1 September 2014
Mr. President, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Coordination Committee of the United Nations Special Procedures human rights mandate holders I would like to express to this special session our deepest concern over the current situation in Iraq which has rapidly escalated into both a human rights and a humanitarian emergency. We are extremely alarmed at the extent and nature of human rights violations taking place and the heavy human cost being suffered by the people of Iraq. We are also gravely concerned about the humanitarian situation and the lasting impact of the current crisis on all human rights, civil, cultural, economic, political and social.
The information provided to us by the UN and civil society actors, Member States and the media, strongly indicates that gross and widespread human rights violations are being perpetrated in areas under the control of the so called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and associated groups. Verified reports detail that ‘ISIL’ is systematically hunting members of ethnic and religious groups and giving them the ultimatum, “convert or die”. The threat to populations posed by the ISIL, including Christians, Yezidis, Shabak, Shi’a, Turkmen and others is clear and immediate. Credible reports and videos posted on social media, including by ISIL members themselves, have shown beheadings, crucifixions and evidence of mass intentional killings of civilians and members of Iraqi armed forces.
The Yezidi population forced to flee Sinjar in Northern Iraq is a stark example of the threat posed to communities. Thousands of men, women and children were left exposed to violence, hunger and dehydration in a mountainous region where they took refuge from the Islamic State. UNICEF reported that at least 40 Yezidi children died as a direct consequence of violence, displacement and dehydration. While thousands were helped to relative safety by Kurdish, Iraqi and other forces, they have found only an uncertain refuge. In Amerli, the Turkmen population was under siege by ISIL fighters and were in desperate need of relief for over two months, before military operations yesterday relieved the town and ensure much needed humanitarian assistance was provided to its residents.
While exact figures are difficult to collect, we have reports of women being executed and UNAMI has reported that more than 2000 women and children have been abducted and are being held in various locations. The actual figures could be much higher. Women inside some locations have managed to contact UNAMI and informed them that ISIL is removing their children from them and women are being given to ISIL fighters or sold as “malak yamiin” or slaves because of their refusal to convert. A number of women reported that their children (boys and girls) were sexually assaulted by ISIL fighters at checkpoints or subsequent to being detained. Reports indicate that kidnapped Yezidi men and women were forced to convert to Islam to save their lives and are suffering severe consequences as a result.
The right to freedom of religion and belief is under attack through the attempted conversion, killing, expulsion or extermination of non-Sunni religious communities by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. We have also received credible reports that ISIL is actively destroying structures of cultural or religious significance – bulldozing, demolishing or blowing up mosques, shrines and other places of worship in an attempt to erase thousands of years of cultural and religious heritage from the regions under its control.
While the protection of non-Sunni communities against violent persecution by ISIL is essential, we must also recall that those Sunni populations who now fall under the de facto control of ISIL are also victims of its illegitimate and ruthless authority and their lives, rights and freedoms must also be protected. Information received also alleges that the Iraqi security forces (ISF) have also been involved in several grave violations of the right to life in the context of the recent events, including shelling of civilian areas causing multiple deaths and injury and the killing of detainees. All actors must abide by international law and must be held accountable for crimes committed.
We welcome this special session to discuss appropriate responses to what constitutes the most extreme and egregious form of humanitarian and human rights violation and international crime. We take this opportunity to thank United Nations human rights actors within UNAMI in Iraq and others on the ground at the forefront of monitoring and trying to prevent grave human rights violations.
The humanitarian crisis unfolding is one of huge proportions. A ‘Level 3 Emergency’, the highest possible level, has rightly been declared in view of the current urgent and complex situation and the need to ensure that appropriate responses, goods, funds and assets are in place. An estimated 1.5 million Iraqis have been internally displaced to-date. Over the past weeks over 250,000 members of religious groups have been forced to flee their homes. The situation in some locations such as Dohuk city, with 150,000 refugees, is now considered critical. We must be prepared for a rapid escalation in the humanitarian crisis as the conflict continues.
We thank those States that have provided life-saving humanitarian assistance delivered to many civilians so far. Regrettably further interventions will be necessary and we urge UN Member States to help in sharing that burden. We also applaud the work of UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA and many others as well as their civil society counterparts who are providing essential humanitarian assistance, including essential medical care, food, water, shelter and sanitation, in extremely difficult and high risk conditions. Their full and rapid access to those in need and support to them in their critical work is vital, including through the establishment of humanitarian corridors where necessary.
Whether there is one individual or family exposed to danger or thousands, every effort must be made to protect them and to provide safe haven. Where possible, civilians at risk should be escorted out of danger to safe locations. A rapid assessment must be made of the capacity of Iraqi forces, including Kurdish forces to respond to threats posed by the ISIL and to protect civilians as the highest priority. Where this capacity is lacking, solutions must be found in coordination with the international community and in compliance with international law. The principle of the Responsibility to Protect populations at risk of atrocity crimes falls both on the Iraqi Government and the international community.
We emphasize that it is important that any operations by national or international actors on the ground be conducted in full compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law and that all measures are taken to avoid putting civilians at risk of death or injury.
Following the tragic experiences of past atrocities against civilians, the UN has developed indicators and warning mechanisms that have been designed to warn States and the International community of gross human rights violations, impending mass atrocities or genocide. While some of the most horrific reports emerging from Iraq remain to be verified, many of the warning boxes have already been checked. We join our voices to those who have stressed that atrocities by ISIL currently ongoing in Iraq appear to amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity and reveal a risk of genocide. The Special Advisors of the Secretary-General on the prevention of genocide and the responsibility to protect, the CERD as well as other fellow rapporteurs have also pointed to the risk of genocide. Iraq and the international community must realize the potential threat of mass atrocities and must prepare to act accordingly to prevent further grave human rights abuses wherever possible. Tens of thousands of civilians remain at risk of being put to death by the ISIL and are potential victims to its systematic policies of subjecting individuals to,rape, slavery or expulsion.
ISIL has shown no regard for the basic principles of humanity or for the opinion of the international community. We recall the obligation to protect the rights of minorities, including their fundamental right to exist in security and to the protection of their ethnic, religious and cultural identity. In order for the civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights of all communities to be protected, good and inclusive governance must be established that ensures involvement of all communities, Sunni, Shia and all ethnic and religious groups.
It is the obligation of the Government of Iraq and the international community to hold accountable any persons who commits grave human rights violations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. I conclude by noting that the Special Procedures human rights mandate holders stand ready to provide their independent assistance, expertise and advice to this Human Rights Council, its Member States and to the Government of Iraq.