The recent UN report has documented the widespread suffering and human rights violations in Iraq
The most detailed UN report on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) was released three days ago. It has revealed the true extent of the horrors and gross violations of international law and human rights occurring in the region. The 26-page-report – compiled by a team of UN investigators inside Iraq – documents the period from July 6 through to the September 10. Much of the evidence is from witnesses and was conducted in Erbil and Dohuk – where thousands fled the ISIS’s military offensive. The long list of offenses documented by the UN include “executions and other targeted killings of civilians, abductions, rape and other forms of sexual and physical violence perpetuated against women and children, forced recruitment of children, destruction or desecration of places of religious or cultural significance and denial of fundamental freedoms”.
Civilians have borne the brunt of the conflict in Iraq. According to the UN report, in the past year, nearly 8 500 have been killed, another 15 700 have been injured and 1.8 million have been displaced. Moreover, 2 500, mostly women and children, have been abducted. The report shows that the militant group’s operations are designed “deliberately to directly target civilians and civilian objects”. For example on the 19th July ISIS and its associated forces “fired at least six mortar rounds directly targeting the al-Bashir village in Askari area of Taza sub-distict”.
Many ethnicities and religious groups have been targeted by ISIS, especially Christians, Yezidi, Shabak, Turkmen and Kurds. Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner for Human Rights, was quoted at the beginning of the report claiming: “Ethnic and religious groups continue to suffer from premeditated attacks. All parties to the conflict must dedicate urgent efforts to protect these groups”. The report describes the many examples of violence against these groups. For example, on the 15 August in the Yezidi village of Khocho, ISIS gathered all males older than ten years of age at the local school, took them outside the village and shot them. According to survivors as many as 400 males were killed.
Children have also been targeted. Many have been forced to fight for ISIS. Witnesses have seen children as young as 13 carrying weapons – sometimes too big for them to carry. Similarly, children as young as 12 are undergoing ISIS military training in Mosul. The report also claims ISIS has left up to 65 children from the Turkmen and Yezidi communities in an orphanage in Mosul city. Their ages range from 5 months to 17 and many are “traumatized from having witness the murder of their parents”. Witnesses have also claimed that teenage boys and girls in held captive by the militant group have been sexually assaulted.
Many women and girls have been abducted and given to ISIS fighters “as a reward” or taken to markets in Mosul and to Raqqa, in Syria, “to be sold as sex slaves (‘malak yamiin’)”. In these markets “women and girls are brought with price tags for the buyers to choose and negotiate the sale”. One Yazidi girl interviewed by the UN said she was abducted by ISIS, with hundreds of other women, when her village was attacked. She claimed she had been raped several times. Many married women who converted to ISIS to avoid being executed were told that their marriages were “not recognised by Islamic law and that they, as well as unmarried women who converted, would be given to [ISIS] fighters as wives”
The UN report also highlighted the violations by Iraqi government forces. It claimed that the airstrikes conducted by Iraq Security Forces (ISF) had resulted in significant “civilian deaths and injuries and destruction of civilian infrastructure”. For example, on the 1st September ISF airstrike hit a secondary school in al-Alam sub-district which was hosting 20 displaced families from Tikrit, killing 34 and wounding 14 more – the majority of which were women and children. ISF and “armed groups affiliated to, aligned with or supporting government forces” – such as Iranian-funded pro-government Shiite militia, Asaib Ahl al-Haq – were also accused of torturing, murdering, abducting and kidnapping ISIS fighters and loyalists.
In response the UN high commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged the Iraqi government to consider joining the International Criminal Court in order to provide the tribunal prosecutor with authority to investigate and prosecute crimes on either side of the conflict in Iraq. Unfortunately, nothing has come of this request and the widespread suffering continues.