Investigative report by Ahmed al-Yasiri, Translated by Dr. Pshtiwan Faraj
On the morning of an autumn day of 2016, and amidst the piles of waste in the area of Al-Sadda on the outskirts of Zaafaraniya in Baghdad, police found the body of the 20-year-old girl, “F. S”, with gunshot wounds to the head and neck. After the victim’s body was handed over by the police to the “forensic medicine”, her parents received a death certificate confirming her death was due to a sudden heart attack, this was to conceal the features of the crime.
The 33-year-old victim’s sister, who lives in a tin house in central Zafaraniya, a suburb located in south-east part of Baghdad, initially refused to talk about the details of the story for fear of physical punishment, but she accepted to talk to us after we reassuring her that she will not be identified.
“My cousins, are the one who killed my 22-year-old sister in collaboration with my father after they discovered my sister’s affair with an unknown young man,” says the sister of the victim while adjusting her black headdress with a pale face. She added that her sister had tried to run away, but her father locked her in a room for two days , during which the children of her aunt agreed to kill her.
“I intervened to prevent them from doing so but they threatened to kill me too. As I insisted on my decision, the eldest son of my uncle hit me in the head and I fainted. When I woke up, I did not see my sister at home. I did not know her fate until two days later. My father told me he has killed her and thrown her body in an unknown place.”
Her voice suddenly shuddered and tears filled her eyes. “Four days after the incident, our police neighbor came to tell my father that my sister’s body was found in al-Sada area and was delivered to forensic medicine. My father hurried to go there to complete the burial procedures, fearing the scandal and revealing of the circumstances surrounding the crime.”
In the meantime, the victim’s sister went to the policeman’s house and told him that the perpetrators were the father and the cousins. However, the latter refused to intervene because of fears of tribal persecution and that the crime might result into a rivalry between two clans.
Two days later, the father of the murdered girl managed to produce a false death certificate confirming that the cause of death was a “heart attack”.
Although the victim’s sister refused to grant the author of this investigation a copy of the death certificate, for fear of being discovered and punished, she agreed to give him the police address that informed the family the finding of the body. The policeman admitted that his neighbor had actually killed his daughter, “honor killing and cleansing of their dignity” and that the story was well known to most people living in the area.
The policeman commented on how the father managed to issue a false death certificate to his daughter, the victim, without being brought to the legal issue or held accountable “The falsification of death certificates is a very normal matter, if the money is paid for it, and what my neighbor has done is to try to avoid scandal and accountability”.
While referring to a few papers in front of him with his finger on the seal. The Policeman said “In many cases of honor killings and honor crimes, forensic medical officials do not record the death certificate of the victim as a result of shooting and or burning, the most common cause of death in such cases, this is because of the sensitivity of the issue which might taint the reputation of the family. Also for fears of tribal and clan retaliations.”
No official statistics
The story of “F.S” is one of dozens of stories of honor killings and crimes committed against women in Baghdad whose bodies are dumped on the outskirts of the capital and their deaths are registered as “ordinary death” or killed by unknowns in the forensic medicine community. At a time when police are afraid to launch real investigation into the subject, they fear tribal retaliations in a country where the strength of tribes are rising in defiance of state institutions.
Official institutions, whether the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Health or those involved in the defense of women’s rights, refuse to provide any reliable figures to the numbers of victims of violence against women and girls, without providing convincing reasons, they only point out that the security and political situation of the country is inadequate to address and tackle this issue.
In the absence of any official statistics regarding the number of women killed or violent incidents, the author of this investigation monitored the reports of local agencies on and about the bodies of unidentified women found from 6/10/2015 to 21/9/2016. These reports often were quoting security sources in the Ministry of the Interior, the number of bodies was 52 bodies aged between 20 and 35 years. Most of these bodies were dumped in areas south-east of the capital, including the Zafaraniya area, mostly bearing gunshot wounds in the head and chest area or traces of knife stabbing.
This number is very small, as most of the killings do not reach the media channels, according to lawyer Diler Hassan, noting that “the numbers of victims of violence against women are very large, and the numbers of victims are rising, amid the circumstances of violence in the country and the economic crisis, and despite the insistence of government agencies who want hide it”.
Hassan notes that this violence against women is linked to the rise of tribal power and the imposition of their norms and will, and the subordination of government officials and parliament to tribal leaders, because both government and parliament need tribal support for winning the electoral votes.
False death certificates
In a visit to the main hospital in Zaafaraniya, a nurse who declined to be identified told the hospital that in July 2016 the hospital had received the body of a fully burnt girl who told her parents that she had committed suicide. “But many of the hospital staff knew that her husband’s relatives and her brothers were the people who burned her after discovering her relationship with someone else.” The results of the forensic medical service initially proved that the victim did not commit suicide, but then, the parents forced the staff of the department to change the cause of death in the certificate to “suicide by self-immolation.”
