IRBIL: Iraq and the Kurdish regional government have charged hundreds of children with terrorism for alleged affiliation with the so-called Islamic State group, often using torture to coerce confessions, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

In a report, the New York-based group estimated that Iraqi and Kurdish authorities were holding approximately 1,500 children for alleged IS affiliation in detention at the end of 2018. It said the prosecutions are often based on dubious accusations and forced confessions obtained through torture. The children are then sentenced to prison in hasty and unfair trials, HRW said.

Belkis Wille, senior Iraq researcher at HRW, said the approach that Iraq has adopted is one that “completely fails” to acknowledge what is commonly understood and reflected in international law, which is that children who were forcibly recruited should be treated as victims, not criminals.

“Children accused of affiliation with IS are being detained, and often tortured and prosecuted, regardless of their actual level of involvement with the group,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for HRW. “This sweeping punitive approach is not justice, and will create lifelong negative consequences for many of these children.”

The 52-page report, entitled Everyone Must Confess’: Abuses against Children Suspected of ISIS Affiliation in Iraq, criticised what it described as a deeply flawed screening process that often leads to detention and prosecution of children regardless of whether they have any involvement with IS, or the extent of that involvement.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2019