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Press briefing note on Iraq and South Sudan

Spokespeople for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville on Iraq, Ravina Shamdasani on South Sudan
Location:    Geneva
Date: 25 October 2016
Subject:   (1) Iraq &  (2) South Sudan

(1) Iraq

We continue to receive reports of depredations – including extrajudicial killings and summary executions – against children and women, as well as male civilians, by ISIL as Iraqi Government forces close in on Mosul. We also continue to receive information that reinforces the belief that ISIL are deliberately using civilians as human shields – forcing them to move to sites where ISIL fighters are based, or preventing them from leaving other places for strategic reasons.

It is however hard to immediately verify all the reports we are getting, so the following examples should be treated as preliminary and not definitive.

Human rights staff in Iraq have been informed that ISIL killed 15 civilians in a village called Safina, around 45 kilometres south of Mosul City, and threw their bodies in the river, apparently in an attempt to spread terror among the other residents. On the afternoon of 19 October, in the same village, ISIL reportedly tied six civilians to a vehicle by their hands and dragged them around the village, apparently simply because they were related to a particular tribal leader fighting against ISIL alongside Iraqi Government forces. The six men were also allegedly beaten with sticks and gun butts. It is not clear what happened to them subsequently.

The following day, 20 October, Iraqi security forces reportedly discovered the bodies of 70 civilians inside houses in Tuloul Naser Village which is located in the same sub-district, some 35 kilometres south of Mosul City. The bodies had bullet wounds, but it is not known for sure at this point who was responsible for the killings.

On Saturday, 22 October, ISIL fighters are reported to have shot dead three women and three children – all girls -- and wounded a further four children from a village called Rufeila in the al-Qayyarah sub-district, which also lies to the south of Mosul. The victims were allegedly shot because they were trailing some 100 meters behind a group of other people from the same village who were being forced by ISIL to relocate to another sub-district. The victims were lagging behind because one of the children had a disability. She was apparently amongst those shot and killed.

On Sunday, members of ISIL are  reported to have killed 50 former Iraqi Police Officers they had been holding in a building outside Mosul City.

We very much fear that these will not be the last such reports we receive of such barbaric acts by ISIL, and repeat our call on Government forces and their allies to ensure their fighters do not take revenge on any of the civilians who escape from areas under ISIL control, and treat all suspected ISIL fighters they capture in accordance with international humanitarian law.

We are also concerned by the severe measures the authorities in Kirkuk have been taking against internally displaced people living in the city, following the surprise ISIL attacks carried out there last Friday (21 October).  In the morning of 23 October 2016, the Security Committee of Kirkuk Governorate and Asayish Forces issued a decision – with immediate effect – ordering all internally displaced people who have been living outside camps in Kirkuk, to vacate their residences by 8:00 a.m. the following day – i.e. yesterday morning.  The order specifies that if IDPs do not comply with the order and deadline set for the eviction, they will be compelled by force to vacate their residences which would then be demolished.​ The only option given to those who wish to stay in the Kirkuk area is to move into established camps which are either already full or very close to full.

We understand that hundreds of families have now been evicted by Kurdish Security Forces, and are worried that if the evictions continue, it could significantly complicate the already alarming situation of mass displacement in the region.

While fully understanding the authorities’ security concerns in the wake of the murderous ISIL attacks, such evictions should be reasonable and only carried out as a last resort when no other alternative is available. Any such decision should be proportional, and not based on any discriminatory basis. Adequate alternatives should be fully in place, with preparations and consultations taking place prior to any such evictions, so that the displaced people – who have already suffered a great deal – are not further victimized because of the actions of ISIL, over whom they obviously have no control or influence whatsoever.

(2) South Sudan

The High Commissioner is gravely concerned about the alarming rise in hate speech and incitement to violence against certain ethnic groups in South Sudan in recent weeks. Letters with graphic warnings of violence against Equatorians have been left outside the offices of several humanitarian organisations in Aweil West in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, in the north-western part of the country. Ethnic Dinka youth groups have issued warnings to Equatorians that they will be “eliminated”.

The threats emerged in reaction to the killing of an unconfirmed number of Dinka civilians travelling to Juba by bus on 8 October. In another incident, on 10 October, armed men allegedly attacked three buses carrying civilians from Juba to Kampala on the Juba-Nimule road. Civilians were reportedly taken to the bush and robbed of their possessions, and at least one bus was set on fire by the attackers. Calls to avenge these attacks circulated widely on social media and led to fears amongst the Equatorian population of revenge killings across the country.

We welcome the press statement issued by the Acting Governor of Aweil State, in which he called on all citizens to “join the government in condemnation of these alleged threats directed towards our Equatorian brothers and sisters.” We urge political and community leaders to take all possible measures to prevent an escalation of violence along ethnic lines. The High Commissioner warns that the delicate situation in South Sudan makes the hateful rhetoric between Dinkas and Equatorians highly dangerous, and this could result in mass atrocities if not reined in. Attacks against civilians must be promptly and thoroughly investigated and perpetrators held individually responsible for their crimes, not least to avoid a cycle of revenge attacks between entire communities.

A press release by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein will follow later in the day.


For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org )

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