Living in a state of fear

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has engaged in widespread and systematic human rights violations of the most serious kinds in the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq, according to a report by UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. These violations may amount to genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and widespread attacks on the civilian population.

An estimated 8 million people live under ISIL territory in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic.

“The brutal nature and overall scale of abuses appears to be intended to reinforce the group’s absolute monopoly on political and social life and to enforce compliance and conformity among communities under its control. The result is that civilians who remain in ISIL-controlled areas live in a state of constant and almost unimaginable fear,” said Emmerson in his report, which was presented during the 29th Human Rights Council Session in Geneva, Switzerland.

ISIL has targeted religious and ethnic groups in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic and has committed acts of violence against civilians because of their affiliation with them. These religious or ethnic communities have been forced to assimilate, flee or face death. In Iraq, violence against the Yezidis have been reported with men being separated from women and children, then taken to ditches and brutally executed. 

Women and children are also extremely vulnerable to violence and discrimination. Women face sexual and gender-based violence, which includes sexual slavery, killings, enslavement, and rape. They are confined to their homes and forced to adhere to a strict dress code.

Children as young as six have been raped, tortured and kidnapped. According to the report, children as young as 8 years old have also been trained and used in military roles. “Children are reportedly made to watch videos of beheadings, and mass executions to desensitize them to forms of violence employed by ISIL.”

The military capacity of ISIL continues to grow, which also means the spread of fear and terror on civilians. It is estimated that more than 20,000 foreign fighters have joined the ranks of non-State armed groups from about 80 countries around the world.

The report also addressed the military response by the international coalition of States, led by the United States, against ISIL and its impact on civilians. Civilians living in ISIL-controlled territory are mainly residing in urban areas where many of the coalition air strikes have been performed. It is also reported that ISIL strategically places its fighters among civilians, in civilian areas or uses hospitals and schools as military bases, to provoke civilian casualties in the event of attacks by the coalition.

The report calls attention to the lack of transparency with coalition operations in Iraq and the Syrian Arabic Republic. “Each nation participating in the air war operates under unique rules of engagement, and transparency levels differ significantly,” the report noted. While air strikes are carried out by different sources, it is difficult to know which States were responsible for an event and when they will occur. The Special Rapporteur recalled the coalition states’ obligations under international law to ensure that their military operations against ISIL are transparent and accountable, and that any civilian death resulting from these operations is promptly, independently and impartiality investigated.

During a recent panel discussion in July on the effects of terrorism on the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, Emmerson stressed that his report highlights the failure by the Security Council to take appropriate and immediate action to protect civilians in affected areas. He also stressed the need for the international coalition of States engaged in military acts against ISIL to ensure that measures are put into place to protect civilians and prevent further casualties.

Addressing victims of terrorism needs and rights is an urgent matter, according to UN Human Rights Deputy High Commissioner Flavia Pansieri. “The human rights of victims of terrorism needs to be acknowledged and their loss and dignity recognized, as well as their rights to reparation, truth and justice and their right to live free from fear and with the support they require,” she said.

Emmerson also added that States are under an obligation to take immediate measures to protect civilians from these acts of terrorism and violence and these non-State armed groups should be held accountable and prosecuted for these crimes.
ISIL is bound under international law, according to Emmerson, to respect core human rights obligations, such as the right to life, the absolute prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, the prohibition of slavery and the prohibition of enforced disappearance, as well as the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

30 July 2015

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