BAGHDAD — Militiamen are torturing and killing gay Iraqi men with impunity in a systematic campaign that has spread from Baghdad to several other cities, a prominent human rights group said in a report.
Human Rights Watch called on the Iraqi government to act urgently to stop the abuses, warning that so-called social cleansing poses a new threat to security even as other violence recedes.
The bodies of several gay men were found in Baghdad's main Shiite district of Sadr City earlier this year with the Arabic words for "pervert" and "puppy" — considered a derogatory term for homosexuals in Iraq — written on their chests.
The New York-based advocacy group said the threats and abuses have spread to the cities of Kirkuk, Najaf and Basra.
"Murders are committed with impunity, admonitory in intent, with corpses dumped in garbage or hung as warnings on the street," the 67-page report said.
Reliable numbers weren't available, Human Rights Watch said, blaming a combination of the failure of authorities to investigate such crimes and the stigma preventing families from reporting the deaths. But it cited a well-informed U.N. official as saying in April that the death toll was probably "in the hundreds."
The report said Iraqi law does not ban consensual homosexual conduct between adults, but contains provisions that can be exploited, including Saddam Hussein-era provisions that could reduce penalties for so-called honor crimes and crimes against people due to their sexual orientation.