Baghdad, Iraq, July 2023 – Human rights are at the heart of UNODC’s work – including our work to prevent and address terrorism. As stated in the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, “effective counter-terrorism measures and the protection of human rights are not conflicting goals, but complementary and mutually reinforcing.” Complying with human rights is essential to the effective, fair and impartial prevention, investigation and punishment of acts of terrorism.
Since 2019 UNODC has been working with Iraq’s national authorities as part of the global Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) in Detention programme, funded by the US Department of State. As part of the programme’s work to worked to strengthen the capacity of the national counterparts in managing FTFs safely and effectively, UNODC Iraq has recently run in depth training in conducting human rights-compliant investigative interviewing of high-risk prisoners, including special categories of prisoners such as women and young people. This training was based on the Principles on Effective Interviewing for Investigations and Information Gathering, also known as the Méndez Principles, which aim to replace coercive interrogations with rapport-based interviews.
The training took place in Baghdad on 16 – 18 July 2023. A total of 25 participants from the Ministry of Justice, Reformatory Directorate, Ministry of Interior, National Security Advisory, and the Supreme Judicial Council took part.
During her opening speech, Ms. Ellen Endrizzi, the Justice Attaché of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, emphasized that the Department of State funds UNODC’s work on returning foreign terrorist fighters, “because of its importance to security – both in Iraq and around the world. Iraq has led the way in repatriating its Da’esh fighters back from northeast Syria. Iraq’s commitment to keep doing so in a safe and humane manner is important, so that they can face justice in the courts.” Mrs. Endrizzi added: “Effective and human rights compliant investigative interviewing of terrorist inmates is especially relevant in this regard.”
During the training, the UNODC international experts from Bulgaria, Germany, Norway and Portugal provided the participants with new knowledge and skills based on best international practice. This included special sessions dedicated to discussing the issue of children associated with terrorist and violent extremist groups.
Acquiring and applying investigative interviewing skills can be challenging. It requires the use of enhanced communication skills and the ability to be open and compassionate, even in the most demanding of situations. Interviewers need to be able to plan, to apply structure and to show discipline throughout. They need to be able to reflect critically on their own performance and be willing to understand intricate psychological processes. Even when acquired, such skills can easily be lost or dulled if they are not valued, encouraged, promoted or quality assured by supervisory and senior officers.
The training in Baghdad included real-life examples and role-plays to challenge the participants. Attendees were keen to engage, and enriched the training through sharing their experiences in counterterrorism.
Judge Yasir Al-Khozaie, who attended the training, said, “Conducting effective and human rights compliant investigative interviewing of terrorist inmates significantly contributes to creating appropriate and accurate investigative conditions to reach the truth, away from bad practices as psychological pressure or physical violence. The Supreme Judicial Council keens to spread the application of these standards in interrogation, which are consistent with human rights.”
Brigadier General Ayad Abdulhussein, International Cooperation Directorate, Ministry of Interior, said, “I would like to thank the United Nations Mission in Iraq, and in particular UNODC for organizing this course. It enriched the participants with new information and techniques for conducting effective human rights-compliant investigative interviews with terrorist prisoners. Also, I would like to congratulate the esteemed Supreme Judicial Council and the National Security Advisory participants who participated effectively in this training. I hope the Ministry of Justice will continue their cooperation with UNODC.”
Torben Adams (UNODC Programme Coordinator) concluded: “Based on science, law and ethics, the Méndez Principles propose a concrete alternative to interrogation methods that rely on coercion to extract confessions. They improve the results of investigations, fully respect human rights and enhance trust in the State.”
Upon request of the Iraqi Government UNODC will propose the inclusion of the Méndez Principles and human rights-compliant investigative interviewing of terrorist inmates, in the training curriculum for Iraqi prison officers.
UNODC’s work in Iraq contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 16 – to ‘Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.’ Through our close work with local authorities, we aim to strengthen Iraq’s institutional capacity to address the security needs posed by terrorist and FTF prisoners, through enhanced dynamic security skills, new equipment, and security upgrades.