July 29, 2015 / 2:55 PM / in 2 years

U.N. panel questions Iraq over use of torture

GENEVA (Reuters) - Iraqi officials were challenged on Wednesday to name a single person the country had jailed for torture by a U.N. committee investigating suspected human rights abuses in a justice system that had “gone astray”.

“Is there anyone in Iraq in prison, sentenced for torturing another human being? Is there one person? Five? Ten?” the chairman of the U.N. Committee against Torture Claudio Grossman asked the Iraqi delegation.

Another committee member, Alessio Bruni, said Iraq’s criminal law had no adequate definition of torture, so it could not adequately prosecute it.

“How can a judge establish an offence for acts which have no definition? This is what is puzzling me,” he said. “If you can give me an example, this is better than any other legal discussion.”

The questions were among a long list of concerns that the small Iraqi delegation, led by Deputy Minister of Human Rights Abdulkareem al-Janabi, will try to respond to in a second session on Thursday.

Other questions included whether Iraq has secret detention facilities, whether anybody had been compensated for being tortured, and how to explain trials that lasted a few minutes and led to the death penalty.

“Tomorrow, we will be able to provide you with answers to most, if not all, questions raised by the committee,” Al-Janabi said.

Iraq ratified the U.N. Convention against Torture in 2011, but rights groups such as Amnesty International say torture is still widespread, with no noticeable change since Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi took over from Nuri al-Maliki in late 2014.

Some U.S. officials also privately question whether Abadi can defeat the Islamic State militants who have captured swathes of Iraq without repeating earlier abuses that stoked Sunni Iraqis’ anger towards the government.

“In certain moments, people living in a situation of conflict and desperation tend to think that ‘drastic measures’ will function,” Grossman told Reuters.

He declined to discuss Iraq specifically, but said human rights violations in general contributed to militancy and polarized societies.

Another of the U.N. panel of 10 independent experts, Essadia Belmir, said Iraq’s justice system needed a thorough overhaul.

“One cannot build trust and confidence, and build it on a justice system that has gone astray from its initial goal,” she said.

Editing by Alison Williams

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