Reports of abuses by Iraqi, Kurdish forces against Sunni Arabs increasing, UN rights office says

Children in the Khazar IDP camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Photo: UNAMI

4 December 2015 – Reports of human rights abuses against Sunni Arabs by Iraqi and Kurdish security forces in parts of Iraq reclaimed from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are increasing, ranging from looting to extra-judicial killings, senior United Nations officials said today.

“Reports indicate that Iraqi security forces, Kurdish security forces and their respective affiliated militias have been responsible for looting and destruction of property belonging to the Sunni Arab communities, forced evictions, abductions, illegal detention and, in some cases, extra-judicial killings,” Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spokesperson Cécile Pouilly told a news briefing in Geneva.

Voicing concern at these reports, she also noted that gross human rights violations continue to be documented in ISIL-controlled areas, including the burning and beheading of civilians.

A joint report by OHCHR and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) in July highlighted the conflict's continuing “terrible” and deadly toll on civilians, particularly in ISIL-controlled areas, but also documented violations by Iraqi Security Forces and affiliated forces, including indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling as well as actions of reprisal against civilians.

“We urge the Government of Iraq to investigate all human rights violations and abuses, including those committed against the Arab Sunni communities, to bring the perpetrators to justice and to ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies,” Ms. Pouilly said today.

She noted that Sunni Arabs have also faced increasing discrimination, harassment and violence from other ethnic and religious groups who accuse them of supporting ISIL, and are reported to have only limited access to basic services and essential goods, such as water, food, shelter and medical care.

She voiced particular concern at the situation of some 1,300 Sunni Arabs stuck near Sinjar in the no-man's-land between Kurdish security forces and ISIL.

Turning to ISIL, she said OHCHR has received reports that some 16 mass graves containing the bodies of individuals murdered by ISIL have been discovered in Sinjar.

“Gross human rights violations continue to be documented in ISIL-controlled areas,” she added. “Individuals suspected of disloyalty or of not conforming to the ideology of the group continue to be targeted, and there are reports of kidnappings and the burning and beheading of civilians.”

She also called on the Iraqi authorities to ensure that the return of internally displaced people to their places of origin is carried out in accordance with humanitarian principles – voluntarily, in dignity and safety without coercion or harassment of any kind, and that they are guaranteed access to essential services such as shelter, water, food, sanitation, and healthcare.

Meanwhile, UNAMI and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) voiced grave concern at the conflict's heavy toll on children, with 189 killed and 301 injured since the beginning of 2015.

“UNAMI and UNICEF urge all parties to the conflict to abide by the principles of proportionality and distinction in the course of military operations, to protect children and other civilians from the effects of violence to the maximum extent possible, and to respect the civilian nature of schools and medical facilities,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Ján Kubiš and UNICEF Iraq Representative Peter Hawkins said in a joint statement.

“UNAMI and UNICEF remain very concerned with the safety of Iraq's children who continue to suffer from the effects of hostilities across the country. Ongoing operations in Ramadi, Mosul, Tala'afar and other conflict-affected areas in Iraq raise the risk of additional grave violations of child rights.”


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