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Distr.: General

13 March 2015

Original: English
Human Rights Council

Twenty-eighth session

Agenda items 2

Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner
for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the
High Commissioner and the Secretary-General

Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Iraq in the light of abuses committed by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and associated groups*


The present report has been prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution A/HRC/RES/S-22/1, in which the Council requested the High Commissioner to dispatch a mission to Iraq to investigate alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law committed by ISIL and associated terrorist groups, and to establish the facts and circumstances of such abuses and violations, with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring full accountability. The report provides an overview of the situation from June 2014 to February 2015, as requested in resolution A/HRC/RES/S-22/1.


Paragraphs Page

I. Introduction 1–15 3

A. Context 1–6 3

B. Mandate and terms of reference 7–8 4

C. Methods of work 9–12 4

D. Legal framework 13–15 5

II. Patterns of Abuses and Violations 16–71 5

A. Violations Perpetrated by ISIL 16–49 5

1. Attacks against religious and ethnic groups 16–28 5

2. Politically-motivated attacks 29–34 8

3. Sexual and gender-based violence 35–43 9

4. Recruitment and use of children 44–46 10

5. Use of prohibited weapons 47 11

6. Human rights violations in ISIL-controlled areas 48–49 11

B. Violations Perpetrated by Other Parties to the Conflict 50–69 11

1. Extrajudicial killings, abductions and torture 52–61 12

2. Indiscriminate attacks 62–66 13

3. Forced displacement and preventing access to safe areas 67–69 14

C. Mass Graves 70–71 14

III. Legal responsibility 72–76 15

A. States’ legal responsibility 72–75 15

B. Individual criminal responsibility 76 15

IV. Conclusion and Recommendations 77–79 16


Note Verbales 18

I. Introduction

A. Context

  1. Iraq has endured decades of authoritarianism, followed by a difficult transition that was marked by an international presence, unrest and continuous violence resulting in thousands of civilian casualties. Despite positive steps towards building a constitutional republic, this period has witnessed a wide range of human rights violations. These include enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, reprisal killings, shortcomings in fair trial and due process standards, lack of accountability, and failure to deliver many basic services. Since 2003, thousands of suicide attacks, carried out by terrorist groups, have killed thousands of civilians.

  2. The so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)1 surfaced in this unstable and violent environment. Lack of inclusive participatory processes and failure to promote and protect political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights amidst regional turmoil, paved the way for ISIL and other radical groups to advance into northern Iraq, exploiting the frustration of local tribes, and shortly after cracking down on many with utmost brutality and cruelty.

  3. In April 2013, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) used force to end a demonstration in the town of Hawija in Kirkuk governorate, resulting in the death of a number of demonstrators. Rallies and sit-ins followed in the provinces of Anbar, Ninewa, Salah ad-Din and Diyala. The Government’s crackdown on these protests exacerbated a sense of exclusion among the sizeable Sunni population.

  4. In January 2014, the city of Fallujah in Anbar province fell into the hands of ISIL. In April, Anbar was a battleground. By May, 500,000 civilians had been internally displaced. While ISF scored some victories against ISIL in Anbar, the group stormed the cities of Mosul and Tikrit in a blitz offensive in June, taking control of large swathes of northern provinces. ISIL carried out massacres at Badoush prison and Camp Speicher and besieged the town of Amerli in Diyala province.

  5. In August, ISIL seized the districts of Sinjar, Tel Afar and the Ninewa Plains. Reports began to surface alleging serious human rights abuses perpetrated by ISIL and associated armed groups. They included the intentional and systematic targeting of members of ethnic and religious communities in areas seized. This led to a mass exodus of Yezidis, Christians and members of other ethnic and religious groups from the Ninewa plains. The Mosul and Sinjar operations triggered the displacement of a further 1.5 million people. By the time Mosul fell to ISIL, ISF were in disarray. The Government of Iraq turned to other armed actors alongside ISF to halt ISIL advances and reverse its territorial gains. Many young Iraqis volunteered to fight ISIL with the ‘Popular Mobilisation Movement’2.

  6. Throughout the summer of 2014, Popular Mobilisation Movement ‘volunteers’ and Shi’a militia moved from their southern heartlands towards ISIL-controlled areas in central and northern Iraq. While their military campaign against the group gained ground, the militias seem to operate with total impunity, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake.

