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Press briefing notes on Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia / Yemen

Spokespeople for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva
Date: 1 November 2016

(1) Iraq

We have reports that in the early hours of yesterday morning, around 1h00, ISIL brought dozens of long trucks and mini-buses to Hamam al-Alil City, south of Mosul, in an attempt to forcibly transfer some 25,000 civilians towards locations in and around Mosul. We understand that most of the trucks were prevented from proceeding towards Mosul due to coalition flights patrolling the area, and the trucks were forced to return to Hamam Al-Alil. However some buses did reach Abusaif, 15 kilometres north of Hamam Al-Alil City. We have grave concerns for the safety of these and the tens of thousands of other civilians who have reportedly been forcibly relocated by ISIL in the past two weeks.

Using civilians as human shields is a war crime. Under article 8(2)(c) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, taking of hostages in a non-international armed conflict is a war crime, and under Article 8(2)(e)(viii), ordering the displacement of civilians for reasons not connected with their security or imperative military reasons is also a war crime.

We urge parties to the conflict to ensure that international law is strictly observed, in particular the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in attack. All feasible precautions must be taken to avoid and minimise the loss of civilian life and injury to civilians.

We also have further reports of mass killings by ISIL. On Saturday, 40 former Iraqi Security Force soldiers were killed and their bodies thrown in the Tigris River. They were reportedly among the civilians who had been abducted earlier from al-Shura sub-district of Mosul and from villages surrounding Hamam al-Alil. There are also reports that ISIL has been threatening relatives of people they suspect are supporting the Iraqi Security Forces.

(2) Syria

Over the course of the weekend, there were reports of intensified shelling by armed opposition groups of civilian-populated areas in Government-controlled western Aleppo. The areas hit by mortars, rockets and other improvised explosive devices (IEDS) included the neighbourhoods of Salah al-Din, al-Shahbaa, al-Zahraa and al-Hamadaniya.

More than 30 civilians, including at least 10 children, were reportedly killed and dozens of others injured as a result of the attacks on 29 and 30 October on western Aleppo. We have also received unconfirmed reports of families fleeing the hostilities towards opposition-held areas of the city.

Such high numbers of civilian casualties suggest that armed opposition groups are failing to adhere to the fundamental prohibition under international humanitarian law on the launching of indiscriminate attacks, and the principles of precaution and proportionality. The reported use of ground-based missiles along with the use of armoured vehicles loaded with explosives used in an area containing more than one million civilian inhabitants is completely unacceptable and may constitute war crimes.

Shelling of opposition-held eastern Aleppo by Government forces and their allies is also reported to be continuing. Among the neighbourhoods particularly affected are al-Ferdous, Sayf al-Dawla, al-Qaterji and al-Mashhad. At least 12 civilians including two children were reportedly killed as a result of the attacks over Saturday and Sunday. Dozens of civilians were also injured.

While Russian Ministry of Defence representatives are reported to have stated that Syrian and Russian air forces are observing a moratorium on flights closer than 10 kilometres around Aleppo since the launch of the unilateral ceasefire on 18 October, we did receive some reports of airstrikes hitting opposition-controlled eastern Aleppo on 22 and 23 October. While there have not been airstrikes since that time, we remain concerned about 250,000 civilians at risk in this area should they resume.

All parties in Aleppo are conducting hostilities which are resulting in large numbers of civilian casualties, and creating an atmosphere of terror for those who continue to live in the city. Strikes against hospitals, schools, marketplaces, water facilities and bakeries are now commonplace, and may amount to war crimes.

(3) Saudi Arabia / Yemen

We condemn the firing of a ballistic missile deep into Saudi Arabia by the Houthis and their allies last week. The launching of any weapon indiscriminately into an area filled with civilians is forbidden under international humanitarian law. We urge all parties to the conflict to exercise restraint and to ensure full respect for international human rights and international humanitarian law.

ENDS

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 ) or Liz Throssell  ( +41 22 917 9466/ethrossell@ohchr.org)

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