09-2010 Operational Update

The ICRC strives to ensure that people behind bars are protected against abuse and to bring a measure of humanity to places of detention. This is an update on these and other ICRC activities carried out in Iraq in July and August.

An ICRC representative delivers a Red Cross Message to the relative of a detainee.    

  ©ICRC / M. Greub    
Handover of Iranian human remains from the Iran/Iraq war to the Iranian authorities (Iraqi side of the border)    

  ©ICRC / N.G. Lenssens    
Qandil mountain area, Sulaimaniya governorate. ICRC assistance to IDPs of the Qandil area, displaced due to shelling on the border.    

  ©ICRC / M. Greub    
ICRC provided the Wathba water treatment plant with new parts in order to maintain and increase its capacity (serving approx. 550.000 inhabitants).    

  ©ICRC / M. Greub    
Dohuk province, Bamarni town: One of the beneficiaries of ICRC livelihood-support projects. 


The humanitarian situation remains serious in some parts of Iraq, as widespread violence and a lack of respect for human life continue to inflict untold harm and suffering on the Iraqi people. Indiscriminate attacks and other forms of violence, occurring mainly in Baghdad, Ninawa, Anbar and Diyala, but also in other governorates, leave hundreds of people wounded or killed every month. Despite the authorities' efforts to improve basic services, civilians – especially children, and people who are internally displaced (IDPs), in households headed by women, elderly or disabled – continue to endure considerable hardship. For them, the chronic conflicts that have ravaged the country since 1980 have left a cruel legacyof destroyed livelihoods and restricted access to clean water and proper health care.       

Visits to people detained in connection with armed conflict constitute one of the ICRC's most important activities in Iraq. Ensuring that they are treated humanely and held in acceptable conditions has been a constant concern for the ICRC ever since it started working in the country in 1980, when it carried out visits to thousands of prisoners of war.      
Currently, almost 20,000 detainees held all over the country by the federal government or the Kurdistan Regional Government are visited regularly by ICRC expatriate staff. In July, the US authorities completed the transfer to Iraqi custody of almost everyone in its custody. The ICRC intends to carry on monitoring conditions of detention through regular visits to those who remain in US custody.      

"Working in places of detention is a challenge," said Robert Zimmerman, who coordinates the ICRC's work in Iraq in behalf of detainees and other people protected by international humanitarian law. "We are talking here of places which, by definition, are closed to the outside world – but they must not be forgotten, and they must be managed according to the rules."      
Under Iraqi and international law, it is the responsibility of the State to ensure that detainees are treated properly and held in satisfactory conditions. "The ICRC's role consists in attempting to ensure that the authorities meet their obligations," said Mr. Zimmerman. "Since the ICRC is convinced that this aim can be achieved only on the basis of a solid relationship of trust, its dialogue with the authorities on these issues remains bilateral and confidential."      

The ICRC encourages and facilitates cooperation between government ministries with the aim of dealing more effectively with various problems. For instance, in October 2009, the ICRC brought together representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Human Rights to discuss issues relating to health-care services in places of detention.      

Together with the Iraqi correctional services, the ICRC has been assessing needs relating to water and sanitation in detention facilities in Basra, Missan, Muthanna, Thi-Qar, Babil and in Sulaimaniya governorate. In agreement with the Ministry of Justice, work will be carried out in places of detention in Baghdad and elsewhere over the coming months.  


Between January and August 2010, ICRC staff visited:


  • more than 18,000 detainees held in 27 places of detention under the authority of the Iraqi justice, defence, interior and labour and social affairs ministries;
  • over 2,900 detainees held in 37 places of detention under the authority of the Kurdistan Regional Government;
  • over 5,800 detainees held in two places of detention under the authority of the United States Forces – Iraq (USF-I).

A total of 50 women and 20 minors were monitored during the visits.

More than 500 detained third-country nationals were regularly visited by the ICRC; nine were repatriated to their home countries with ICRC support upon their release.

A total of 4,827 Red Cross messages (containing brief family news) were collected from detainees and 4,025 distributed to detainees all over Iraq.

In addition, 1,017 detention certificates were issued to former detainees or internees in Iraq.

The ICRC has visited around 70,000 detainees in Iraq since 2003.

