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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Statement to the Security Council on Iraq United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

Iraq: Zeid speech to Security Council

18 November 2014

Delivered in New York, 18 November 2014

(In Arabic)

Mr. President,

            I am delighted to return to the Security Council in my new role and I thank you for this opportunity to brief the Council on the situation in Iraq.

Mr. President,
It is forbidden in Islam to oversimplify Shari’ah matters and ignore established Islamic sciences.
It is forbidden in Islam to ignore the reality of contemporary times when deriving legal rulings.
It is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent.
It is forbidden in Islam to kill emissaries, ambassadors and diplomats, hence it is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers.
It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat – in any way – Christians or any ‘People of the Scripture.’
It is obligatory to consider the Yazidis as ‘People of the Scripture’.
The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam.  It was abolished by universal consensus.
It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert.
It is forbidden in Islam to deny women their rights.
It is forbidden in Islam to deny children their rights.
It is forbidden in Islam to torture people.
It is forbidden in Islam to disfigure the dead.
And, it is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims.

These are among the points in a letter authored by 126 Muslim scholars drawn from all parts of the world which they addressed to abu Baqr al Baghdadi two months ago.  I will return to the letter shortly.

(In English)

Mr. President,

So monstrous are the crimes being committed by the takfiris in Iraq -- not just in violation of the Shari’ah but of customary law to which the Shari’ah is a significant contributor – the world is staggered by them.  On the face of the broad evidence now existing, particularly in respect of the Yazidis, and subject to the determination by a competent court of law, it is possible 3 out of the 5 offenses falling under the crime of Genocide – as listed in the Genocide Convention and the Rome Statute -- have been perpetrated by the individuals within the takfiri leadership of what is also known as ISIL, ISIS or Da’ish.  Out of the 11 offenses defined as Crimes Against Humanity in the Rome Statute, they are likely guilty of involvement in up to 9 of these offenses.  As for War Crimes, their commission is also virtually undeniable on any number of offenses where the relevant context is applicable.  The authors of these crimes are people whose actions are nothing but disgusting, and whose consciences have – demonstrably -- been annihilated. 

This takfiri group now controls a large swathe of Iraqi territory, and seems bent on subjecting every woman, man and child in it to its razor thin, almost blank, world-view. The scale and violence of ISIL's brutality towards civilians shreds every principle relevant to human rights.

And yet their fanaticism has flourished in part because of the damage wrought by years of conflict in Iraq.  The early ruthless attacks on the Shi’a population by that other takfiri group Al Qaida, beginning in 2003.  The equally brutal counter-attacks by the Shi’a militia against parts of the Sunni population.  The subsequent clear marginalisation and persecution of large segments of the Sunni population; targeted killings; and cold-blooded attacks on innocent passers-by, many perpetrated by Shi’a militias acting with impunity.

The people of Iraq have also endured discrimination, corruption, rampant impunity, a lack of inclusive participatory processes, and failure to promote and protect their economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights. Their resulting widespread poverty and unequal access to basic services constitute “silent” human rights violations. Moreover, respect for the standards of due process and fair trials, and for the international prohibition of torture, have been, and continues to be, problematic. These must be considered root causes of the current crisis. 
However, the new Iraqi Government is starting to break with this pattern, and is becoming more inclusive in its policies; this is to be welcomed.

Mr. President,

As I just noted, severe and apparently systematic violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws have been perpetrated by ISIL and associated armed groups in northern Iraq.  Victims have reported wanton killings and summary public executions; abductions, rape and enslavement of women and young girls, with reports of girls and women being openly sold at slave markets; brutal violence against children, and the forced recruitment of children as young as 12; denial of all fundamental freedoms; and deliberate persecution of ethnic and religious groups including Turkmen, Shabak, Christians, Yezidi, Sabea-Mandeans, Kaka’e, Faili Kurds, Arab Shi’a, and other Sunnis.

Women and girls have suffered extremely grievous violations of their rights. Many who have escaped captivity report physical and sexual assault, sexual slavery, trafficking and forced marriage; they are literally sold in open markets. During a mission to Iraq in October, my team led by Assistant Secretary General Ivan Simonovic met girls as young as 13 who had been kidnapped and raped before managing to escape. They said many others, of the same age, remained captive.

Children have been viciously tortured by ISIL, and many others have been forced to watch and participate in barbaric executions and torture.  Boys as young as 12 have been recruited and forced to form front-lines during combat to shield older ISIL soldiers.

It seems ISIL-controlled areas have been largely emptied of ethnic and religious minorities, whose members have fled, been captured or killed. Currently, at least 1,500 captive members of persecuted ethnic and religious groups are in ISIL hands, and their fate is of extreme concern. The perpetrators of these crimes must be brought to justice.

