GENEVA (21 October 2016) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for the protection of civilians to be at the forefront of military planning as the Iraqi Government and associated forces attempt to re-take Mosul, amid reports that fighters from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL, are using civilians as human shields.
“We are gravely worried by reports that ISIL is using civilians in and around Mosul as human shields as the Iraqi forces advance, keeping civilians close to their offices or places where fighters are located, which may result in civilian casualties,” said Zeid. “We therefore welcome the public statements by Iraq’s leaders that the utmost efforts will be made to protect civilians, as required by international humanitarian law.”
The High Commissioner voiced particular concern regarding the women, children and men held captive by ISIL, especially those from ethnic or religious communities who are at extreme risk. “There is a grave danger that ISIL fighters will not only use such vulnerable people as human shields but may opt to kill them rather than see them liberated,” he said.
“The killings and abuses committed by ISIL fighters when they captured Mosul in 2014, and the horrors they have subjected its inhabitants to ever since, should leave us in no doubt as to the risk civilians face as the fighting for control of Mosul and surrounding areas continues,” said Zeid.
“My Office has verified information regarding several incidents since 17 October where ISIL has forced people to leave their homes in outlying villages to head to Mosul. We also have reports that ISIL fighters have shot dead civilians who have tried to rise up against them or who they suspect are disloyal,” he said.
Among the reports received by the UN Human Rights Office is that ISIL forced some 200 families out of Samalia village to walk to Mosul on 17 October. Also on 17 October, 350 families fled Najafia village in Nimroud Sub-district, towards Mosul, highlighting ISIL’s apparent policy of preventing civilians from escaping to areas controlled by the Iraqi security forces. The Office is also examining reports that at least 40 civilians were shot dead by ISIL in one of the villages outside Mosul.
“We know ISIL has no regard for human life, which is why it is incumbent upon the Iraqi Government to do its utmost to protect civilians,” Zeid stressed.
“All parties to the conflict are bound by international law to observe in particular the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in attack. All feasible precautions must be taken to avoid and minimize the loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects, including vital infrastructure,” the High Commissioner said. He urged that, “ISIL fighters who have been be captured or have surrendered should be held accountable in accordance with the law for any crimes they have committed.”
Zeid stressed that the security screening of civilians leaving areas controlled by ISIL to ensure they are not ISIL fighters should be carried out only by lawful authorities such as the Iraqi Security Forces and the Iraqi police.
“Screening should be conducted in safe areas and all civilians who have been cleared must be transferred as soon as possible to civilian-run and securely located camps for internally displaced people,” Zeid said. “We are urging the Iraqi authorities to take all possible steps to prevent armed groups operating alongside the Iraqi Security Forces from any form of revenge attack on civilians fleeing ISIL. This issue remains a serious concern as these groups have reportedly subjected people fleeing conflict zones, particularly men and boys above 15 years of age, to threats, intimidation, physical violence, and even abduction and killing,” said Zeid. At the same time, the High Commissioner noted that no person should be the target of any form of revenge because of their presumed link with ISIL or associated groups.
“There need to be real checks to identify vulnerable people and to ensure that they can access the humanitarian aid and care that they need,” the High Commissioner said. "This includes children who, by living in ISIL-controlled areas, may have been indoctrinated and may be exploited to carry out attacks. It is vital to remember that they are not ISIL fighters but children,” he said.
“We are also concerned at reports that some civilians have no choice but to flee west – that is further into ISIL-controlled territory – where Shi’a militia are also believed to be operating,” said Zeid.
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