 Bringing aid to vulnerable people  

The ICRC has maintained its support for people facing hardship earning a living and supporting their families, such as women heading households, people with disabilities and displaced people. During the months of July and August:  

  •  on the occasion of the holy month of Ramadan, over 70,000 people were given hygiene kits and food parcels in the governorates of Anbar, Baghdad, Basra, Diyala, Dohuk, Kirkuk, Missan, Ninawa, Salah Al-Din and Thi-Qar;  

  •  emergency aid was provided for more than 3,100 displaced people in Erbil and Sulaimaniya governorates;  

  •  emergency aid was provided for 378 people in Anbar governorate;  

  •  91 grants were made in Kirkuk, Ninawa, Dohuk, Sulaimaniya and Erbil governorates to enable disabled people to start small businesses and regain economic self-sufficiency. A total of around 4,100 disabled people have received such aid since 2008;  

  •  the livestock of 3,120 needy farmers in the Kifri district of Diyala were vaccinated.  


Assisting hospitals and physical rehabilitation centres  

In some rural and conflict-prone areas, health-care services are still struggling to meet the needs of the civilian population. The ICRC continues to help renovate the premises of health-care facilities and train staff. Limb-fitting and physical rehabilitation services are provided by the ICRC to help disabled people reintegrate into the community. In July and August:      

  •  12 doctors and 36 nurses successfully took part in a course intended to strengthen emergency services given in Sulaimaniya Emergency Hospital and in Al Sadr Teaching Hospital in Najaf;  

  •  221 new patients were fitted with prostheses and 1,307 new patients with orthoses at 11 ICRC-supported centres throughout Iraq.  


 Providing clean water and sanitation  

 Access to clean water remains difficult in much of Iraq. ICRC engineers continue to repair and upgrade water, electrical and sanitary facilities, especially in places where violence remains a concern and in rural areas, to improve the quality of services provided in communities and health-care facilities. In July and August, these activities included:      

 Emergency assistance:  

 The ICRC delivered water by truck:  

  •  in Zharawa district, Sadr City, Husseinia and Maamal to 4,840 internally displaced people;  

  •  to the 385-bed Al Imam Ali General Hospital;  

  •  to the 400-bed Al Kindy General Hospital in Baghdad, which was struggling to cope with summer water shortages.  

 Support for health-care facilities:  

  •  The ICRC completed work upgrading Heet General Hospital, which serves between 500 and 600 outpatients daily, in Anbar governorate. Drinking-water purification units were also installed.  

  •  The ICRC completed work upgrading the electrical system of Makhmoor primary health-care centre.      

 Water supply in hospitals:  

  •  The supply and installation of 98 drinking-water purification units in seven major hospitals of Baghdad and Salah ad Din governorate, with a total of 1,650 beds and admitting around 4,400 patients per day, were completed.  

 Drinking-water supply:  

  •  Seven water-supply projects benefiting around 400,000 people were completed throughout the country.  


 Clarifying what happened to missing people  

On 29 July, the ICRC facilitated the handover of the mortal remains of two Iranian soldiers at the Shalamja border crossing in the presence of representatives from the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights, Al Zubayr Centre, members of the Basra Provincial Council and representatives of the Search and Recovery Committee of the Iranian Armed Forces.  

Relieving the suffering of the families of missing persons by clarifying what happened to their loved ones is one of the ICRC's priorities. On the occasion of the International Day of the Disappeared, 30 August, the ICRC reaffirmed its commitment to providing the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights and Baghdad's Medical-Legal Institute with the technical support they require to exchange information and build up their capacity in the area of forensics. In its role as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC continues to chair the mechanisms set up to address the cases of people who went missing in connection with the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War and the 1990-1991 Gulf War.  


 Promoting international humanitarian law  

Reminding parties to a conflict of their obligation to protect civilians is a fundamental part of the ICRC's work. The organization also endeavours to promote international humanitarian law within civil society. In this framework, it organizes presentations for various audiences, which include military personnel, prison staff, students and professors.      

Between 5 and 7 July, a three-day workshop was organized for officers of the Iraqi Army at the University of National Defence in Baghdad. Information sessions on international humanitarian law were also organized for members of the Peshmerga forces and Assayesh security forces.