The overall human rights situation in Iraq remained gravely concerning between January and June 2015, as the government of Iraq continued its fight against ISIL. The humanitarian situation deteriorated with the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) rising to 3 million.
Reports of atrocities committed by ISIL and associated armed groups included abductions, executions, sexual violence, torture and restricting public freedom. CNN reported that ISIL burned over 40 people alive in Anbar province in February. There are also reports on social media that those accused of homosexuality have been thrown from buildings, and alleged spies drowned.
One year on from the capture of Mosul by ISIL, the situation for residents remains deeply concerning. Reports from the BBC and the Guardian highlighted the everyday struggle people face, including through indoctrination and the lack of basic services. Our Ambassador commented on the situation in Mosul. Executions continue, including three former parliamentary candidates Salem al-Badrani, Khalil al-Naemi and Farouk al-Shamri, who were reportedly killed after being kidnapped from their houses in June. The Ministry of Human Rights reported that three women allegedly had their hands cut off for an unknown crime. Media reports alleged that ISIL stoned a couple to death for “fornication”. ISIL allegedly continue to destroy homes vacated by Christians who have fled the city, and women have been forbidden to leave the house during the holy month of Ramadan.
ISIL escalated its destruction of religious and cultural artefacts and sites. In January there were reports that parts of the ancient Ninewah wall had been destroyed. In February ISIL released a video showing the destruction of artefacts in the Mosul Museum and books and manuscripts from Mosul Library. In March they reportedly bulldozed parts of the ancient cities of Nimrud and Hatra.
There have been increasing reports of the challenges facing women and girls who have escaped or been freed from ISIL captivity. A recent Human Rights Watch report stressed the terrible situation of these women and girls who were subjected to “organised rape, sexual assault, and other horrific crimes” while in captivity. On returning to their communities, they are often stigmatised or ostracised as a result of their experience. Large numbers are reportedly unable to secure jobs and resort to prostitution. There are also concerns for those who have returned pregnant and are unable legally to obtain an abortion, or those who wish to keep the child and face legal issues and societal stigma.
Although levels of terrorist violence in Iraq have remained high, a reduction in the number of security incidents in Baghdad allowed the government to lift the curfew imposed in 2003. Nonetheless, according to the UN, at least 3,995 civilians and 2,789 members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have been killed since January, more than 1,933 in Baghdad . The Institute for Economics and Peace’s 2015 Global Peace Index ranked Iraq 161 (of 162 countries surveyed). Action on Armed Violence’s report, Explosive States, described Iraq as the country where civilians were most at risk from explosive weapons.
Reports of sectarian atrocities and human rights abuses and violations have continued, including those committed by ISF and Shia militias. In January there were reports that dozens of Sunni civilians were allegedly killed by Shia militia in the village of Barwanah in Diyala province. A number of Sunni political parties temporarily suspended their cooperation with parliament, as a result of the alleged assassination of tribal leader Sheikh Qassim al Janabi in Baghdad on 13 February. Investigations into both incidents are ongoing. In addition military operations in Anbar have resulted in large numbers of displaced Sunni Arabs; over 300,000 since the beginning of April. A number of governorates have denied IDPs access, citing concerns that ISIL might use IDPs to infiltrate cities. As a result, families are either forced to return to Anbar or settle at checkpoints.
We are concerned by reports, including from Human Rights Watch, that abuses by militias allied with the ISF have escalated since January. There have allegedly been revenge attacks such as the burning of Sunni homes, and residents kidnapped and, in some cases, summarily executed. We are also concerned at the claims by the government, and also reported in the media, that some Arabs have been prevented from returning to villages in areas re-captured by the Kurdish Security Forces.
An offensive launched by Iraqi forces and Shia militia groups to retake the city of Tikrit concluded in March. Families are beginning to return, though exact numbers vary. There are concerns regarding their safety given the continued presence of Popular Mobilisation Forces and improvised explosive devices; and regarding selective returns favouring certain communities above others.
Although the government continues to apply the death penalty, it has not carried out any executions in 2015. President Fuad Masum established a committee to review all death penalty warrants awaiting his signature, so he can be assured that all death sentences had been passed by legitimate trials and without the use of forced confession. He has stated that he will not sign any warrants until the review has been completed. The unofficial moratorium on the use of the death penalty, imposed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in 2008, remains in place.
On 4 June Justine Greening, International Development Secretary, announced £20 million in additional humanitarian funding. This brings the UK’s humanitarian contribution to £59.5 million, and will help tens of thousands of the most vulnerable IDPs, including women and girls.
During the March UN Human Rights Council (HRC), Iraq accepted 175 of the recommendations made during their Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in November. We welcome the government’s commitment to the process and will continue to encourage them to establish a moratorium on the death penalty and to address concerns within the security forces and justice system.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights initial report on abuses committed by ISIL was discussed at the HRC on 25 March. It reiterated comments by the High Commissioner that, subject to determination by an appropriate court, ISIL abuses may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and, in relation to the Yezidi community, genocide. It also highlighted abuses and violations committed by Shia militia and the ISF, and said that these may amount to war crimes. The UK supported a resolution that called for further UN reporting on ISIL abuses and on the government to hold all those responsible for abuses and violations to account. On 30 March, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, also urged the government to investigate and hold perpetrators to account. There have been some positive steps, such as PM Abadi’s statement on 2 March urging all forces to exercise the “utmost care in protecting civilian lives and property”.
We support the government’s commitment to protecting cultural heritage in Iraq. In February, PM Abadi reopened the National Museum in Baghdad. Our Deputy Ambassador attended the ceremony and visited a UK-funded archaeological project in Ur which is unearthing a four thousand-year old town. In June Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, announced that, at the first opportunity, he will introduce new legislation to enable the UK to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The UK government will develop a new cultural protection fund that will support the protection and recovery of cultural heritage. During a visit to Iraq on 25 and 26 June, FCO Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, met the Minister for Culture, and emphasised the importance the UK attached to the preservation of Iraq’s cultural heritage.
To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, the British Embassy hosted a roundtable breakfast with Iraqi Ministers and leading NGO and civil society figures. The Embassy continues to host three working groups focusing on women’s access to business and politics, gender and minority equality within communities, and combating ISIL. They have developed a mentoring scheme with Zain mobile, Iraq’s largest mobile network. This offers work experience to women and minorities. As Zain already has an effective gender equality scheme, successful women within the company are also used as role models and to act as mentors for new female graduates.
On 19-25 May, Baroness Hodgson visited Iraq in her role as Chairperson of the Advisory Group on Gender Action for Peace and Security and as a member of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative Steering Board. She visited Baghdad and Erbil, as well as IDP camps to engage with survivors of ISIL-perpetrated sexual violence. She met Peshmerga forces being trained by the British military on dealing with survivors of sexual violence; and met members of civil society, the Minister for Human Rights and the Minister for Women’s Affairs. The visit raised awareness of the International Protocol, and also focussed on implementation, monitoring and evaluation of Iraq’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.