Exposing the Momentum of ISIS


Exposing the Momentum of ISIS

05 Sep 2014

As the scale of the attacks against ethnic and religious groups in Iraq by ISIS becomes more apparent, the United Nations and Amnesty International highlight the extent of the violence in two separate reports.

On 1 September, in response to the ongoing violations and abuses in Iraq, the United Nations Human Rights Council convened a special session to look at abuses committed by ISIS in the country. The meeting noted the Christian, Yezidi, Shabak, Kaka'e and Shi'a communities that have been targeted by ISIS. 

Over one million people forced to flee their homes in Iraq due to threats from ISIS

The session discussed the attacks which have occurred in parts of Anbar, Diyala, Ninewa, and Salah-al-Din provinces in the northern half of Iraq, which has included the besieging of communities because of ethnic, religious and sectarian affiliation. The United Nations Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights reported that over one million people have been forced from their homes due to threats to their lives by ISIS and associated armed groups.

The Human Rights Council concluded that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) should urgently send a mission to Iraq to investigate alleged violations and abuses of international human rights by ISIS and other associated terrorist groups.

Following this,  Amnesty International released a report on 2 September looking at the extent of the ISIS violence in northern Iraq. The report, 'Ethnic Cleansing on a Historic Scale: Islamic State's Systematic Targeting of Minorities in Northern Iraq' is based on field investigations in several towns and cities in northern Iraq between June and September 2014.

The Amnesty report focuses on the mass killings which have occurred in parts of the Sinjar region, the abductions of women and children, with reports that in some cases entire Yezidi families have been abducted, and the pressure on communities to convert to Islam. 

Key Findings - United Nations Human Rights Council
  • Over one million people have been forced to flee their homes since the violence began in June 2014;
  • Christian, Yezidi, Turkmen, Shabak, Kaka'e, Sabaeans and Shi'a communities have all been targeted by ISIS;
  • At least 850,000 people belonging to ethnic and religious groups under attack have found refuge in displacement camps set up by the Government of the Kurdish Region;
  • Around 180,000 people entered the Kurdistan Region in the course of a single day;
  • ISIS has intentionally destroyed Sunni and Shia shrines, and Christian places of cultural and religious significance;
  • It is estimated that at least 1,000 Yezidis have been killed in recent weeks, with close to 2750 kidnapped or enslaved;
  • At least 2,250 women and children have been detained as hostages in the Badoush prison in Mosul, in Tal Afar, and other locations under the control of ISIS;
  • All 8,000 members of the Christian community in Mosul have fled, according to officials, and many more from other locations in Ninewa Governorate;
  • At least 13,000 villagers from the Shabakand Turkman communities, including some 10,000 women and children were besieged by ISIS and associated armed groups in Amerli, in Salah al-Din Governorate until 31 August.
  • The United Nations has received reports of executions by ISIS of religious leaders, including 12 Sunni religious leaders in Mosul who refused to pledge allegiance to ISIS.
Key Findings - Amnesty International

Mass Killings

  • ISIS has systematically targeted non-Arab and non-Sunni Muslim communities, killing or abducting hundreds, possibly thousands;
  • Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Yezidis, most of them women and children from the Sinjar region, were abducted as they fled the ISIS takeover in early August;
  • The forced displacement of Iraq's ethnic and religious minorities, including some of the region's oldest communities, is a tragedy of historic proportions;
  • In Kocho in Sinjar region, a small Yezidi hamlet with a population of around 1,200, ISIS fighters killed over 100 men and boys and abducted all the women and children;
  • A survivor of the Kocho raid told Amnesty that, "IS militants initially spoke to our Sheikh [community leader] and said that if we handed over our weapons we would not be harmed. So, we gave them our weapons but still feared they would kill us. Some of them demanded that we convert to Islam, which we refused to do, and threatened to kill us if we did not."
  • In Qiniyeh, also in Sinjar region, 300 Yezidis from a nearby village were captured by ISIS fighters. Again, they separated the women and children and killed most of a group of around 85-90 men and boys;
  • In Jdali, a group of around 50-60 men who were fleeing towards Sinjar Mountain were shot dead by ISIS fighters;

Mass Abductions of Women and Children

  • According to the pattern emerging from the scores of testimonies collected by Amnesty International from families of those who have been abducted by IS fighters, most of the abductions – like most of the killings – took place on or since 3 August in and around the towns and villages south of Mount Sinjar;
  • Virtually all of those abducted have been Yezidi residents of the Sinjar region who were taken as they were trying to flee the area;
  • The abductions have in some cases devastated entire Yezidi families;
  • Hundreds, possibly thousands, of women and children are currently held in and around the city and district of Tal 'Afar and other locations, with reports that these could total 500 families, some 2,000 people in all;
  • There have been allegations that many of the women and girls who have been abducted by ISIS fighters have been subjected to rape or sexual abuse, forced to marry fighters, or sold into sexual slavery;

Pressure on Captive Populations to convert to Islam

  • Most of the members of non-Muslim communities being held by IS who have been able to communicate with their families have reported consistent pressures on them by their captors to convert to Islam. The pressures have ranged from promises of freedom to threats that they will be killed if they do not convert;
  • In a video distributed on social media around 20 August showing scores of Yezidi men who were captured on 3 August converting to Islam, an IS commander states that those who do not want to convert can die of hunger and thirst "on the mountain" (a reference to Mount Sinjar, where Yezidi fighters and some civilians have been sheltering since 3 August, surrounded by IS fighters).

This article summarises an external report, and is not to be taken as the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. 


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Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Amnesty International