The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has engaged in widespread and systematic human rights violations of the most serious kinds in Syria and Iraq, brutally forcing some 8 million people to “assimilate, flee or face death,” according to a United Nations expert.
“These violations may amount to genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and widespread attacks on the civilian population,” according to Ben Emmerson, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.
An estimated 8 million people live under ISIL territory in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic.
“The brutal nature and overall scale of abuses appears to be intended to reinforce the group’s absolute monopoly on political and social life and to enforce compliance and conformity among communities under its control. The result is that civilians who remain in ISIL-controlled areas live in a state of constant and almost unimaginable fear,” said Emmerson in his report, which was presented to the Human Rights Council last month.
ISIL has targeted religious and ethnic groups in Iraq and Syria and committed acts of violence against civilians because of their affiliation with them. These communities have been forced to assimilate, flee or face death, he explained. “In Iraq, violence against the Yezidis have been reported with men being separated from women and children, then taken to ditches and brutally executed,” he added.
Extremely vulnerable to violence and discrimination, women face sexual and gender-based violence, including sexual slavery, killings, enslavement, and rape. They are confined to their homes and forced to adhere to a strict dress code, pointed out the expert. And children as young as six have been raped, tortured and kidnapped.
Children as young as 8 years old have also been trained and used in military roles. “They are reportedly made to watch videos of beheadings, and mass executions to desensitize them to forms of violence employed by ISIL.”
The growing military capacity of ISIL also means the spread of fear and terror on civilians, Mr. Emmerson continued, emphasizing that more than 20,000 foreign fighters have now joined the ranks of non-State armed groups from about 80 countries around the world.
Addressing the military response by the international coalition of States, led by the United States, he said that civilians living in ISIL-controlled territory are mainly residing in urban areas where many of the coalition air strikes have been performed. It has also been reported that ISIL strategically places its fighters among civilians, in civilian areas or uses hospitals and schools as military bases, to provoke civilian casualties in the event of attacks by the coalition.
The UN Rapporteur then called attention to the lack of transparency with coalition operations in Iraq and Syria.
“Each nation participating in the air war operates under unique rules of engagement, and transparency levels differ significantly,” the expert noted. While air strikes are carried out by different sources, it is difficult to know which States were responsible for an event and when they will occur.
The Special Rapporteur recalled the coalition states’ obligations under international law to ensure that their military operations are “transparent and accountable,” and that any civilian death resulting from these operations is “promptly, independently and impartiality” investigated.
Highlighting the failure by the Security Council to take appropriate and immediate action to protect civilians in affected areas, Mr. Emmerson also stressed the need for the international coalition of States engaged in military acts against ISIL to ensure that measures are put into place to protect civilians and prevent further casualties.
Experts like Mr. Emerson work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.