Human Rights Watch


ISIS Suspects’ Homes Confiscated

Iraqi security officers are denying immediate relatives of suspected Islamic State (also known as ISIS) members security clearance to reclaim homes being occupied or to seek compensation, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today.

Security forces have also destroyed or confiscated some property. Such acts, based only on family relationships to ISIS suspects rather than individual security determinations, are a form of collective punishment.

“These families deserve the same protections that Iraqi courts provide to all citizens,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Courts should be the guarantors against discrimination that will only further sectarian divisions in the country and delay needed reconciliation.”

More here from HRW.

(Source: HRW)

HRW: Displacement, Detention of Suspected “ISIS Families”

Iraqi forces have forcibly displaced at least 125 families said to have familial ties to affiliates of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today.

Sunni tribal groups (known as the Hashad alAshari), within the Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha’abi), which are under the control of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and Iraqi soldiers forced the families out of their homes following the passage of a decree issued by local authorities.

The families, all from Salah al-Din governorate, are being held against their will in a camp functioning as an open-air prison near Tikrit. The PMF also destroyed some of the families’ homes.

Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said:

While politicians in Baghdad are discussing reconciliation efforts in Iraq, the state’s own forces are undermining those efforts by destroying homes and forcing families into a detention camp.

“These families, accused of wrongdoing by association, are in many cases themselves victims of ISIS abuses and should be protected by government forces, not targeted for retribution.”

The full report is available here.

(Source: Human Rights Watch)

HRW: Looting, Destruction by Forces Fighting ISIS

From Human Rights Watch:

Armed forces fighting Islamic State (also known as ISIS) to retake a town and four villages near Mosul looted, damaged, and destroyed homes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today. There was no apparent military necessity for the demolitions, which may amount to war crimes and which took place between November 2016 and February 2017.

The Iraqi authorities should investigate allegations of war crimes and hold those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said. The United States and other countries providing military assistance to the Iraqi Security Forces should press the government to carry out these investigations.

The United Nations Human Rights Council should expand the investigation it established in 2014 on ISIS abuses to include serious violations by all parties, including the Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha’abi), units that were formed largely to combat ISIS, and are under the direct command of Prime Minister al-Abadi.

“Absent a legitimate military objective, there is no excuse for destroying civilian homes,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “All the destruction does is to keep civilians from going home.”

Click here to read the full report.

(Source: Human Rights Watch)

HRW: Looting, Destruction by Forces Fighting ISIS

From Human Rights Watch:

Armed forces fighting Islamic State (also known as ISIS) to retake a town and four villages near Mosul looted, damaged, and destroyed homes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today. There was no apparent military necessity for the demolitions, which may amount to war crimes and which took place between November 2016 and February 2017.

The Iraqi authorities should investigate allegations of war crimes and hold those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said. The United States and other countries providing military assistance to the Iraqi Security Forces should press the government to carry out these investigations.

The United Nations Human Rights Council should expand the investigation it established in 2014 on ISIS abuses to include serious violations by all parties, including the Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha’abi), units that were formed largely to combat ISIS, and are under the direct command of Prime Minister al-Abadi.

“Absent a legitimate military objective, there is no excuse for destroying civilian homes,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “All the destruction does is to keep civilians from going home.”

Click here to read the full report.

(Source: Human Rights Watch)

IS does “Incredible Job of Booby-Trapping Urban Terrain”

A report from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines says that forces of the so-called Islamic State (IS, also called ISIS or ISIL) fighting the government of Iraq have used victim-activated improvised mines, including explosive booby-traps, extensively since 2014.

Numerous media reports in 2015 and 2016 suggest widespread use of victim-activated devices by IS forces continues unabated.

Iraq stated in its annual transparency report for 2015 that the large IS-controlled areas in Nineveh and Al Anbar, and parts of Babil and Diyala, governorates are where they are “planting landmines, booby traps, and explosives devices.”

On 23 October 2016, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that casualties among people fleeing the fighting during the government campaign on Mosul were caused by victim-activated IEDs (improvised mines).

The scale and complexity of IS’s use of improvised mines, including booby-traps, has been the subject of many media reports. According to Lt. Gen. Michael Shields, the director of the United State (US) Joint IED Defeat Organization, “ISIL does an incredible job of booby-trapping urban terrain as either they are still fighting in it or departing it, as has been proven in Fallujah and other places.”

