Iraq abuse worsening for women and minorities:

Feb 22, 4:35 am ET

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Human rights abuses remain common across Iraq with the status of women and minority groups on the decline, eight years after the overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein, according to a rights watchdog.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also said in a report released late Monday that journalists face harassment and assault from security forces and politicians, and detainees are regularly abused to coerce confessions.

“Today, Iraq is at a crossroads — either it embraces due process and human rights or it risks reverting to a police state,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at the New York-based group.

“Eight years after the US invasion, life in Iraq is actually getting worse for women and minorities, while journalists and detainees face significant rights violations.”

In its report, HRW said Iraqis’ rights were “violated with impunity” and anyone who attempted to expose abuse, either by officials or armed groups, did so at significant risk to themselves.

In particular, the group said women’s rights had deteriorated significantly, noting that women in Iraq had enjoyed some of the strongest safeguards in the Middle East previous to the 1991 Gulf War.

The report said militias have increasingly targeted women for assassination, while violence against women at home has also been on the rise. According to HRW, women who seek official recourse risk further harassment and abuse.

Sex trafficking is also widespread, it added.

Marginalised minority groups, meanwhile, were in “dire straits,” the report said, because Iraq was “failing some of its most vulnerable citizens, such as internally displaced persons, minorities and persons with disabilities.”

HRW also said that “Iraqi interrogators routinely abuse detainees, regardless of sect, usually in order to coerce confessions” and called for “independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment” resulting in disciplinary action or criminal prosecution.

It said the prolonged period of political impasse after a parliamentary election in March, before Iraq’s politicians finally reached agreement nine months later to form a government, had also “stunted progress” on human rights.

“Beyond the continuing violence and crimes associated with it, human rights abuses are commonplace,” the report said.

HRW interviewed 178 Iraqis from various professions and backgrounds, including those who had themselves suffered abuses, in seven cities around the country in April 2010 for the report.

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