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Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Zeid urges focus on victims’ rights, given “numbing” extent of civilian suffering in Iraq

'Numbing suffering'

11 November 2016

GENEVA (11 November 2016) – As mass graves and further evidence of sexual exploitation of women and girls, torture and killings, child recruitment and other grave human rights abuses committed by ISIL in Iraq come to light, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has called for immediate action to ensure that the rights and the 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 takfiri doctrines. 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.

“Justice for the victims and survivors of human rights abuses and violations – irrespective of when, where or by whom such abuses and violations were committed – needs to be impartial, transparent and effective. The Government of Iraq must act quickly to restore effective law enforcement in areas retaken from ISIL to ensure that captured fighters and their perceived supporters are dealt with according to the law. This is crucial to limit the opportunity for revenge attacks and collective punishments.”

“It is equally important that formal justice is supported by actions that promote community reconciliation, such as truth-telling and restorative justice, including the provision of medical and psycho-social services, housing, education and other financial support which may assist people in rebuilding their lives and their communities,” Zeid said. “The people of Iraq – all the people of Iraq – must see that their State, by its actions, is capable of protecting them by bringing to justice those guilty of the horrible crimes that have been committed against them.”

Just over the past few days, reports have emerged that:

-     ISIL appears to be continuing to carry out killings based on decisions of its self-appointed ‘courts’. On Tuesday, ISIL reportedly shot and killed 40 civilians in Mosul city after accusing them of ‘treason and collaboration’ with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The victims were dressed in orange clothes marked in red with the words: ‘traitors and agents of the ISF’. Their bodies were then hung on electrical poles in several areas in Mosul city. The same evening, a 27-year-old man was allegedly publicly shot to death in the Bab al-Jideed neighbourhood of central Mosul following a so-called ‘court’ decision. His crime: he used a mobile phone in Mosul. Six other civilians were hanged on 20 October in Mosul for keeping hidden SIM cards, in violation of ISIL’s order to surrender all SIM cards. On Wednesday evening, ISIL reportedly shot to death 20 civilians in the Ghabat Military Base in northern Mosul, on charges of leaking information. Their bodies were also hung at various intersections in Mosul, with notes stating: ‘decision of execution’ and ‘used cell phones to leak information to the ISF’.

-     Also on Wednesday, ISIL deployed what it calls the “sons of the caliphate” in the alleys of the old town of Mosul, wearing explosive belts. We are concerned that these may be teenagers and young boys. ISIL also posted a video on Wednesday showing four children, believed to be between 10 and 14 years old, shooting to death four people for spying for the ISF and the Peshmerga. The video shows the victims falling into the river nearby.

-     Since 27 October, ISIL has been relocating abducted women, including Yezidi women, into Mosul city and into Tel Afar town. Some of these women were reportedly “distributed” to ISIL fighters while others have been told they will be used to accompany ISIL convoys.

-     Last Monday, 7 November, the ISF reportedly found in Shura sub-district of Mosul an underground prison containing 961 people, all of them Sunni, and many of them former ISF officers or members of the Iraqi Islamic  Party. People in the prison – which reportedly had cages measuring 1 metre by 0.5 metres – bore signs of torture and malnutrition.
-     Also last Monday, ISIL announced through loudspeakers mounted on vehicles in Mosul that it would execute any members fleeing from the battlefield. ISIL also reportedly announced that, on 6 November it had beheaded seven of its militants for deserting the battlefield in the Kokjali area of eastern Mosul.

-     More reports of ISIL forcing villagers to leave their homes include one incident around 24 October when ISIL ordered some 2,000 families out of al-Shura sub-district. Air raids prevented ISIL from moving the families more than three kilometres away, however, and they managed to flee. One villager recounted having to walk for two days before they found food and shelter with a tribal Sheikh and they eventually made their way to an IDP camp run by the Iraqi army. In another incident, last Tuesday, 8 November, ISIL forced residents of Jidedat al-Mufti, an area southeast of Mosul city, to move to Mosul city itself. Two civilians were shot dead by ISIL when they refused. On Wednesday morning, ISIL elements forced 42 families to move from their houses in the al-Faisaliya neighborhood, eastern Mosul to the western side of the city.

More details are also emerging about the reports of a mass grave containing at least 100 people in an Agricultural College building in Hamam al-Alil that was discovered on Monday. Reports suggest that victims included former ISF officers and ISIL detainees, as well as people killed for initiating uprisings against ISIL since the beginning of the Mosul operation on 17 October. The corpses are in various states of decomposition, indicating that ISIL had been using the site as a killing ground for some time. What is clear is that many more mass killings took place in Hamam al-Alil and other locations, with victims’ bodies dumped at various locations, including a cement factory yard, the Tigris River and also reportedly at Mosul airport and in the Tal-al-Zahab area of Mosul District. Reports also suggest that some of those killed by ISIL – including at least one former police officer who refused to sign a paper to ‘repent’ for his ties to the State – were thrown into a well, known by locals as Khasfa, in Hamam al-Alil sub-district.

Details are also emerging of the use of chemical weapons by ISIL. On 23 October, four people died after inhaling fumes from burning sulphur from al-Mishrag Sulphur Gas Factory and Field in the Shura sub-district of Mosul. The factory was set on fire and shelled by ISIL. ISIL also reportedly placed sulphur in locations in Shura and set it alight. On 26 October, a two-month old boy died from asphyxia as a result of emissions from the burning sulphur. The child reportedly died as his family fled from Shura City towards al-Qayyarah. In Mosul, reports indicate that large quantities of ammonia and sulphur have been stockpiled by ISIL and there are reports that these chemicals are being placed in the same locations as civilians.

Sporadic reports are also emerging of retaliatory attacks, including allegations of revenge killings by civilians or by forces under the control of the Iraqi army, as well as of the demolition of houses in Kirkuk. The High Commissioner welcomed the statement by the Iraqi Prime Minister that such attacks against civilians and their property are unacceptable, but he stressed the need for robust, transparent, human-rights based action by the Government to pre-empt and prevent the reprisals and revenge killings.

“By referring the situation in Iraq to the International Criminal Court; by giving Iraqi courts jurisdiction over international crimes; by reforming the criminal justice system and reinforcing the capacity of judicial officers to document, investigate and prosecute violations, the Government of Iraq can ensure justice and secure the foundations for a lasting peace for the country. Failure to do so may seriously jeopardize the long-term peace and security that the people of Iraq deserve,” High Commissioner Zeid said.

UN human rights officers are continuing to monitor the impact of the armed conflict on civilians, directly and through information provided by implementing partners and networks of sources. Recently human rights officers visited al-Jada camp in al-Qayyarah sub-district to monitor the security screening process being conducted there, and will continue to visit other sites directly where possible.

The High Commissioner also expressed concern that many former Government and security personnel who had been living under ISIL rule have reportedly been instructed that they must register and return to their posts within a very tight deadline. If they fail to do so, they will be removed from their jobs. However, the areas where some of these former Government employees come from have only just been liberated from ISIL, so they are not yet secure and basic services are not available. Zeid called on the Government to ensure that adequate security guarantees are in place so that civilians are not forced to prematurely return to their places of origin.