During a January 2016 operational update from Baghdad, Army Colonel Steve Warren said that while clearing Ramadi is progressing, it’s “slow and it’s painstaking” because clearance teams have “literally found thousands of booby-traps, IEDs, buried explosives [and] houses rigged to explode with a single trip-wire.”

According to Zwer Mohammed, an officer from the Peshmerga bomb disposal teams in Kirkuk, “Since the beginning of the ISIS war in 2014, we have defused 10,000 bombs and booby traps left by ISIS. We defuse around 100 bombs on a daily basis in the liberated areas.”

Due to ongoing conflict in Iraq, the number of mine/ERW casualties continued to be significantly under-recorded. Only 58 mine/ERW casualties were recorded in Iraq, and as in past years, the number is thought to be much higher.

Unlike in Afghanistan where the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) records data more completely, a complete lack of disaggregation between command-detonated IEDs, including emplaced, body-borne, and vehicle-borne devices, and presumably victim-activated IEDs meant that the number of mine casualties remained obscured in Iraq.

In south and central Iraq, data for 2015 cluster munition casualties were not disaggregated due to the difficulties caused by continuing military operations against the so-called Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL) preventing mine action casualty data recording coordination with relevant authorities in order to classify and complete the data.

Click here to download the full report.

(Source: International Campaign to Ban Landmines)

Fleeing IS Forces Fired Toxic Chemicals

Forces of the Islamic State (also known as IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) have launched at least three chemical attacks on the Iraqi town of Qayyarah, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The use of toxic chemicals as a means of warfare is a serious threat to civilians and combatants in and around the embattled city of Mosul and is a war crime.

The attacks hit the town of Qayyarah, 60 kilometers south of Mosul, in September and October after Iraqi government forces retook the town on August 25, 2016.

The attacks caused painful burns to at least seven people consistent with exposure to low levels of a chemical warfare agent known as “vesicants,” or blister agents, a chemical weapons expert told Human Rights Watch.

Lama Fakih, HRW deputy Middle East director, said:

ISIS attacks using toxic chemicals show a brutal disregard for human life and the laws of war.

“As ISIS fighters flee, they have been repeatedly attacking and endangering the civilians they left behind, increasing concerns for residents of Mosul and other contested areas.”

Iraqi and Kudistan Regional Government forces, supported by a United States-led coalition, have been moving up the Tigris River, retaking towns and villages from ISIS. The Qayyarah attacks preceded the military operations that began on October 17 to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

More details here.

(Source: Human Rights Watch)

HRW: Displaced People Can’t Move Freely

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government security authorities are unlawfully restricting the freedom of movement of displaced people in camps near Kirkuk.

Despite the lack of hostilities in the area, people are not allowed to leave the camps freely.

Displaced people in the Nazrawa and Laylan camps told Human Rights Watch that they could only leave after obtaining a sponsor, that security forces are taking their identity cards before they can leave the camp, and that they must return the same day. The restrictions have limited residents’ access to medical care, work, and relatives.

International aid workers have told Human Rights Watch that authorities in Kirkuk say the restrictions are necessary for security reasons. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), which operates the camps, has asked authorities to remove the restrictions.

“The blanket restrictions on the camps for displaced people are too far reaching and discriminatory,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director. “As thousands more people may be displaced from the Mosul military operation, Iraqi authorities should safeguard people’s rights, not penalize them by restricting their access to medical treatment, work, and family.”

Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities should revoke unlawful restrictions on free movement of internally displaced people, including those displaced as a result of the ongoing fight in Mosul. Restrictions should only be imposed if “provided by law … and necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others,” as outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Since early 2014, when the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) opened its offensive in Iraq, fighting has displaced over 3 million Iraqis from their homes. In March 2016, KRG forces and forces mobilized by the Iraqi government in Baghdad began military operations aimed at defeating ISIS in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the major remaining ISIS stronghold in Iraq. This offensive has already displaced 62,300 people.

In late November 2015, KRG forces relocated hundreds of civilians who had fled ISIS from an area close to the front line to Nazrawa camp, about 20 kilometers southeast of Kirkuk. The camp currently houses 1,655 Sunni Arab families, 90 percent of them from Kirkuk’s Hawija area, and a small number from Diyala province.

