The overall human rights situation in Iraq remained gravely concerning between October and December 2014, as the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continued their attacks in the north and west of the country. The humanitarian situation deteriorated with the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) increasing and the onset of winter. The number of IDPs is now estimated to be over 2.1 million, of whom the majority are currently in the Kurdistan region (figures from United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).
ISIL and associated armed groups continue to commit atrocities throughout the areas under their control. ISIL abuses are widespread and systematic. Speaking at the United Nations Security Council on 18 November, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said that, subject to determination by a competent court, ISIL’s crimes may amount to crimes against humanity, war crimes and, in relation to the Yezidi population, genocide.
Over the last three months, there have been increasing reports of ISIL targeting Sunni Muslims, particularly in Anbar province in the west of the country. In early November, the government of Iraq reported that ISIL killed 322 members of the Sunni Al-Bu Nimr tribe in Anbar. At least 50 women and children were reportedly among the dead. Further reports suggest that some members of the tribe have been kidnapped and are being held hostage. ISIL also continue to persecute Christians, Yezidids and Turkmen, along with other groups and, on 24 November, blew up part of the Victory Convent, which belonged to the order of the Chaldean Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Mosul. Members of the Yezidi community remain on Mount Sinjar, many directly fighting ISIL. Turkmen in Qara Tapa in Diyala province were forced to flee their homes in October when ISIL attacked the town.
We continue to receive reports of children being abducted and used as child soldiers. A video reportedly showing children being trained as soldiers in Ninevah province was posted online, allegedly by ISIL, in late November. Large numbers of women have been abducted and continue to be held by ISIL, including many Yezidis and Christians. Reliable information on the number of women ISIL hold is difficult to obtain, but reports from Amnesty and Human Rights Watch suggest that it is in the thousands. Women who have escaped from ISIL report instances of rape, sexual abuse, forced marriage and people trafficking. Civil society and religious leaders continue to encourage families and communities to welcome women and girls who have escaped and help rehabilitate them. However, there are reports of honour killings and suicides linked to the shame of the sexual violence, real or perceived, that these women and girls have endured.
Levels of terrorist violence in Iraq have remained high over the last three months. More than 1030 people were killed in Baghdad between October and December. On 19 November, a suicide bomber killed at least four people in Erbil. This was the first significant bomb attack in Erbil in over a year. The UN reported that at least 2,472 civilians and 1,134 members of the Iraqi Security Forces have been killed since October.
Reports continue to appear of sectarian atrocities and human rights abuses committed by Shia militias. In their report, Absolute Impunity, Amnesty International claim that the executions, abductions and extortion that have been committed by Shia militias amount to war crimes.
We continue to have concerns about the Iraqi justice system and conduct of the Iraqi Security Forces and police. During Iraq’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva on 3 November, we recommended that the government of Iraq ensures the equitable treatment of all people through an improved justice system and increased respect for human rights within the police and security forces, including the ratification of the Optional Protocol of the Convention Against Torture. Prime Minister Abadi has taken steps to reform the Iraqi Security Forces, including the dismissal of commanders for corruption.
On 23 November, the Central Criminal Court of Iraq sentenced Sunni MP Ahmed al-Alwani to death for the killing of two soldiers. He was arrested on 28 December 2013 when security forces reportedly tried to arrest his brother and gun fire was exchanged. Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have called for his sentence to be commuted, and alleged that he did not receive a fair trial.
The government of Iraq continues to apply the death penalty. The unofficial moratorium on the use of the death penalty imposed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in 2009 remains in place. Two people were executed on 14 October, bringing the total number of executions this year to at least 62. During Iraq’s UPR in November a number of countries, including the UK, recommended that Iraq establish a moratorium on executions leading to abolition of the death penalty. The Iraqi delegation stated that it was unlikely that Iraq would abolish the death penalty at this time due to the ongoing security situation. The Iraqi delegation did, however, state that the government of Iraq was reviewing the use of the death penalty to ensure it is restricted to only the most serious crimes, and confirmed that the death penalty was not implemented for juvenile offenders.
The UK welcomed PM Abadi’s appointment of Interior and Defence Ministers on 18 October, which finalised the formation of the most inclusive and representative government Iraq has seen in ten years. This was a crucial milestone on the way to addressing the serious security and humanitarian challenges facing the country.
On 6 October, the UK and Canada announced a joint mission to Iraq to support survivors of sexual violence. We are committed to protecting the human rights of women and girls and our Embassy has engaged with the government of Iraq on this issue. On 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, our Ambassador in Baghdad hosted a roundtable discussion with Iraq’s Human Rights Minister, the Minister for Women’s Affairs, the UN, and leading civil society figures to discuss the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI). The Embassy also marked the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign with an event to discuss the role of women in Iraqi society. Iraqi Ministers attended the event, which reinforced the importance of implementing the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. On 10 December, Human Rights Day, the Ambassador issued a press release highlighting the progress Iraq has made in relation to women’s rights, but also noting that much more remains to be done. The Iraqi Minister for Human Rights has since informed our Embassy in Baghdad of his intention to set up a new Directorate within his Ministry to focus solely on women’s rights issues, and suggested that this decision was made partly in response to UK engagement on this issue. On 22 December, the Minister for Human Rights also hosted an event on the importance of bringing Iraq’s minority communities together to advance inter-faith dialogue.
On 19 November, a fact-finding mission, mandated by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to investigate and report on ISIL abuses, arrived in Iraq. Their report will be finalised in February and debated during the March session of the UN Human Rights Council.
DFID continue to work with partner agencies like the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to support those displaced by ISIL’s advance. The humanitarian situation remains grave. On 28 November, the International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, announced an additional £16.5 million in humanitarian assistance, bringing the total UK contribution to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq to £39.5 million. The new funding will provide essential help, including warm clothing, tents, blankets, heaters and other essential supplies.
The UK, as part of the international anti-ISIL coalition, continues to carry out air strikes against ISIL, supporting Iragi Security Forces and Peshmerga ground forces. UK armed forces continue to undertake all reasonable measures in accordance with our international obligations to ensure civilians are not killed or injured during these strikes.