Justice for ISIS Child Suspects

What is happening in Iraq
An infographic displays the treatment of children by the authorities. Source: Yahoo Images.

The Human Rights Watch collected evidence in between January and June 2020 that closely reviewed the trial cases of 75 alleged child offenders who were recruited by the Islamic State (ISIS). The cases had led to the misconstrued holding of the children, but upon review, the Human Rights Watch ordered the release of the children, using reasons like a lack of evidence and preventing double jeopardy, as well as provisions of Iraq’s amnesty law. The 2016 Iraq Amnesty Law offers amnesty to persons who can show that they joined ISIS or another terrorist group against their will and did not commit a serious offense prior to joining the group.For years, Iraqi and Kurdistan judicial authorities have charged hundreds of children with terrorism for alleged ISIS affiliation. Several of the charges have been based on the dubious accusations and forced confessions of these children, regardless of the extent of their involvement with ISIS, if any. Such behavior from authorities has led to an international norm that children recruited by armed groups should be treated as victims, first and foremost, not as criminals.

In January 2020, a committee formed under the Nineveh Federal Court of Appeal and Bar Association, consisting of a judge, a general prosecutor, and a social worker. This committee adjudicated the cases of suspects who were children at the time of their alleged alliance with ISIS. The approach taken by this committee was one of compassion and complied very well with acknowledging the human rights of these child suspects. In June 2020, Iraqi judicial authorities dissolved the committee, saying it had reviewed all the pending cases, but another committee in Nineveh, Iraq, continued adjudicating such cases. In August 2020, an anonymous source close to the Nineveh Bar Association told the Human Rights Watch that the committee had reviewed 300 case files before being disbanded in June. They convicted 202 people, dropped charges against and released 31, and pardoned and released 44 under Iraq’s 2016 Amnesty Law. Three cases were dropped because the defendant had already served a sentence for the same crime, so to not invoke double jeopardy, the committee permanently ceased proceedings against the three people.

Arrested child suspects line a corridor, awaiting response from the police
Arrested child suspects line a corridor, awaiting response from the police. Source: Yahoo Images.

The committee, unlike other Iraqi courts, attempted to review individual cases more fairly and better apply international standards. By doing so, it was able to convict the guilty and release the innocent, which Iraqi courts do not have the best record for. In the Iraqi-Kurdistan regions, children have been tried in Kurdistan and re-tried for the same crime in Baghdad-controlled territory, with courts ignoring whether or not the child had been acquitted or convicted and already served a sentence in Kurdistan.

This has been the case since the advent of ISIS in Iraq: hundreds of children have been charged with crimes of terror, and such convictions have been justified under Iraq’s 1983 Juvenile Welfare Act. The Act states that the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 9 in Iraq and 11 in the Kurdistan region. Children that are under 18 at the time of the alleged crime are sent to a “youth rehabilitation school” which is designed to provide social rehabilitation and reintegration via educational or vocational training. However, a source within the Tal Kayf prison said that “the cells are identical to those for adult detainees, with no access to any reading or studying materials besides the Quran.”

What needs to be done?

The Nineveh committee is the first step towards attaining a more efficient and fair judicial system in Iraq where ISIS affiliation does not automatically translate to imprisonment. Children should only be detained as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period, in compliance with international law. Countries should provide proper assistance for children illegally recruited by armed groups and/or forces, including assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration. The Iraqi government and Kurdistan Regional government should amend their counterterrorism laws to end the detention and prosecution of children solely for participating in ISIS training or membership with recognition of international law that prohibits recruiting children into armed groups. And the High Judicial Council should permit committees to delve into more counterterrorism cases to avoid the trend of double jeopardy, while instructing judges across Iraq to release all children who have not committed crimes and ensure their proper rehabilitation and reintegration.

In the first half of 2020, Iraq has taken an essential step towards protecting the rights of children rather than trampling them. But this progress is at risk of Iraqi officials do not implement such steps elsewhere.

A Legal Organ Market: Should it Exist?

Organ transplant. Source: theglobalpanorama is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

For those of us who have obtained a driver’s license, there is an option to mark oneself as an organ donor upon death. However, for kidneys, living donors are also a possible option. Afterall, everyone has two and most people can function well with only one. Even so, live donors are few and far between. In the United States, donations are the only legal option for people to obtain organs and often those donations fall short of actual demand. For example, One source states that the amount of kidney transplants able to be administered in a year within the US is about 20,000, far less than the 100,000 a year that would be needed in order to meet the demand. Furthermore, the same source explains that under the current laws, some people have to wait nearly 10 years in order to receive a kidney transplant, and often people on the waiting list die before they are able to receive a transplant. There are many arguments as to why organs should only be acquired through donations. However, there is also compelling evidence as to why making the buying and selling of organs a legal practice is the best way to save the greatest number of people.

