Page last updated at 13:21 GMT, Tuesday, 14 April 2009 14:21 UK

Iraq Kurdish force 'beyond law'

Kurdish autonomous region map

Security forces in the Iraq's northern Kurdish provinces are operating "beyond the rule of law", a report by Amnesty International has warned.

The rights organisation details alleged abuses in the area, including arbitrary detention and torture.

It singles out the Asayish agency which reports directly to the Kurdish presidency as "a law unto itself".

A Kurdish minister pointed out that the report also noted improvements and said cases would be better monitored.

The Kurdish autonomous region "has been spared the bloodletting and violence that continues to wrack the rest of Iraq" and its regional government "has made some important human rights advances", said Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Programme Director Malcolm Smart.

"Yet real problems - arbitrary detention and torture, attacks on journalists and freedom of expression, and violence against women - remain, and urgently need to be addressed by the government."

'Electric shocks'

The report, based on research conducted in 2008, said the number of detainees held without charge or trial had dropped from thousands to hundreds, but some had been held as long as nine years.

Masoud Barzani, President of the Autonomous Kurdish Government and head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party
Amnesty accuses security forces linked to Kurdish President Masoud Barzani

It describes cases where individuals have "disappeared" and detainees have been beaten and given electric shocks while in custody.

The security agencies of the ruling Kurdish Democratic Party and its rival, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, had carried out abuses and threatened journalists, writers and academics who had spoken out against corruption, Amnesty said.

The report says new laws have been introduced to reduce so-called honour killings, where women are killed by relatives for having, or being thought to have, illicit relationships.

But it raises concerns about the number of women killed or injured with severe burns, citing reports that some women have been burned to disguise honour killings.

The Kurdish human rights minister, Shwan Mohammed Aziz told the BBC Arabic Service the report's findings were "positive" if compared with the situation three years ago.

But he admitted that "there are cases still such as those contained in the report", and he said a committee would be set up to monitor the situation.

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