Amid ongoing fighting in the embattled Iraqi city of Fallujah, the United Nations human rights office today warned of continuing allegations of serious rights violations, as the Organization’s refugee agency reported a funding crunch to meet the immediate needs of the thousands of civilians who continue to flee the area.
At the regular bi-weekly press briefing in Geneva earlier today, Cécile Pouilly, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said her Office is “deeply concerned” about continuing allegations of serious human rights violations and abuses against civilians fleeing Fallujah by armed groups operating in support of Iraqi security forces.
“We’ve received shocking footage showing the body of a man being dragged at speed by a military truck while a man wearing a military uniform hits his disfigured and bloodied head,” Ms. Pouilly said.
“Another video shows people being struck with a rifle and kicked in the head by men wearing military uniforms while they exit a truck. Although we are not in a position to authenticate these videos, they depict violations which have been reported to us by several sources and which we’ve previously condemned,” she added.
The spokesperson said that on 12 June, a committee set up by the Anbar Governor to investigate violations perpetrated against civilians during the military operations in Anbar stated that 49 people had been killed and that at least 600 men had disappeared after being taken into custody by armed groups operating in support of Iraqi security forces.
It also found that the people taken into custody by these groups were ill-treated and/or tortured. These violations allegedly occurred from 2 to 4 June near a cemetery in the Saqlawiya area, northwest of Fallujah, and in the al-Mazra’ah area, east of Fallujah, Ms. Pouilly said.
“We welcome these initial findings and hope that the committee’s investigations will be pursued rigorously and extended to cover all such alleged violations. Following the announcement by the Iraqi Defence Minister that four army members have been arrested, we call on the Iraqi authorities to ensure that there is no impunity for the very grave violations and abuses that have been reported,” the spokesperson said.
“While we acknowledge the measures taken by the Government of Iraq, including the establishment of another committee by the Iraqi Prime Minister on 6 June, we wish to emphasize the urgent need for Iraqi leaders – across political and sectarian divides – to articulate and publicly commit to a shared, concrete, deliverable road map towards building a truly inclusive, prosperous and peaceful society,” she added.
In other news, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that with tens of thousands of civilians pouring out of Fallujah in recent days, $17.5 million is urgently needed to meet their immediate needs.
“The funds are desperately needed to expand the number of camps and to provide urgently needed relief supplies for displaced people who have already endured months of deprivation and hardship without enough food or medicine,” UNHCR Spokesperson Ariane Rummery said in another news briefing in Geneva. “We also need funds to provide psycho-social and other support to this exhausted and deeply traumatized population.”
More than 85,000 people have fled Fallujah and the surrounding area since a Government military offensive to retake the city from extremists began a month ago, on May 23.
About 60,000 of those people fled over a period of just three days last week, between 15 to 18 June, and thousands more could still be planning to leave the city, the spokesperson said.
UNHCR and its partners have been providing tents and relief aid to displaced families in Amiriyat al Falluja, Al Khalidiya and Habbaniyah Tourist City – all within 20 to 30 kilometres of Fallujah. But with last week’s surge in arrivals the overcrowding is growing, Ms. Rummery said.
“Two and sometimes three families have to share tents in many cases, while others sleep in the open, without hygiene facilities. Rising temperatures, the absence of shade and insufficient clean drinking water are compounding an already desperate situation,” she said.
These escalating needs have pushed UNHCR funding into crisis levels. Almost half-way through the year, UNHCR has received only 21 per cent of funds needed for Iraq and the surrounding region, according to the spokesperson.
Only $127.7 million has been received against the projected needs of $584 million in 2016, and UNHCR is exhausting available resources in Iraq to deal with the rapid developments in Fallujah, the spokesperson said.
Six camps have already been established in Amiriyat and Fallujah. Three more are being built in Khalidya and Habbaniya Tourist City, while two others are being expanded. UNHCR expects that 20 more will be needed over the coming weeks to house 30,000 people. Ms. Rummery added that funds are also urgently needed for blankets, mattresses and jerry cans, as well as other support.
In addition to Fallujah, UNHCR is responding to the displacement over the past three months of more than 20,000 people from Mosul and surrounding districts due to renewed offensives there.
In the past few days, close to 3,000 people arrived in the already crowded Debaga camp in Erbil Governorate, pushing the population there and in a nearby stadium to 10,000, Ms. Rummery said. The new arrivals are staying in a severely overcrowded reception centre, now seven times above its capacity.