36 Nazrawa residents and a Kirkuk governorate official from Hawija told Human Rights Watch that Asayish, the KRG police, and Iraqi federal police officers working at the camp do not allow residents to leave without a sponsor who is a Kirkuk native. All said security officials, and in a few instances military forces, had either taken their identification cards or required residents to leave the cards at a joint Asayish and federal police-controlled checkpoint near the camp, on the road into Kirkuk, and return the same day.

But traveling without an ID card made it very difficult to go through government checkpoints and, as a result, to leave the camp. Having to return to the camp every night further restricted their movement.

These policies interfered with residents’ ability to access health care, separated them from their relatives, had financial implications, and undermined their ability to find employment.

Forcing residents to obtain a Kirkuk sponsor has kept many residents from leaving the camp. A woman at the camp said that since arriving at the camp her family has not been able to pick up disability checks for her daughter’s husband, who is blind, because they have no friends from Kirkuk who can sponsor them.

Another man said that he wanted to visit his brothers who live in Kirkuk, but had not been able to find a sponsor who was native to Kirkuk.

There were no exceptions, one resident said: “If someone doesn’t know anyone who can sponsor him then he cannot go to Kirkuk, no matter how sick he is.”

In several cases, even when residents said they were able to locate a sponsor, they were blocked from traveling at checkpoints because they did not have their identity documents.

More information here.

(Source: Human Rights Watch)

Al Jazeera Closure “a Blow to Free Speech”, HRW

By Human Rights Watch.

The closure of Al Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau by the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission is nothing but an effort to clamp down on freedom of expression. The commission should promptly reverse its decision and allow the bureau to operate freely in accordance with international standards on freedom of the media and free speech, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

The commission, in a letter to the bureau, accused Al Jazeera of “incit[ing] sectarianism and violence.” The station’s Baghdad bureau chief, Waleed Ibrahim, said that commission officials later told him the order stemmed from their displeasure with the editorial policies of Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar.

Iraqi authorities should immediately allow Al Jazeera to resume its work, or spell out exactly how and when the station incited violence, Human Rights Watch said.

“Iraqis have a right to hear a variety of perspectives on current events,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Closing down a prominent international network on the basis of vague and unsubstantiated allegations smacks of political motivation to shut out uncomfortable criticism, and it’s an action that should be immediately reversed.”

Ibrahim told Human Rights Watch that the commission’s executive board called him into a meeting on February 21, 2016. At the meeting, he said, the board members accused Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha of being sectarian and encouraging what they said were “violations” in its Iraq coverage. Ibrahim said he refused to sign a letter that he agreed with the allegations, “but also explained that I do not have any control over the content coming out of Doha, only out of Baghdad.”

Why is Iraq Challenging Human Rights Reports?

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report Jan. 31 about the abduction and murder of dozens of Sunnis living in a town in the center of Iraq. “Members of [Shiite] militias, who the Iraqi government has included among its state forces, abducted and killed scores of Sunni residents in a central Iraq town and demolished Sunni homes, stores, and mosques following January 11, 2016 bombings claimed by the extremist group Islamic State [IS],” the report read.

Deputy Middle East Director at HRW Joe Stork was quoted in the report as saying, “Again civilians are paying the price for Iraq’s failure to rein in the out-of-control militias. Countries that support Iraqi security forces and the Popular Mobilization [Units] should insist that Baghdad bring an end to this deadly abuse.”

Saad al-Hadithi, spokesman for the information bureau of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, told Al-Monitor, “The report reflects a conflict or civil war, but the truth is not so. There are terrorist gangs that have targeted all Iraqis in Diyala province to spark strife that would end in civil war. We should stop them, unveil their crimes and show the unity of Iraqis.”

In its annual report on the situation of human rights in the world in 2015, HRW wrote, “Iraqi security forces and pro-government militias committed possible war crimes during 2015 in their fight against the extremist group Islamic State … by unlawfully demolishing buildings in recaptured areas and forcibly disappearing residents.”

HRW added, “Mostly [Shiite] militias fighting [IS] with the support of the Iraqi government, such as the Badr Brigades, League of the Righteous, and Hezbollah Brigades, carried out widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, in particular by demolishing homes and shops in recaptured Sunni areas.”