Iraq: UN documents rights violations of increasingly sectarian nature

This child was among thousands of Iraqis who fled to the high-altitude region of northern Kurdistan during the winter of 2014 with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and found themselves entirely dependent on humanitarian agencies. Photo: OCHA/Iason Athanasiadis

23 February 2015 – A United Nations report released today details widespread human rights violations of an increasingly sectarian nature in Iraq, as well as a deterioration of the rule of law in large parts of the embattled country.

The report, produced jointly by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), covers the period from 11 September to 10 December 2014.

Members of Iraq's diverse ethnic communities, including Turkmen, Shabaks, Christians, Yezidi, Sabaeans, Kaka'e, Faili Kurds, Arab Shi'a, and others, have been intentionally and systematically targeted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in what appears as a deliberate policy aimed at destroying, suppressing or expelling these communities permanently from areas under their control, the report documents.

“I continue to be deeply shocked by the gross human rights violations committed by ISIL and associated armed groups. The targeting of civilians based on their faith or ethnicity is utterly despicable and we must not spare any effort to ensure accountability for these crimes,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, reiterating his call for Iraq to join the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court or to accept the exercise of its jurisdiction with respect to the current situation facing the country.

The report documents serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross abuses of human rights perpetrated over a three month period by ISIL. These include killings of civilians, abductions, rapes, slavery and trafficking of women and children, forced recruitment of children, destruction of places of religious significance, looting and the denial of fundamental freedoms.

The report also details the murder of captured members of Iraqi security forces and of people suspected of being associated with the Government by ISIL. Individuals suspected of being disloyal to ISIL, including religious, community and tribal leaders, journalists, doctors as well as female community and political leaders have been particularly targeted. During the reporting period, at least 165 executions were carried out following sentences by so called “courts” in ISIL-controlled areas.

“Many of the violations and abuses perpetrated by ISIL may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide,” the report notes.

Furthermore, it documents violations of international humanitarian and international human rights law reportedly committed by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). “Armed groups claiming to be affiliated to or supporting the Government also perpetrated targeted killings, including of captured fighters from ISIL and its associated armed groups, abductions of civilians, and other abuses,” the report says.

In an interview with UN Radio, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said: “What really shocked me is that most of it is not news any more. In the beginning when we did our first report soon after the ISIL takeover of Mosul, the world was shocked at the atrocities that this group was committing. It's been now about nine months since then. We have done a number of these reports and we continue in them to register day after day horrible, horrible atrocities.”

“To me this is perhaps the most shocking thing. The world has gotten used to the violence and atrocities and this should not be the case. We should stand up every occasion that we can.”

At least 11,602 civilians have been killed and 21,766 wounded from the beginning of January until 10 December 2014. Between 1 June and 10 December 2014, when the conflict spread from Anbar to other areas of Iraq, at least 7, 801 civilians were killed and 12,451 wounded.

The report also notes that the number of civilians, who have died from the secondary effects of violence, including the lack of access to food, water or medical care, remains unknown. Large numbers remained trapped or displaced in areas under the control of ISIL during the reporting period, with limited access to humanitarian assistance. Children, pregnant women, persons with disabilities and elderly people proved particularly vulnerable in these difficult circumstances.

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