B. Mandate and terms of reference

  1. A Special Session of the Human Rights Council was requested inter alia by Iraq in light of increasing violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, including unlawful killings, deliberate targeting of civilians, forced conversions, targeted persecution of groups and individuals on the basis of their religion or belief, acts of violence against members of ethnic and religious groups, as well as destruction of places of worship and cultural heritage sites. The Human Rights Council convened the Special Session on 1 September 2014, and adopted resolution A/HRC/RES/S-22/1 without a vote. The Council requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to dispatch a mission to Iraq to investigate alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law committed by ISIL and associated terrorists groups, and to establish the facts and circumstances of such abuses and violations, with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring full accountability.

  2. The Council further requested the High Commissioner to provide an oral update at an interactive dialogue during its twenty-eighth session. The present report, submitted pursuant to this request, covers events linked to the armed conflict involving ISIL, which took place in Iraq between June 2014 and February 2015. All information is based on rigorous human rights investigations carried out in Iraq between December 2014 and February 2015. OHCHR also verified information received on human rights violations and abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law that have been perpetrated by other parties to the conflict and documented them herein.3.

C. Methods of work

  1. The mission reviewed all available information, including testimony from witnesses and victims and documentation from the Government of Iraq 4 Member States, and relevant United Nations and non-governmental organisations. It followed up on reports of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Iraq to verify their veracity and establish further facts. The mission conducted investigations in Chamchamal, Dohuk, Erbil, Kalar, Suleimaniyah, and Zakho and camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in these areas.

  2. Due to insecurity and heightened conflict in some areas of the country, and logistical constraints, the mission could not conduct investigations in many areas of Iraq where serious human rights abuses and violations had allegedly taken place. These included areas such as Kirkuk governorate, and Mosul, Tel Afar and Zummar in Ninewa governorate. For areas that were physically inaccessible, the mission undertook telephone interviews or, when possible, met victims and witnesses in more secure locations.

  3. The findings outlined in this report are based on an analysis of first-hand information obtained through in-depth interviews conducted with over 100 victims and witnesses. The credibility of information was assessed on the basis of consistency among witness accounts and the existence of other corroborative information. The certainty of the factual findings is not uniform; for each of its findings, the mission specifies to which degree it is confident that the incident occurred.

  4. OHCHR thanks the Government of Iraq for extending full cooperation to the investigation mission and facilitating access to various parts of the country.

D. Legal framework

  1. Human rights law and international humanitarian law are applicable to Iraq. The events described in resolution A/HRC/RES/S-22/1 amount to an armed conflict of a non-international character involving ISIL and other affiliated armed groups, on one side, and ISF and other armed forces, which support it, on the other. In light of this, the mission relies on international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflicts of a non-international character as the specialised legal framework, which applies alongside international human rights law.

  2. Iraq is party to core international human rights treaties and a number of treaties containing rules applicable in non-international armed conflict. All parties to the conflict in Iraq are bound by applicable rules of international humanitarian law, including customary rules. The Government has faced tremendous challenges in ensuring law and order within its territory. However, it has an obligation to do so while abiding by its obligations under international law. This duty is explicitly recognised in the Constitution of Iraq.5

  3. The mission’s mandate calls for those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law or serious violations and abuses of international human rights law to be held to account through appropriate mechanisms and calls upon the Government of Iraq to ensure that all perpetrators are brought to justice, with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring full accountability. In light of this requirement, the mission focused on elements that would possibly constitute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

II. Patterns of Violations

A. Violations Perpetrated by ISIL

1. Attacks against religious and ethnic groups

  1. The mission gathered reliable information about acts of violence perpetrated against civilians because of their affiliation or perceived affiliation to an ethnic or religious group. It is reasonable to conclude that some of these incidents, considering the overall information, may constitute genocide. Other incidents may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. Ethnic and religious groups targeted by ISIL include Yezidis, Christians, Turkmen, Sabea-Mandeans, Kaka’e, Kurds and Shi’a.

(a) Attacks against Yezidis

  1. Based on interviews conducted with victims and witnesses, and corroborated by other sources, the mission collected information regarding the killing of members of the Yezidi community and acts that caused serious bodily or mental harm to members of this group. Information also pointed to the intent of ISIL to destroy the Yezidi as a group when perpetrating these acts and to the existence of a manifest pattern of attacks against this community whose identity is based on their religious beliefs. If confirmed, such conduct may amount to genocide. Numerous Yezidi witnesses provided credible and consistent accounts, involving separate incidents and attacks, detailing how they were forced to convert to Islam or face death.

