by Rex Wockner
International News Briefs
Iraqi militias are torturing and murdering men suspected of engaging in gay sex or of not being manly enough, and the authorities have done nothing to stop the killings, Human Rights Watch confirmed Aug. 17.
The organization documented a campaign of extrajudicial executions, kidnappings and torture that began early this year in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, a stronghold of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, then spread to other locations.
Mahdi Army spokesmen have denounced what they call the “third sex” and the alleged feminization of some Iraqi men, and have proposed militia action as a remedy. HRW said some of its sources reported that state security forces have joined in the killings.
The killers invade homes and grab people on the street, HRW reported. Victims are interrogated for names of others before being murdered. Torture practices include supergluing victim’s anuses shut, then feeding them laxatives.
Iraqi gays also told HRW they face “honor killings” by homophobic parents and brothers who believe “unmanly” behavior shames the family or tribe.
“Hundreds of men may have died,” HRW said, though the precise figure is “almost impossible” to determine.
One man told HRW that militiamen kidnapped and killed his partner in April: “Four armed men barged into (my partner’s parents’) house, masked and wearing black. They asked for him by name; they insulted him and took him in front of his parents. … He was found in the neighborhood the day after. They had thrown his corpse in the garbage. His genitals were cut off and a piece of his throat was ripped out. Since then, I’ve been unable to speak properly. I feel as if my life is pointless now. … (F)or years it has just been my boyfriend and myself in that little bubble, by ourselves. I have no family now – I cannot go back to them. I have a death warrant on me. I feel the best thing to do is just to kill myself.”
Consensual adult gay sex is not illegal under Iraqi law but the militias have claimed to be enforcing Islamic Sharia law. HRW’s report said, however, that the killings also violate Sharia law standards for legality, proof and privacy.
Some Iraqi gays have escaped to nearby countries that are only marginally safer for gay people and where, in most cases, gay sex is illegal. HRW urged the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as governments that accept Iraqi refugees, to offer rapid resettlement to Iraqi GLBT people.
Here are some additional personal stories from HRW’s report:
Hamid: “(The killers’) measuring rod to judge people is who they have sex with. It is not by their conscience, it is not by their conduct or their values, it is who they have sex with. The cheapest thing in Iraq is a human being, a human life. It is cheaper than an animal, than a pair of used-up batteries you buy on the street. Especially people like us. … I can’t believe I’m here talking to you because it’s all just been repressed, repressed, repressed. For years it’s been like that – if I walk down the street, I would feel everyone pointing at me. I feel as if I’m dying all the time. And now this, in the last month – I don’t understand what we did to deserve this. They want us exterminated. All the violence and all this hatred: the people who are suffering from it don’t deserve it.”
Idris: “We’ve been hearing about this, about gay men being killed, for more than a month. It’s like background noise now, every day. The stories started spreading in February about this campaign against gay people by the Mahdi Army: everyone was talking about it, I was hearing about it from my straight friends. In a coffee shop in Karada, on the streets in Harithiya (Baghdad neighborhoods), they were talking about it. I didn’t worry at first. My friends and I, we look extremely masculine, there is nothing visibly ‘feminine’ about us. None of us ever, ever believed this would happen to us. But then at the end of March we heard on the street that 30 men had been killed already.”
Mohammad: “They did many things to us, the Mahdi Army. … They kidnapped (my partner) for six days. He will not talk about what they did to him. There were bruises on his side as if he was dragged on the street. They did things to him he can’t describe, even to me. They wrote in the dust on the windshield of his car: ‘Death to the people of Lot and to collaborators.’ They sent us veiled threats in text messages: ‘You are on the list.’ They sent him a piece of paper in an envelope, to his home: there were three bullets wrapped in plastic, of different size. The note said, ‘Which one do you want in your heart?’ … I want to be a regular person, lead a normal life, walk around the city, drink coffee on the street. But because of who I am, I can’t. There is no way out.”
Nuri: “At 10 a.m., (Ministry of Interior officers) cuffed my hands behind my back. Then they tied a rope around my legs, and they hung me upside down from a hook in the ceiling, from morning ’til sunset. I passed out. I was stripped down to my underwear while I hung upside down. They cut me down that night, but they gave me no water or food. Next day, they told me to put my clothes back on and they took me to the investigating officer. He said: ‘You like that? We’re going to do that to you more and more, until you confess.’ Confess to what? I asked. ‘To the work you do, to the organization you belong to, and that you are a queen.’ For days, there were severe beatings. … They beat me all over my body; when they had me hanging upside down, they used me like a punching bag. … They used electric prods all over my body. Then they raped me. Over three days. The first day, 15 of them raped me; the second day, six; the third day, four. There was a bag on my head every time.”
Following the release of the HRW report, Sweden’s national gay group, RFSL, “demand(ed) that the Swedish government explore the possibility of evacuating gays from Iraq,” said Executive Director Maria Sjoedin.
“It is not enough to condemn the ongoing cleansing,” added RFSL President Soeren Juvas. “We encourage Sweden to explore the possibilities of evacuating homosexuals, bisexuals and transgenders who face the risk of sexual cleansing.”
For a PDF of HRW’s full 67-page report, visit bit.ly/1cWi7D. (From HRW and RFSL press material)