The nurse described several other incidents, including the arrival of body in June 2016 to the hospital, a girl bleeding heavily from a live bullet by unknown assailants before she died of her injuries. “It turned out that the police found the body dumped in the dirt hills surrounding the area of Zafaraniya, and then their parents came to the hospital and informed the authorities that she was kidnapped by an unknown gang … however, the mother of the victim whispered to me, silently crying, that her uncles killed her, without giving any further details”.
The author of this investigation was able to obtain the phone number and contact the mother of the victim, but she refused to talk over the phone and she told the author that she would contact him later to determine a meeting to tell him in detail the story of her murdered daughter. However, one day later, a man identified himself as a relative of the mother of the victim, he threatened to chase and kill the author of this report in case of renewed attempt contact the mother of the victim.
An elder of the Zaafaraniya tribe told the author of the investigation another story, saying that his relative had “killed his daughter by burning her and dumping her body in a waste dump located on the outskirts of the city because she ran away with someone she loved.” Her body remained dumped for three days there, and after that, “We, his cousins, buried her, then we extracted her a death certificate confirming that she died of a gas bottle explosion while in cooking in the kitchen.” “At first, the forensic medicine and the police were not convinced, so we paid them $ 800 and got a death certificate that proved she died as a result of burning,” he said.
Al-Zafaraniya: Mortuary dump
Zafaraniya is one of the administrative units of the Karrada municipality in Baghdad. The majority of the population was from the capital, but after April 2003, it was inhabited by many people from the southern and western provinces of Iraq, where tribal influence is dominant. “After the June 2014 incidents, hundreds of displaced families from Anbar, Nineveh and Salahuddin provinces were living in it,” said Abu Ali, one of the region’s elders.
And as is known to the people of Zaafaraniyah, “the dam or the two dams” is a dirt hills surround the outskirts of the city, and dates back to the Royal era, to protect the farms from the floods. With the approval of the Republican regime in Iraq, military barracks, installations and factories were built near these hills. But after the US forces entered Iraq, these sites turned into random houses, shantytowns, rubbish dumps and heavy water sites, especially since they were far from the reach of the police.
This investigative reporter visited the Zafaraniya area and moved between the tin shacks, where he met with three boys who were collecting empty soda cans.
Bilal, a 14-year-old curly-haired man, while throwing the big bag in which he loaded the empty cans on his back, throwing it at his red-hot suit said “From time to time we see, especially at night or in the dark, the bodies … One night we heard bullets, and in the morning we discovered the body of a young woman shot in the head. ”
According to the children, the police come to the scene from time to time and collect and remove the dead bodies, which are revealed by the parents or workers in the collection of all the possible sale of materials thrown at the area.
Abu Mohammed, who has a daily handcart, collects plastic and metal bottles from the landfill adjacent to the Rasheed camp in the same area. The bodies of women are constantly being found. He is also known to the police in the matter of reporting the bodies. “During the rubble, … I found many of them and informed the police … some were covered with a cloth or a mattress. ”
He also adds that “It’s no longer shocking to me,” he said. “I’m avoiding the details, but we know that the identity of those women’s bodies are usually unknown, and the majority of them are killed for honor killing.”
The police are scared
Although the police are aware of the killing of women and the dumping of their bodies in the sheds and rubbish dumps, they are afraid to open investigations into the matter. Ali Luqman, a lieutenant colonel, official in the police patrols (the only body responsible for the exhumation of forensic medicine) said “Zaafaraniya is an area dominated by tribal influence, and therefore the police fear any investigation or search for the identity of the perpetrator of crimes against women, fearing the reaction of the those tribes to which the perpetrators belong to.
Luqman believes that tribal and geographic nature makes Zaafaraniya the most populated area of Baghdad where dead women are found shot, stabbed, or burned with fire. The security official explained that the average daily number of bodies found in the capital Baghdad between 8 and 10 bodies, the majority of which are women and that their identities “can not be identified either because there is no concrete signs to identify them or their bodies are mutilated.”
“Conflicts and settling dispute accounts between armed parties are usually aimed at and target men, but we note that many of the bodies we find are from women,” said a policeman who declined to be identified.
Another police officer at the Zafaraniya police station said “The investigating officer opens a file to know the circumstances of the crime once the body is found”. And “If a person files a complaint against someone and accuses him of being behind it, the investigating officer issues an arrest warrant against the defendant. Any complaint is recorded against the unknown, which usually happens” He said.
According to Mahmood Majdi, an officer at Rescue Police, Zafaraniyah is not the only area where women’s bodies are found, but there are other areas in Baghdad such as Al-Nasr, Al-Salam, Al-Amin, Tariq, Al-Bawr, Al- Husayniyah, Al-Sha’ab, Al- Jihad and Al-Amil districts.
“Rescue police can not lift bodies in inflamed areas outside government control, where terrorist groups usually thrive, this is despite reports by citizens who have found dead bodies,” Majdi said.
The author of the investigation visited most of these areas to reveal general characteristics that characterize them: it was poverty in which most of the population lives, in addition to the control of the tribal and clan system, where the law is not obeyed.