  2. At the beginning of August 2014, a series of systematic and widespread attacks took place against a backdrop of ISIL incursions into the Ninewa plains and Yezidi populated cities and villages. Interviews with numerous victims and witnesses from al-‘Adnaniya, al-Qahtaniya, Barah, Bazwaya, Dogore, Gogjali, Hardan, Khanasor, Kocho, Qani, Sharf ad-Din, Sinjar city, Solagh, Tel Banat, Tel Qasab and Zummar point to a pattern, whereby members of ISIL systematically separated the men from the women and young children; the men were subsequently taken away to nearby ditches and summarily executed. Some victims and witnesses added that they had been asked to convert to Islam and that the men who refused were killed, while in other instances even the men who converted were still summarily executed. Men who managed to survive such executions, largely through being shielded by the bodies of other victims, relayed their accounts to the investigation team. Women and children who were held captive near execution sites also witnessed some executions. In some instances, villages were entirely emptied of their Yezidi population.

  3. For instance, on 3 August, in Qani village (Sinjar) at least 80 men were killed in a single incident. The mission interviewed survivors. One of them recounted how they were rounded up and taken to a nearby ditch where ISIL opened fire on them. He added that at least 50 members of his extended family were killed. In Kocho, at least 700 men were killed in August. A survivor of one of the several Kocho village (Sinjar) massacres recounted that around 11 August, Yezidi men who refused to covert were separated from the women and then taken to a farm. An ISIL fighter told them ‘you will see now what will happen to you, you pagans and peacock worshippers’. Although the villagers were initially given assurances that they would be freed once they handed over their possessions, ISIL divided the men in four groups of 15, and took them to a farm on the outskirts of Kocho village. The Yezidi men were ordered to lay down facing the ground; they were filmed by ISIL fighters before being shot several times. Survivors informed the mission that some residents from surrounding areas assisted ISIL in perpetrating such killings. Witnesses consistently reported that ISIL fighters acted upon direct orders they received via telephone.

  4. ISIL fighters abducted Yezidis on a mass scale, and detained many for months. For instance, a group of 196 disabled Yezidis, including elderly, children and ill persons were held captive in Mosul and Tel Afar and only released in January 2015. Many victims were forced to convert to Islam during their captivity. Around 3,000 persons, mainly Yezidis, allegedly remain in ISIL captivity. Further investigation is needed to establish the precise number of those who continue to be held by ISIL as well as the numbers killed, estimated to be in the thousands.6

(b) Attacks against Christians

  1. Although perceived as the ‘People of the Book,7 a classification that grants them a certain protection in comparison with other ethnic and religious groups, Christians suffered forced displacement and deprivation of property. By 6 August, an estimated 200,000 Christians and members of other ethnic and religious groups had fled from al-Hamdaniya, Ba’shiqa, Bartella, Tel Keif, and other towns and villages in the Ninewa plains before they were taken over by ISIL. Among them were 50,000 persons previously displaced from Mosul, mostly Christians, who had fled in mid-June in fear of ISIL threats when they were given the choice to pay a tax, convert or leave. Houses and property of Christians in Mosul have been seized by ISIL.

  2. On or around 6 August, ISIL stormed the city of al-Hamdaniya (also referred to as Qaraqosh). Many witnesses stated that ISIL fighters pillaged and destroyed buildings in the city including historic Christian cathedrals and churches. Approximately 150 families were unable to flee. Before expelling them, members of ISIL took possession of all their valuables and identity documents. Witnesses also reported that during the attack grenades, mortars and rockets landed in areas still occupied by civilians.

(c) Attacks against Shi’a

  1. Interviews conducted with victims and witnesses, and corroborated by reliable sources, make it reasonable to conclude that attacks were perpetrated against Turkmen, Shabak and other Shi’a groups.

  2. Victims and witnesses from Amerli (Salah ad-Din), Barawjali, Bashir, Jerdghali, Qaranaz in Diyala governorate, as well as Ba’shika, Bazwaya, Gogjali, Omar Kan in Ninewa governorate consistently reported the same pattern. ISIL surrounded the village, killed the inhabitants who could not escape, burned and destroyed houses and businesses, destroyed Shi’a places of worship, and pillaged private and public properties.

  3. On 17 June 2014, for instance, ISIL attacked the predominantly Shi’a Turkmen villages of Barawjali, Jerdghali, Qaranaz, north of Amerli, allegedly burning and destroying houses and property, as well as at least two Shi’a religious places known as Husseiniyas. Several people were killed defending the village, and at least eight were summarily executed by bullet wounds to the head. Also on 17 June, the Shi’a Turkmen village of Bashir, Kirkuk, was attacked by ISIL. More than 60 people were killed, including women, children and elderly.

