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Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Press briefing note on Iraq / Mosul and (2) Syria

Press briefing: Iraq, Syria

11 November 2016

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location:  Geneva
Date: 11 November 2016
Subject:  (1) Iraq / Mosul and (2) Syria

(1) Iraq/Mosul

As further evidence emerges of mass graves, sexual exploitation of women and girls, torture and killings and child recruitment in Mosul and other ISIL-occupied areas of Iraq, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has called for  immediate action to ensure that the rights and needs of victims and survivors are met, including, crucially, the need for justice, truth and reconciliation.

“Heartbreaking images of children…children…being forced to carry out executions, stories of women being ‘redistributed’ among ISIL fighters, of killings for possession of SIM cards, and killings of those perceived to be opposed to ISIL’s takfiridoctrines. The forced displacement of tens of thousands of civilians and their exploitation as human shields, and then the risk of reprisals against these long-suffering women, men and children for their perceived support of ISIL – the extent of civilian suffering in Mosul and other ISIL-occupied areas in Iraq is numbing and intolerable,” High Commissioner Zeid said.
Read the full press release:

(2) Syria

The battle for Mosul is also leading to the displacement of civilians from Iraq into Syria. We have received reports that Iraqi civilians from rural areas around Mosul City have been arriving in the Syrian governorates of Raqqa, Deir ez-Zour and al-Hassakeh. They reportedly left, after the Iraqi Security Forces and allied armed groups captured the areas, fearing they would be seen as affiliated to ISIL.

We have reports that several hundred Iraqi civilians are facing a dire humanitarian situation in Rajm al-Sleibi in the Syrian governorate of al-Hassakeh on the border with Iraq, which is under the control of YPG or People’s Protection Units. People here include those who have fled the current fighting and those who had earlier crossed into al-Hassakeh.

In the ISIL-controlled Syrian governorate of Raqqa, ISIL fighters in the area are said to have housed some newly-arrived families in the homes of local residents who had fled. We also have reports of families being housed at the entrance to Raqqa city, in the neighbourhood of al-Mashlab, which is under the strong control of ISIL.

In light of the announcement of possible ground operations by Kurdish and other forces, and the conduct of regular airstrikes by the US-led Coalition, we are concerned that ISIL tactics already employed in Manbij in August that endanger the civilian population may be adopted in Raqqa and surrounding areas - namely taking civilians hostage and planting improvised explosive devices in civilian houses and residential neighbourhoods.

We remain concerned at the number of civilian casualties as a result of increased air and ground strikes on ISIL targets in populated areas. We received initial reports that on 9 November 23 civilians were killed, including six women and at least four children, and at least 30 others were injured by an airstrike and accompanying ground-based strikes on al-Hisha, an ISIL-controlled village in northern ar-Raqqa. One mortar hit a civilian vehicle, killing two passengers who were trying to transport injured civilians.

The worsening humanitarian situation in Madaya town in Rural Damascus Governorate is of particular concern. We have received reports that some 25 people in the town with kidney disease have been in need of evacuation to receive medical care since October.

Sources on the ground have informed us that on 9 November, a young woman and an elderly man - both suffering from kidney disease - reportedly died due to lack of medical treatment.

The residents of Madaya in Rural Damascus Governorate have been under siege by pro-Government forces since mid-2015, and we have received reports that there are only a handful of people with medical training inside the town. Since September 2015, Madaya has been part of the broader Four-Town Agreement, which conditions humanitarian access to Madaya and neighbouring al-Zabadani on comparable access to Foua and Kefraya in Idleb Governorate.

We remind the parties that they must allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need. The imposition of restrictions or conditions by the parties preventing the sick and wounded from being evacuated from the area is strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law.


For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / [email protected]) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / [email protected] ) or Liz Throssell  ( +41 22 917 9466/ [email protected])

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