Forensic Medicine Denies
The Director General of the Department of Forensic Medicine in Iraq, Zaid Ali Abbas, denied the existence of tampering with death certificates or subjected to tribal pressure to falsify them. He said: “The rumors that there are tampering with the death certificates of unknown bodies are incorrect because the forensic medicine is not entitled to diagnose the type of crime in the death certificate But its main function is to diagnose the scientific and medical causes of death”.
He explained that “the report of forensic medicine is submitted to the judge and the latter depends on the diagnosis of the crime as the file depends on the investigator located at the scene and the testimony of eyewitnesses”, noting that the report of forensic medicine is a “ring of episodes that reveal the causes of crimes and prove sexual abuse and fingerprint suspect” . But he did not deny at the same time that “forensic medicine receives a body or two bodies in one day and sometimes the women were killed under the name (shame and honor killing)”.
This statement and position of the Director General of the Department of Forensic Medicine contradicts what was announced by the semi-official channel “Al-Iraqia”, on the night of February 11, 2017 on its screen, where it said that an armed group threatened doctors at Baghdad Health Department and forced them to issue false death certificates.
The Absence of Public Prosecution
A former member of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Iraq, Bushra al-Obeidi, confirmed receipt of 10 reports on fraud and forging of the death certificates, but they are not written, because the informants are afraid of tribal and legal prosecution, expressing regret that the fact-finding team in the Commission to perform its duty in this regard.
Al-Obeidi said that the registration of murders of female as suicide or any other reason to hide the effects of the crime is contrary to the Code of Criminal Procedure, noting that the judicial authorities “bear the responsibility of such a forgery.”
She was surprised by the lack of action by the Attorney General to activate lawsuits against perpetrators responsible for the killing of women. Even if no complaints were filed in this regard, especially since “murders, crimes of honor kilings and severe crimes do not require a complaint to move them. And a lawsuit file must be presented fully to the court, even if the relatives of the victim did not file a lawsuit because the public right remains ”
Al-Obeidi also said that “the bodies of women in remote areas are found because these are areas controlled by the tribes, clans, tribal mentality and are ignorant, and far from the eye of the police, while in the city afraid of throwing bodies, fear of the law and the role of civil society organizations and activists in the field of human rights”.
Human Rights Commission
On the role of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in uncovering the manipulation of death certificates for honor crimes, Obeidi says that the majority of the members of the Commission are not independent and are affiliated with parties. “Therefore, any case in which there is prejudice to a particular party or the interest of a political side at the expense of another side, None of us tries to move it, in addition to the lack of know-how among members of human rights”.
The investigative clerk tried to obtain an official response from the Commission’s fact-finding team on the reasons for not investigating the complaints reaching UNHCR but was refused on the grounds that he did not submit a permit. However, a member of the team, who asked not to be identified, explained that ” Up to the office and deliberately do not move to search on the pretext of the lack of financial funding to cover the costs of work », refusing to mention the names of parties or political parties that impose control over the Commission.
Hana Adour, President of the Amal Association, one of the associations that defend women’s rights, explained that there are demands submitted to parliament by a group of organizations to legislate the law against domestic violence “with a view to tightening the penalties for honor crimes.”
Hana Adour expressed regret at the existence of what she described as “attempts to block the passage of the law by the political parties in power”.
Khaled Hantoush, a Professor of sociology at the University of Baghdad, believes that honor killings have existed in Iraq for a long time. “Honor killings are the result of a culture that despises and hates women and practices violence against them”.
He explained that urban life in Baghdad today “is affected by the impact of rural customs and values, largely as a result of repeated displacements to the capital, as these entered into the customs and penetrated all areas of life until it threatens all that is civilian and civilized.”
Therefore, Professor Hantoush calls for activating the legal procedures in the crimes of dishonor. “In particular, the victims’ families are mainly accused in the case of their identity, in addition to monitoring the work of forensic medicine and its role in the examination of identity and how to kill and follow up those who reported the disappearance of one of his relatives, .
“A person who commits a murder under the guise of honor is tried in accordance with Iraqi Penal Code No. 111 of 1969 in Article 409, which stipulates that” a term of imprisonment of not more than three years Whoever surprises his wife or one of his family members in the case of adultery or being in one bed with her partner, killing them immediately or killing one of them or assaulting them or on one of them an attack resulting in death or permanent disability. The right of legitimate defense may not be used against those who benefit from this excuse. The provisions of aggravated circumstances apply to him”.
He added that “this article gave the right of men and permits them to kill women, despite their equal rights and duties in the Iraqi constitution”.
Under the circumstances of the war, with the rise of tribal power, and the weakness of the rule of law and justice, and the neglect of government institutions, and the inability of organizations concerned with women’s issues, and the absence of the role of the Public Prosecution and the Commission on Human Rights, the murders and registration of women as ordinary deaths will escalate, and its victims will turn into mere tales in the mourning funerals while the perpetrators are transformed into heroes as per the attitude of their clans.
* This investigation was carried out in cooperation with the Nerig network of investigative journalism and under the supervision of Hanan Zbis, with Al-Menasa.