  4. In late June and early July, in Ba’shika, Bazwaya, Gogjali and Omar Kan villages, Ninewa, ISIL members allegedly summarily executed a number of men and abducted numerous Shabak community members. At the end of February 2015, their whereabouts remained unknown. One woman reported that on 20 June, her son and brother-in-law disappeared after being stopped at an ISIL checkpoint. Three days later, they were found dead in a cemetery – her son beheaded and her brother-in-law shot several times.

  5. ISIL also laid siege to Amerli, Salah ad-Din governorate, starting 11-12 June 2014. Twenty days into the siege, ISIL members cut off the water and electricity supplies to the town. At least 15,000 people allegedly suffered from lack of power, food, drinking water, medical services and medicine. Residents were forced to drink contaminated water, which caused many to fall ill, especially children and the elderly. A woman and her new-born baby died due to lack of medical services. The city was shelled daily day with mortar rounds. One child, four men and a woman allegedly died from the shelling. The siege was broken on 1 September 2014 by ISF and affiliated armed groups.

  6. Based on interviews with survivors, the mission received reliable information that on 10 June, more than 600 inmates of Badoush prison, Ninewa governorate, were summarily executed by members of ISIL. Early in the morning, the prison, which housed over 3,000 inmates, was taken over by ISIL. Prisons guards had allegedly fled before the attack. The prisoners were separated into groups according to their ethnic or religious affiliation. Sunnis were freed, while others, mainly Shi’a, were loaded on trucks, driven to a nearby ravine and shot. Some survivors said they immediately rolled into the ravine and were saved by other bodies landing on top of them. ISIL fighters kept shooting into the ravine at any moving body, including men who were screaming in pain.

2. Politically-motivated attacks

  1. Interviews with victims and witnesses, corroborated by reliable sources, lead the mission to reasonably conclude that there has been a pattern of attacks by members of ISIL against those it perceives to be affiliated with the Government. Targets include police officers, members of the Iraqi armed forces, the Awakening Movement,8 public servants, members of parliament, tribal and religious leaders, candidates for parliamentary and legislative elections as well as those who had publicly criticised, or were perceived to be opposed to, ISIL. These violations were not based on perceived ethnic or religious identity but targeted Iraqis, usually Sunnis deemed to be linked to the Government, or who refused to pledge allegiance to ISIL.

  2. The mission interviewed men and women from al-Jebouri, Albu Heshma, and Albu Nimr tribes who fled their homes in Diyala, Salah ad-Din and Anbar governorates. ISIL fighters are reported to have relied on lists of targets to conduct house-to-house searches, and checkpoint searches. Numerous men allegedly disappeared after being taken by ISIL from their homes, workplace, or at checkpoints. Several relatives who witnessed these arrests stated that the victims were forced to ‘repent’ by ISIL.9

  3. The mission received information about several politically-motivated killings. At least 602 members of the Albu Nimr tribe were allegedly killed in six separate incidents between September 2014 and January 2015 in Anbar province. Witnesses reported that on 28 October, 48 people – including seven children aged between 13 and 18 – were summarily executed in Hit in Anbar governorate, and that on 29 October, 213 tribesmen were allegedly summarily executed in al-Furat. A police officer from Mosul who managed to escape recounted how: “on 10 June, my two brothers were stopped and shot at an ISIL checkpoint at al-Karama district in Mosul.” A former police officer recounted that in mid-June, in Tikrit: “ISIL fighters asked me for my police ID card; when I showed them, one of them took a knife and cut the throat of my father, my five-year-old boy and my five-month-old daughter. I begged them to kill me instead, but they told me: ‘we want to make you suffer, we want you to feel it burns inside your heart.’”

  4. Based on interviews with survivors, UNAMI reported that approximately 1,500 to 1,700 members of the Iraqi armed forces from Camp Speicher in Salah ad-Din governorate were summarily executed on 12 June by ISIL, allegedly after being captured or having surrendered. The mission interviewed people who went to Speicher after the massacre, and saw numerous dead bodies in the streets around the military base and in some parts of Tikrit. The results of a Government investigation into this incident are yet to be made public.

  5. Numerous reports of ISIL looting, burning and destroying houses were received. As a woman from Yathrib, Salah ad-Din governorate, lamented: “In August, after the fall of Yathrib, ISIL fighters forced me out of my home with my children and made me watch the destruction of my house. Years of my life have gone. We Sunni Arabs have nowhere to go, we are targeted by everybody.” Similar accounts were provided by numerous other victims who fled ISIL violence.

  6. Survivors of the 10 June Badoush prison massacre consistently reported that some Sunni detainees were asked whether they were ISF or Awakening Councils’ representatives. Those Sunni prisoners listed as defending their cellmates or defined as ‘apostates’ were reportedly made to line up with Shi’a and other prisoners, and then summarily executed.
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