GENEVA (19 March 2015) – The so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) may have committed all three of the most serious international crimes – namely war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide – according to a report issued by the UN Human Rights Office on Thursday.
The report, compiled by an investigation team sent to the region by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights late last year, draws on in-depth interviews with more than 100 people who witnessed or survived attacks in Iraq between June 2014 and February 2015. It documents a wide range of violations by ISIL against numerous ethnic and religious groups in Iraq, some of which, it says, may amount to genocide.
It also highlights violations, including killings, torture and abductions, allegedly carried out by the Iraqi Security Forces and associated militia groups.
The report finds that widespread abuses committed by ISIL include killings, torture, rape and sexual slavery, forced religious conversions and the conscription of children. All of these, it says, amount to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some may constitute crimes against humanity and/ or may amount to war crimes.
However, the manifest pattern of the attacks against the Yezidi “pointed to the intent of ISIL to destroy the Yezidi as a group,” the report says. This “strongly suggests” that ISIL may have perpetrated genocide.
The report, requested by the UN Human Rights Council at the initiative of the Government of Iraq,* cites the brutal and targeted killings of hundreds of Yezidi men and boys in the Ninewa plains last August. In numerous Yezidi villages, the population was rounded up. Men and boys over the age of 14 were separated from women and girls. The men were then led away and shot by ISIL, while the women were abducted as the ‘spoils of war.’ “In some instances,” the report found, “villages were entirely emptied of their Yezidi population.”
Some of the Yezidi girls and women who later escaped from captivity described being openly sold, or handed over as “gifts” to ISIL members. Witnesses heard girls – as young as six and nine years old – screaming for help as they were raped in a house used by ISIL fighters. One witness described how two ISIL members sat laughing as two teenage girls were raped in the next room. A pregnant woman, repeatedly raped by an ISIL ‘doctor’ over a period of two and a half months, said he deliberately sat on her stomach. He told her, “this baby should die because it is an infidel; I can make a Muslim baby.”
Boys between the ages of eight and 15 told the mission how they were separated from their mothers and taken to locations in Iraq and Syria. They were forced to convert to Islam and subjected to religious and military training, including how to shoot guns and fire rockets. They were forced to watch videos of beheadings. One child was told, “This is your initiation into jihad….you are an Islamic State boy now.”
Brutal treatment was meted out by ISIL to other ethnic groups, including Christians, Kaka’e, Kurds, Sabea-Mandeans, Shi’a and Turkmen. In a matter of days in June, thousands of Christians fled their homes in fear after ISIL ordered them to convert to Islam, pay a tax, or leave.
Also in June, around 600 males held in Badoush prison, mostly Shi’a, were loaded onto trucks and driven to a ravine, where they were shot by ISIL fighters. Survivors told the UN team that they were saved by other bodies landing on top of them.
Those perceived to be connected with the Government were also targeted. Between 1,500 to 1,700 cadets from Speicher army base, most of whom are reported to have surrendered, were massacred by ISIL fighters on 12 June. The findings of Iraqi Government investigations into both the Badoush and Speicher incidents have yet to be made public.
ISIL fighters are reported to have relied on lists of targets to conduct house-to-house and checkpoint searches. A former policeman stated that when he showed his police ID card to ISIL fighters, one of them slashed the throats of his father, five-year-old son and five-month-old daughter. When he begged them to kill him instead, they told him “we want to make you suffer.”
The investigation team received information from numerous sources who alleged that Iraqi Security Forces and affiliated militia had committed serious human rights violations during their counter-offensive operations against ISIL.
During the summer of 2014, as their military campaign against ISIL gained ground, the report says, militias seemed to “operate with total impunity, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake.”
In mid-June, fleeing Iraqi forces allegedly set fire to an army base in Sinsil, in Diyala province, where 43 Sunnis were held prisoner. In another incident, at least 43 prisoners were allegedly shot dead in the al-Wahda police station in Diyala. Villagers reported being rounded up and taken to al-Bakr airbase at Salah-ad-Din where, the report says, torture is allegedly routine. There were also numerous accounts of Sunnis being forced from their homes at gunpoint.
As one witness put it: “we hoped for the best when the Iraqi army and the ‘volunteers’ liberated the area from ISIL. Instead…they pillaged, burnt and blew up houses, claiming that all villagers are part of ISIL. This is not true; we are just ordinary poor people.”
The report concludes that members of Iraqi Security Forces and affiliated militia "carried out extrajudicial killings, torture, abductions and forcibly displaced a large number of people, often with impunity.” By doing so, it says, they “may have committed war crimes.”
However, it also pointed out that since the fall of Mosul last June, the line between regular and irregular Iraqi Government forces has become increasingly blurred. It suggests that “while more information is needed on the link between the militia and the Government,” some incidents point, at the very least, to a failure by the Government to protect persons under its jurisdiction.
The report adds that it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that all organized armed forces, groups and units are placed under a command responsible for the conduct of its subordinates.
It called on the Iraqi Government to investigate all crimes outlined in the report and bring the perpetrators to justice.
It also urged the Government to become a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and ensure that the international crimes defined in that Statute are criminalised under domestic law.
The report also calls on the Human Rights Council to urge the UN Security Council to address, “in the strongest terms, information that points to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” and to consider referring the situation in Iraq to the International Criminal Court.
*The report was requested at a Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on 1 September 2014. The Council requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to send a mission to Iraq to investigate alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law committed by ISIL and associated terrorist groups. For more information, see:
The full report is available on the OHCHR website at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session28/Documents/A_HRC_28_18_AUV.doc
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