The ongoing conflict in Iraq continues to exact a “terrible” and deadly toll on the country’s civilians, particularly in the areas still under control by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), according to a new report released today by the United Nations.
The report – a joint effort compiled by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) – notes that the situation facing civilians in ISIL-controlled territory remains dire with many of those perceived to be opposed to the extremist group’s ideology being murdered, often in “grim public spectacles.”
Members of ethnic and religious communities, for instance, continue to be persecuted with as many as 3,500 members of the Yezidi community remaining under ISIL captivity enduring physical and sexual violence.
Others, meanwhile, are apparently being persecuted based on their perceived sexual orientation. On 8 March, the report says, ISIL beheaded two individuals accused of homosexuality and a third for blasphemy in the Bab al-Toob area of Mosul.
At the same time, the report cites examples of the continuing forced recruitment of children by ISIL forces across several Iraqi governorates, including Anbar and Ninewa.
“UNAMI continues to have grave concerns for the thousands of civilians subjected to human rights violations on a daily basis, particularly by ISIL,” UNAMI chief and the Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, explained in a press release.
“Parties to the conflict are required by international human rights law and international humanitarian law to prevent such violations and abuses from taking place and to ensure that civilians are spared to the fullest extent possible from the ongoing violence.”
In another instance highlighted by the UN document and drawing on detailed interviews with 12 survivors, 1,700 Iraqi cadets were slaughtered by ISIL fighters in early June 2014 at a military base known as Camp Speicher.
According to the report, a significant number of the young Iraqi troops were taken to a location near the [Tikrit] Palace in a valley near the river and systematically shot as they lay in trenches that had been dug by bulldozers. Others were taken to a location near the river and were shot there, and their bodies subsequently thrown into the river. The report also cites one interviewee who claimed to have seen “a pile of decapitated bodies in a bathroom” in the former presidential palace in Tikrit, and others who said they were kept in “holes.”
“The magnitude and brutality of the Camp Speicher massacre was exceptional,” stated UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in the press release. “It is important to recognize the plight of the survivors and the families of victims and their courage in refusing to let the issue of what happened be set aside.”
Although the report widely focuses on the crimes perpetrated by ISIL extremists, it also documents violations committed by the Iraqi Security Forces and affiliated forces, including indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling as well as actions of reprisal against civilians.
The High Commissioner has ensured that the terrorist acts and human rights violations committed by ISIL militants will not go unpunished and has also urged the Iraqi Government to join the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and ensure that international crimes defined in that Statute are criminalized under domestic law.
The UN report comes at a time of high stress for Iraq’s civilian population as it endures not only the daily threat of conflict but also a growing humanitarian crisis. In its latest situation report, the UN World Food Programme (WFP), in fact, has confirmed that an estimated 8.1 million people in the Gulf country remain in need of humanitarian aid, 3.1 million are displaced, and 4.4 million require critical food assistance.
The uptick in UN relief work in Iraq is being further hindered by a funding shortfall which, the UN agency has warned, risks causing cutbacks to food assistance unless $123.6 million are received over the next 6 months.