A report released Friday by the United Nations human rights office says that Islamic State (IS, or ISIS) fighters may have committed genocide against the minority Yazidi community in Iraq, as well as crimes against humanity and war crimes against civilians including children.
The report, based on interviews with more than 100 victims and witnesses, highlights widespread abuses committed by ISIS militants, including killings, torture, rape and sexual slavery, forced religious conversions and the use of child soldiers. All of these, the U.N. agency says, amount to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some may constitute crimes against humanity and/or may amount to war crimes.
Additionally, attacks on the minority Yazidi community in Iraq “pointed to the intent of ISIS to destroy the Yazidi as a group,” the report says, which “strongly suggests” that ISIS may have perpetrated genocide. The UN human rights council, which led the inquiry, urged the UN security council to refer the situation to the international criminal court for prosecution of the perpetrators.
The report also highlights violations carried out by the Iraqi Security Forces and associated militia groups, including killings, torture and abductions, with some incidents pointing, at the very least, to a failure by the Government to protect persons under its jurisdiction.
More than 100 people who witnessed or survived attacks in Iraq between June 2014 and February 2015 helped the investigative team compile its report, which cites systematic sexual violence and enslavement of women and girls, and brutal and targeted killings of hundreds of Yazidi men and boys in the Ninewa plains in August 2014.
The report describes how Yazidi populations were rounded up, with men and boys over the age of 14 separated from the women and girls. The males were led away and shot by ISIS, while the women were abducted as the ‘spoils of war.’ “In some instances,” the report found, “villages were entirely emptied of their Yazidi population.”
Kidnapped women were transferred to different locations in ISIS-controlled territory, the report says, with some victims transferred to more than 10 different locations during a four-month period. These repeated transfers and displacement were “aimed at reinforcing ISIS’s control over the victims by instilling feelings of fear, insecurity and disorientation,” the U.N. said.
Girls and women who escaped from ISIS captivity consistently recounted the process by which they were raped and sexually enslaved. While some were given as ‘gifts,’ others were sold to local or foreign ISIS fighters, the report says. Witnesses described rapes of girls as young as six and nine years old and a scene where ISIS members sat laughing as two teenage girls were raped in the next room. As a result of the horrors they faced in captivity, many women of the persecuted minority community were even driven to suicide. In a separate report released in December, Amnesty International concluded that “ISIS fighters are using rape as a weapon in attacks amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Boys between the ages of eight and 15 also described horrific experiences, the report says, as they were separated from their mothers, transported to locations in Iraq and Syria and forced to convert to Islam. They were also subjected to religious and military training, including how to shoot guns and fire rockets, and were forced to watch beheadings, the U.N. said. “This is your initiation into jihad,” one boy was told. “You are an Islamic State boy now.”
Christians, Kaka’e, Kurds, Sabea-Mandeans, Shi’a and Turkmen also suffered brutal treatment at the hands of ISIS, the report says, citing the thousands of Christians uprooted from their homes in June last year, when ISIS ordered them to choose between conversion, taxation or displacement. Also in June, around 600 males held in Badoush prison, mostly Shi’a, were loaded onto trucks and driven to a ravine, where they were shot by ISIS fighters. Survivors told the UN team that they were saved by other bodies landing on top of them.
An Iraqi Government investigation into that incident and another into an ISIS massacre of over 1,500 cadets from Speicher army base have yet to reveal their conclusions publicly, the report notes, calling for investigations into all crimes detailed in the report, including those alleged to have been committed by Government forces.
Numerous sources told the investigation team that Iraqi Security Forces and affiliated militia had also committed serious human rights violations during their counter-offensive operations against ISIL, operating “with total impunity, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake.”
Retreating Iraqi forces allegedly set fire to an army base in Sinsil, where several dozen Sunni prisoners were held, and in another incident, at least 43 prisoners were allegedly shot dead in the al-Wahda police station in Diyala. Villagers reported being rounded up and taken to al-Bakr airbase at Salah-ad-Din where, the report says, torture is allegedly routine.
As one witness put it: “we hoped for the best when the Iraqi army and the ‘volunteers’ liberated the area from ISIS. Instead…they pillaged, burnt and blew up houses, claiming that all villagers are part of ISIS. This is not true; we are just ordinary poor people.”
The report urges the Government to become a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and ensure that international crimes defined in that Statute are criminalized under domestic law.
It also calls on the Human Rights Council to urge the UN Security Council to address, “in the strongest terms, information that points to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” and to consider referring the situation in Iraq to the International Criminal Court.