Iraqi Security Forces and affiliated armed groups have also violated human rights, according to reports received by my Office and UNAMI. OHCHR and UNAMI continue to receive reports of violent attacks, harassment and the illegal arrest of journalists. The Anti-Terrorism Law of 2005 is another continuing concern, in that it fails to respect binding international commitments regarding the administration of justice and prohibition of torture. My Office is preparing a report on this issue.

The conduct of particular military operations, including air strikes and shelling, may have also violated the principles of distinction and proportionality under international humanitarian law, and should be investigated.

In the past, armed groups affiliated with the Government have killed, abducted and threatened civilians, particularly Shi’a armed groups such as ‘Asayib Ahl al-Haq’. These intolerable practices must not be allowed to continue, and the Government should end the impunity under which these groups operate.

Accountability for violations is above all the responsibility of the State. But, as I have said, the crimes committed in Iraq are of such scale and gravity that in all likelihood they qualify as international crimes, subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.  I call upon the Government to accede to the Rome Statute and at the very least, to accept the ICC’s jurisdiction over the current situation under Article 12 (3).  International crimes such as War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide could also be included in the Iraqi criminal code.

Following a lengthy delay of two months in obtaining an urgent allocation of resources from the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, my Office is now also in a position to dispatch a fact-finding mission to Iraq, as mandated by the Human Rights Council on 1 September.

Mr. President,

National and international strategies to counter ISIL have so far concentrated on a security approach. This Council has passed an important resolution to stunt inflows of ISIL recruits from around the world. There has also been a significant military effort. But little attention has been paid to the underlying struggle for minds.  It is also disturbing how few to non-existent have been the public demonstrations of anger in the Arab and Muslims worlds over the crimes being perpetrated in Iraq – notwithstanding the clear condemnation by many Arab and Islamic governments.

The takfiri movement is gripped and driven by a distinct ideology: and it will destroy all that exists which is contrary to what it believes should exist.  To the takfiris, there is only one acceptable manner in which to live.  Alternative view-points – indeed, any form of individual thought outside of their closed unyielding logic – is rejected by them.  Those dissenting humans must be murdered, their memory, culture, every shred of their existence, destroyed.  Every single person in this room is eligible for death, according to their thinking.

The leaders of so-called ISIL want to of course establish an ideal, a Caliphate.  By doing so, they exploit a general yearning shared by many non-takfiri Muslims the world over for a Caliphate, for an ideal, though for everyone else, not one built on the back of such abominable crimes, as the takfiris would have it, or any crimes for that matter.  And yet by cleverly blending fantasy with claims of victimization, the takfiris attract adherents. 

This method where the end then justifies the means, building an ideal in their own minds and then reaching for it come what may, including through lies and the commission of atrocities, is of course not new. 

As Isaiah Berlin wrote in his famous "credo" 20 years ago, which was re-printed in the New York Review of Books last month, "the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity invariably leads to coercion. And then to destruction, blood—eggs are broken, but the omelette is not in sight, there is only an infinite number of eggs, human lives, ready for the breaking. And in the end the passionate idealists forget the omelette, and just go on breaking eggs."

I therefore query whether it is possible to bomb an ideology like this into submission, or hope it can just vaporise at the end of a judge’s gavel.  ISIL may weaken or wither, it is true, but it will likely be replaced by another takfiri group.  Nine years ago, we talked at length about Abu Mus’ab al Zarqawi and his group in this very chamber, and here we still are, with a different group, same ideology, only it is now worse.

And as long as they can sow confusion among Muslims, by exploiting a broadly shared Muslim yearning, no matter how inhumane the takfiris are, they will likely survive.

Thought must therefore be undermined by thought.  And takfirism must be thwarted by an approach to life couched in those principles and laws binding all of us, a system which will be more successful and enriching because it is open to the multiple realities of all human beings.

Two months ago, when the 126 prominent Muslim scholars wrote the letter referred to at the beginning of my statement, with the aim of refuting the spurious claims of ISIL to speak on behalf of Islam, it did not, sadly, receive the world-wide attention it so thoroughly deserved. To me, this concerted effort to strip ISIL, point by point, of its argument is a promising approach.

And these scholars could not have been clearer when, in concluding, they write to Abu Baqr al Baghdadi: "You have misinterpreted Islam into a religion of harshness, brutality, torture and murder. This is a great wrong and an offense to Islam, to Muslims, and to the entire world."

I implore the Council to support such efforts to overturn ISIL's ideology of violence and death, for the sake of the rights of all in Iraq, irrespective of ethnic or religious identity, whether men or women, old or young.  Ultimately, support given to the ideological front may be more effective than airstrikes, in bringing an end to the longstanding suffering of the people of Iraq.