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Tragedy of even greater proportions in Iraq should be urgently prevented

NEW YORK/GENEVA (20 October 2014) - On Sunday 19 October, the UN Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) for Human Rights, Mr. Ivan Šimonović, concluded his week-long mission to Iraq by meeting the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region Government.

“I am extremely concerned at the dramatic human rights consequences of the actions of ISIL and associated armed groups on civilians," Šimonović said.

“In areas under their control, or where they are engaged in fighting, the Takfiri groups, or so-called ISIL are terrorizing the local population, imposing on them brutal measures based on their extremely radical and wrongful interpretation of Islam, particularly targeting Muslim sects and members of religious and ethnic minorities including Christians, Kaka’ee, Shabaks, Turkmen, Sabaean Mendeans, Yezidis and others.”

“ISIL and associated armed groups have perpetrated widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, which in some instances may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity," Šimonović said. “The atrocities committed systematically and intentionally by ISIL against the Yezidi community, may amount to an attempt to commit genocide. Among countless victims, I met with a twelve year-old girl who escaped sexual slavery, a father whose four sons were murdered because they refused to convert to Islam, and a boy who survived a mass execution', including of his father and brothers, despite being hit by six bullets," Šimonović said. "ISIL leaves Yezidis no option except to convert or die. Such testimonies are not only evidence of the scale of the crimes being systematically and intentionally committed by ISIL and associated armed groups, but attest to the resilience and bravery of the survivors of these crimes.”

As highlighted by High Commissioner Zeid at his press conference last week, “ISIL is the antithesis of human rights. It kills, it tortures, it rapes, its idea of justice is to commit murder.”

ISIL are well-resourced, well-armed and are active in recruiting support from the local population and fighters from abroad. With the support of some local groups, they are brutally violating the basic human rights of the local population – including the right to life and freedoms of religion and expression - with the aim of suppressing, expelling or destroying targeted ethnic and religious communities. Their brutal tactics are causing divisions between ethnic and religious communities to deepen.

Additionally, there has been an escalation of terrorist attacks and acts of violence in Baghdad and other areas of the country not directly affected by the armed conflict, which further threatens the peaceful coexistence of Iraq’s various communities.

“Community leaders, elders, as well as religious authorities, must raise their voices and condemn violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and demand the care and protection of the victims, no matter their ethnic, religious or other affiliations. The new Iraqi Government seems well-intentioned, but needs broad local and international support to put an end to the atrocities and overcome attempts to divide society and the country."

In his meetings with the Minister for Human Rights, Mr. Mohammed Madhi Ameen Al-Bayati, Speaker of the Council of Representatives, Dr. Salim al-Jabouri, and the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Mr. Nechirvan Barzani, Šimonović argued for Iraq’s accession to the International Criminal Court Statute, and the immediate acceptance of the ICC’s ad-hoc jurisdiction for crimes that have been committed during the ongoing conflict.

“Additionally, legislative changes that would provide that war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are punishable under the criminal laws of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region would send a clear message of the commitment to bring perpetrators of those crimes to justice, irrespective of who they are, their ethnicity, religious belonging or political affiliation,” Šimonović said.

The UN Assistant Secretary-General and other members of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights delegation visited five camps for displaced persons in the Dohuk and Erbil provinces of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

“There are almost two million civilians displaced by the current conflict within Iraq, nearly one million of whom have been displaced into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Despite the commendable efforts of the Kurdistan Region Government to protect the IDPs and to provide basic services, resources are stretched to breaking point,” Šimonović said. “Notwithstanding the considerable challenges, I am greatly encouraged by the commitment of the Kurdistan Region Prime Minister, as expressed during our meeting, to keep the Kurdistan Region of Iraq open for all displaced persons without distinction.”

Šimonović noted that improved coordination between the Central Government, the Kurdistan Regional Government and the international community is urgently needed in order to prepare for the challenges of winter.

“Winter is not yet here, but I have already seen the tents that had collapsed from the rain, despite all night efforts of the families living in them," Šimonović said. “The provision of adequate shelter for the winter is urgently needed. If additional measures are not immediately introduced, and especially if there is a new wave of displacement, those belonging to vulnerable groups, such as children, aged people, people with disabilities and those in need of medical assistance will be at risk."

The Assistant Secretary-General also discussed with government officials and civil society representatives ways to address some of the chronic human rights challenges facing Iraq, including corruption, problems with the administration of the criminal justice system, (including torture), and the rights of women.

“There are considerable human rights challenges facing Iraq," Šimonović said. “ But during my visit I met many brave and bright young men and women who are committed to overcoming divisions in the country and fighting for equality and human rights for all Iraq’s people. This gives hope for a better future for Iraq and such efforts should be strongly supported by the international community.”

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact:

André-Michel Essoungou–OHCHR New York Office (essoungou@un.org / +1 917 367 9995) or
Nenad Vasic–OHCHR New York Office (vasic@un.org / +1 212 963 5998 / Cell: +1 917 941 7558)

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