One of the arguments against making the buying and selling of organs legal is that it would likely lead to a society where only the rich would be able to access life saving organ transplants and the poor would be the main contributors of those organs. Currently, the US system wards against this inequality by not paying or charging people for organs and only granting people organ transplants by putting them on a first come first served waiting list. This means that regardless of whether someone is rich or poor, an individual will have the same chance of receiving an organ transplant as the next person. When there is an organ market, it creates an exploitative dynamic between the rich and poor where the poor sell their organs and are often not compensated fairly. This is a big reason why the World Health Organization implored states to put an end to “Transplant Tourism.” Transplant tourism has caught the eye of the international community as a deeply exploitative practice due in large part to the process of it. This is because it often happens in such a way where the poor sell their organs cheaply to a middleman who then sells those same organs for large sums of money to rich buyers. For example, one source points out that in Pakistan, people will give up their kidneys in order to be released from slavery. However, the same article states that when people sell their organs their health often plummets and this can cause them to be further plunged into a life of poverty. Therefore, while more organ transplants may be performed under a more capitalist system, it would likely only benefit the upper classes, creating a deeply exploitative and unequal system.

However, systems like the one within the US and similar ones, such as those within the United Kingdom, are not the only viable options. Even though they are the more globally accepted ways of dealing with the demand for organs, they are not the only ways; Iran has its own method for handling the demand. Starting in 1988, Iran began a program in which donors were compensated for giving up their organs, thus removing the waiting list for kidney transplants. Within the current system, buyers and sellers are able to buy and sell kidneys for a fixed price of $4,600. While exploitative side deals have been struck outside of the government regulated system, Iran has been able to avoid many of the ethical problems that often arise from the selling of organs. For instance, one study found that while the majority of kidneys sold in Iran came from people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, everyone whether rich or poor was able to have equal accessibility to kidney transplants because of funding from charitable organizations. Additionally, as previously mentioned, when a financially desperate individual donates organs, it often results in poor health outcomes, causing that person to become only more economically unstable. However, in Iran’s system, donors obtain healthcare coverage for at least a year after the operation and discounted coverage for additional time following the end of that coverage. While the system is not perfect, it allows those in need of kidneys to gain access to them with relative ease and reduces the exploitation of the poor that is prevalent in countries like Pakistan and the Philippines. It is estimated that if the US set up a similar legal market for the selling of kidneys and paid donors $45,000, it would not only eliminate the waiting list for kidneys but also save tax payers $12 billion annually.

In essence, the pros and cons are hard to weigh in the argument for a legal organ market. Monetary rewards for organs cause problems where the poor are at a disadvantage. Even so, compensating donors is an easy way to drastically increase the supply of organs, potentially saving thousands of lives every year. In either situation there will be ethical dilemmas. However, it is obvious that if the US wants to eliminate the current waiting list, something will have to change. If highly regulated, it is not impossible to have a system that both eliminates the waiting list for kidneys and protects donors from being exploited. Iran is a prime example of this; building off of their foundation, the US, as well as other countries currently struggling to meet the demand for organs, could use Iran’s model to meet the demand and reduce the risks of exploitation often associated with the organ market. It seems hopeful that in the coming years, as research continues to be made on the topic, a more viable solution to the demand for organs will be implemented within the US.


Photo by IHR.

On Tuesday, November 13, the Institute for Human Rights and Consulate General of Switzerland – Atlanta co-sponsored a showing Sonita, a film based on a 15-year-old girl from Afghanistan who immigrated to Iran in order to flee the Taliban. Over the course of the three years Sonita is filmed, she is able to receive assistance at a center for refugee children in Tehran, Iran where she works on her dream of becoming a rapper by performing for her classmates and pursuing a place to record her music.

What many people are unaware of is the Afghani tradition of forcing children into marriage, with Sonita’s family setting her price as $9,000. Without intervention from the filmmaker, Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghamim, who paid her family $2,000 to postpone her marriage, Sonita might have not made it to where she is now. To make matters worse, women are not allowed to sing in Iran. So, in order for Sonita to continue her dream of becoming a rapper, the shelter could no longer be affiliated with her. Maghami then managed to take Sonita to the United States, without her parent’s permission, to pursue a career in rap.

Maghami claimed, “I can’t film people who are suffering for something I can afford, when they are giving their life, their story, to me,” she says firmly. What about a film-maker’s duty to be an objective observer? She shakes her head. “It’s always a lie. You are never a fly on the wall. You are always an elephant in the room. You change everything with your presence. I don’t believe objectivity is important or even happens. Human stories are always subjective and personal. The film-maker decides, creates.”

Maghami started filming this documentary to help her cousin who worked at the refugee center, while her cousin just wanted to help Sonita find some training for her music. However, these selfless acts dramatically changed a young woman’s entire life.

Sonita shares the story of one young woman’s strength, perseverance, and the ability to use music as a vehicle to confront social injustice. This film not only gives the audience an inside look to both a tradition and country many are unfamiliar with, but also provides Sonita with the voice she needs to have her story heard.