GENEVA (5 July 2016) – As the death toll after Sunday’s suicide bomb in Baghdad continued to climb to well above 150, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Tuesday deplored the terrible loss of innocent lives. The High Commissioner warned that in addition to doing more to protect civilians from ISIL attacks, it is essential the Iraqi authorities step in to halt uncontrolled militias from continuing to take revenge on civilians fleeing towns recaptured from ISIL.
“I utterly condemn this latest horrendous ISIL atrocity, targeting innocent civilians who were celebrating Ramadan in the heart of Baghdad,” Zeid said. “Along with other recent abominations associated with ISIL in Dhaka, Istanbul and Orlando, the sheer unrestrained viciousness of these people defies belief.”
The High Commissioner warned, however, that “acts of revenge and hasty, injudicious policy decisions in reaction to such attacks are simply helping ISIL carry out its strategy to divide societies and promote hatred.”
“ISIL needs to be defeated, and defeated soon,” he said. “But in trying to defeat them, we must be extra careful not to react to their provocations in the way they predict we will react and want us to react. We need not just to be stronger than they are, but cleverer than they are. And in this we are failing badly, not just in Iraq but in a variety of responses all over the world, enabling them to tap into resentments about heavy-handed or unlawful responses to recruit more followers, create more fanatics and suicide bombers.”
“After the loss of Ramadi and Fallujah, with Mosul likely to be the next big battleground, I fear we will see more of these atrocities by ISIL, as they seek to make Iraq implode once more. The way we react, in Iraq and elsewhere, will in many ways decide whether ISIL benefits from its indiscriminate acts of mass murder, or is ultimately destroyed by them,” the UN Human rights Chief said.
Zeid urged the Iraqi authorities to take immediate action to locate and free more than 600 men and boys reportedly abducted by a militia group involved in the recapture of Fallujah from ISIL in June.
On 1 June, according to various witnesses interviewed in Iraq, approximately 8,000 civilians, including some 1,500 men and boys over the age of 14, left their village in Saqlawiyah, near Fallujah. Nearly all belonged to the Albo Akash clan of the al Mahamda Tribe. In the distance they saw what appeared to be a line of Government forces, who hailed them with loudspeakers, saying the villagers had nothing to fear from them. However, once they reached the line, witnesses said that hidden behind the Iraqi flags they saw the flags of a militia called Kataaib Hezbollah.
The militia fighters immediately separated the men and teenage boys from the women and children, who were transferred to Government-run camps for displaced people near Amiryat al Fallujah. The males were initially taken to warehouses and then moved on successive occasions over the next four days to a number of other sites between Saqaliwah and Fallujah.
Mistreatment began almost immediately. Men were crammed into small rooms or halls, sometimes more than 60 to a room. They were denied water and food, and there was little or no ventilation. When they asked for water or food or air, they were abused by militia members, told that their treatment was ‘revenge for Camp Speicher,’* and beaten with shovels, sticks, and pipes.
A number of witnesses attested that some who asked for water or complained about the air were dragged outside and shot, strangled, or severely beaten. In addition, witnesses stated that at least four men were beheaded. Others were handcuffed and beaten to death, and the bodies of at least two men were set on fire.
On 5 June, they were separated into two groups – one consisting of 605 men and boys, and the other of around 900. The smaller group was taken to join the women and children in the Government clearance centre in Ameriyat al Fallujah.
“The fate of the larger group is unknown, which is intensely worrying, particularly given the references made to revenge for the Camp Speicher massacre,” Zeid said. “There is a list of the names of 643 missing men and boys, as well as of 49 others believed to have been summarily executed or tortured to death while in the initial custody of Kataaib Hezbollah. Tribal leaders believe there are around 200 more unaccounted for, whose names have not yet been collected.
The High Commissioner noted that “this appears to be the worst – but far from the first – such incident involving unofficial militias fighting alongside Government forces against ISIL”, and urged the Government to take serious action to prevent further occurrences, including bringing those responsible to account.
“These crimes are not only abhorrent,” Zeid said. “They are also wholly counterproductive. They give ISIL a propaganda victory, and push people into their arms. They increase the likelihood of a renewed cycle of full-throttle sectarian violence. The Prime Minister of Iraq has set up an investigation committee into the disappearances, which I obviously support. But I believe the authorities have to take strong and immediate action to locate the missing men or ascertain precisely what happened to them.
“With a massive and prolonged battle for Mosul just around the corner, the potential for episodes like this to stiffen ISIL’s resistance should not be underestimated,” the High Commissioner said. “There must be an understanding that most of the male inhabitants of these cities are not willing members of ISIL, nor do they necessarily have anything to do with them at all beyond doing what is necessary to stay alive. People who escape from ISIL should be treated with sympathy and respect, not tortured and killed simply on the basis of their gender and where they had the misfortune to be living when ISIL arrived.”
*A UN report published in July 2015 concluded that as many as 1,700 cadets were brutally slaughtered by ISIL after Camp Speicher was overrun in June 2014. See: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16229&LangID=E
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