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UN report on liberation of Mosul: ISIL members should face “international crimes” charges

UN report on liberation of Mosul: ISIL members should face “international crimes” charges

GENEVA (2 November 2017) – A UN report concludes that the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Daesh) perpetrated serious and systematic violations that amount to “international crimes” during the nine-month military campaign to liberate Mosul City in Iraq.

The report, published on Thursday by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), is based on direct witness testimony, and documents mass abductions of civilians, the use of thousands as human shields, the intentional shelling of civilian residences, and indiscriminate targeting of civilians trying to flee the city.

In July 2017 Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and affiliated armed groups retook the city which had fallen under the control of ISIL in June 2014.

“During the course of the operation to retake Mosul City thousands of civilians were subjected to shocking human rights abuses and clear violations of international humanitarian law,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein. “The execution-style killing of civilians, the suffering inflicted on families, and the wanton destruction of property can never be tolerated in any armed conflict, and those responsible must answer for their heinous crimes.”

The report recounts that early in November 2016, in areas of Mosul under ISIL control, members of the group used loud speakers to announce that residents of areas retaken by the ISF were considered as “legitimate targets” because of their ‘failure’ to fight against Government forces.

“This so-called ‘fatwa’ was accompanied by a sustained campaign of ISIL attacks on eastern Mosul that directly targeted civilians,” the report states. “Tactics included shelling, use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and shooting fleeing civilians.”

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, said the report documents evidence of the mass atrocities committed by ISIL against civilians and Mosul itself, a city they claimed as their capital but for which, in reality, they sought its ultimate and deliberate destruction.

“Daesh’s reign of terror has spared no one, inflicting untold suffering on unarmed residents whose only guilt is that they lived in the areas under ISIL’s control. Their evil acts did not stop at killing and terrorising residents, as they wantonly destroyed cultural and religious monuments, including the city’s iconic leaning minaret Al-Hadba, in total disregard of history and Islam, the religion this terrorist organisation falsely claimed to represent.”

The report called on the international community, including the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council, to take action to ensure that those responsible for international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are held accountable.

At least 2,521 civilians were killed during the military operation, mostly as a result of ISIL attacks, the report found, including 741 people who were executed. Another  1,673 were wounded. Additionally, as of 26 October 2017, the Civil Defence Corps reported that they had recovered the remains of 1,642 civilians from underneath rubble in Mosul.

Large numbers of the city’s civilian population were forced to flee as a result of the military operations. As of 11 July, 137,339 families (824,034 individuals) were  displaced.

The report noted that since 2014, at least 74 mass graves had been discovered in areas previously held by ISIL in Iraq. The number of bodies contained in these locations varied greatly, from a few bodies to possibly thousands. The report called on the Government of Iraq to ensure the protection of mass graves, and for due care to be taken to preserve evidence of crimes committed to assist in identifying the perpetrators.

The report also urged Iraqi authorities to investigate alleged violations and human rights abuses by ISF and associated forces during the military operation. It recorded 461 civilian deaths as a result of airstrikes during the most intensive phase of the ISF-led offensive from 19 February. In almost all cases, UNAMI/OHCHR could not determine the responsibility for the airstrikes, but the report urged that all civilian casualties in which the international community was involved be thoroughly investigated and the results made public.

It also called on the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to ensure that crimes committed in connection to the armed conflict are subject to the jurisdiction of national courts and tribunals. It urged Iraq to introduce amendments to national legislation to grant domestic jurisdiction over international crimes and to accept the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction with respect to the specific situation Iraq is facing, as an immediate step.

The report stated that by prosecuting those responsible for “international crimes” in Mosul the Iraqi authorities would be sending a message to the people of Iraq who have suffered, no matter when or where, that justice is eventually delivered.  

It added that ensuring justice would be vital to the process of rebuilding trust between communities in Iraq, and the key to lasting reconciliation in the country.