Over 34,000 civilians killed in Iraq in 2006, says UN report on rights violations

16 January 2007 – Nearly 6,400 Iraqi civilians were killed in the November-December period, slightly less than in the preceding two months, as rampant and indiscriminate killings, sectarian violence, extra-judicial executions – and impunity for the perpetrators – continued virtually unchecked, according to the latest United Nations rights report released today.

It puts the total civilian casualty figure for the year 2006 at 34,452 dead and 36,685 injured. Asked why the UN death toll for the year was about three times higher than that reported by the Iraqi Government, a spokesman in New York said the UN figures were based on those provided by the Baghdad Medico-Legal Institute and the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

“An unprecedented number of execution-style killings have taken place in Baghdad and other parts of the country, whereby bodies were routinely found dumped in the streets, in rivers and in mass graves – most bearing signs of torture with their hands and feet bound, and some were beheaded,” the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) human rights report for the period says of “the modus operandi” of both Sunni and Shiite groups.

Without significant progress on the rule of law sectarian violence will continue indefinitely “and eventually spiral out of control,” thwarting efforts by the Government in the political, security or economic spheres, according to the report, which stresses the urgent need to fight impunity and seek accountability for crimes.

In virtually every sphere, and building on earlier reports, the latest study amounts to a litany of abuses ranging from attacks on women, minorities and professional groups to forced displacements, to the activities of the police and security forces and the United States-led Multi-National Force (MNF-I).

According to information made available to UNAMI, 6,376 civilians were killed in the two month period – 3,462 for November and 2,914 for December – compared with 7,054 for the previous two months, when October’s toll reached a new high of 3,709. Despite the “slight reduction… it is evident however that violence has not been contained,” the report warns.

It notes that law enforcement agencies do not provide effective protection. Increasingly militias and criminal gangs act in collusion with, or have infiltrated the security forces, while operations by security and military forces, including MNF-I, continue to result in growing numbers of individuals detained and without access to judicial oversight.

“Armed operations by MNF-I continued to restrict the enjoyment of human rights and to cause severe suffering to the local population,” the report says, citing use of facilities protected by the Geneva Conventions, such as hospitals and schools, as military bases, allegations that MNF-I snipers killed 13 civilians in one week in Ramadi, and lack of access to basic services, such as health and education, affecting a larger percentage of the population.

The report reiterates previous calls to security and military forces to respect fully international law and to refrain from any excessive use of force.

It notes that since the bombing of the Shiite mosque in Samarra in February, some 471,000 people have been forcibly displaced. It calls the situation in Baghdad “notably grave,” with insurgents including foreign terrorist groups remaining particularly active.

“No religious and ethnic groups, including women and children, have been spared from the widespread cycle of violence which creates panic and disrupts the daily life of many Iraqi families, prompting parents to stop sending their children to school and severely limiting normal movement around the capital and outside,” the report says, also citing a “dramatic increase” in abductions in recent months.

It notes a rapid erosion of women’s rights in the central and southern regions. “Women are reportedly living with heightened levels of threats to their lives and physical integrity, and forced to conform to strict, arbitrarily imposed morality codes,” it says, with cases of young women abducted by armed militia and found days later sexually abused, tortured and murdered.

“Female corpses are usually abandoned at the morgue and remain unclaimed for fear of damaging the family honour,” it adds. “More than 140 bodies were unclaimed and buried in Najaf by the morgue during the reporting period.” In a suspected honour crime case, a secondary school student was publicly hanged in east Baghdad by armed militia and her brother shot dead when he tried to rescue her.

In the north it cites “honour killings” with 239 reportedly women burning themselves in accidents or suicide attempts the first eight months of 2006. “Most victims of suspected honour crimes suffer horrific injuries which are unlikely to have been accidentally caused whilst cooking or refuelling oil heaters,” it says.

Attacks have also continued or escalated against minorities such as Christians, homosexuals, and the thousands of Palestinian refugees who are seen as having supported the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein.

“Killings, threats, intimidations, and kidnappings are becoming the norm for Palestinians in Iraq. Many of these actions are reportedly carried out by the militias wearing police or special forces uniform. Most of the victims are found dead or simply disappear,” the report says.

“The ability of new security plans to effect real change in Iraq will depend on a comprehensive reform program that can strengthen the rule of law and deliver justice for all Iraqis,” it stresses.

“It is essential that the State and the Government of Iraq are seen as united in their efforts to contain and eventually eradicate sectarian violence, to ensure the rule of law and, through that, remove the popular basis of support for the perpetrators of this violence.”

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