"Staggering" Human Rights Abuses by ISIS Against Iraqi Civilians


"Staggering" Human Rights Abuses by ISIS Against Iraqi Civilians

06 Oct 2014

A new UN report describes a "staggering array" of human rights abuses committed against civilians in Iraq by ISIS, focusing particularly on the "intentional and systematic targeting" of religious minority groups. 

The United Nations report, based on 500 interviews and produced jointly by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, looks into the treatment of civilians in the recent escalation of armed violence in Iraq from 6 July to 10 September 2014.

"Religious groups... continue to suffer premeditated attacks"

The report calls attention to “gross human rights abuses and acts of violence of an increasingly sectarian nature”. By far the most substantial section of the report exposes attacks by ISIS against ethnic and religious communities, suggesting that many of these violation and abuses may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement that “ethnic and religious groups… continue to suffer premeditated attacks”.

ISIS is accused of the “intentional and systematic targeting” of minority communities including the Christians, Yezidi, Sabeans, Kaka’e and Arab Shia, who they aim to destroy, suppress or cleanse from areas under their control. The UN also refers to a variety of alleged regime atrocities, including the targeting of Sunni-majority communities by armed groups affiliated with government forces, and the apparent retaliatory destruction of a number of Sunni mosques.

The report also highlights the plight of a particular Iraqi Christian family whose three-year old daughter was seized by an ISIS fighter, who have been interviewed and featured in a commentary for the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics by Balint Szlanko.

Because of the UN’s reliance on verified testimony, the statistics provided in the report are to be read as absolute minimums.

Key Findings
  • As of August 2014, an estimated 1.8 million Iraqis had been displaced due to the ongoing violence.
  • Overall, at least 24,015 civilians have been killed or injured in Iraq during the first eight months of 2014, not including the number of civilians who have died from the secondary effects of violence.
  • Other violations of human rights include the direct targeting of civilians through abductions, rape and other forms of sexual violence, forced recruitment of children, destruction or desecration of places of religious or cultural significance and denial of fundamental freedoms.
  • There are serious concerns for the protection and welfare of members of groups at-risk, in particular those members of diverse ethnic, cultural or religious groups living in areas under ISIS control.
Displacement of civilians
  • The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has established a number of camps within the region housing at least 26,000 people, while the remainder are housed within the communities where they have sought refuge, many in unfinished buildings, schools, mosques, churches, and other premises.
  • With the initial takeover of Mosul by ISIS on 10 June, some 500,000 people fled the city. On 22 July, the Chaldean Patriarch informed UNAMI that about 20,000 Christians had left Mosul and were sheltering with relatives and community members in different locations in the Nineveh Plains.
  • Beginning on 2 August, entire villages of ethnic and religious minorities began to flee from areas in Sinjar District, as well as Zummar and Rabeea'a sub-districts, in Tal Afar in Nineveh Governorate as ISIS fighters took control of the areas.
Attacks on places of worship
  • ISIS and associated armed groups continued to attack and wantonly destroy places of religious and cultural significance that did not conform to its takfiri doctrine. Sunni and Shi'a mosques, Christian churches and monasteries, Yezidi shrines, Kaka'e shrines, and other religious, historical or cultural significant sites have all been targeted.
  • An ISIS suicide bomber blew himself up among worshippers who were leaving a Shi'a mosque in the blacksmith area of New Baghdad, killing ten and wounding another 24 on 25 August. ISIS claimed responsibility on social media and websites for this attack, purportedly in revenge for the killing of Sunni worshippers in Bani Wais, Diyala, on 22 August.
  • The report outlines a number of attacks on Sunni, Shia, Sufia and Kaka'e Shrines by ISIS.
  • Also on 7 July, ISIS had reportedly removed the cross on top of the dome of the St. Ephrem Cathedral in the al-Shoorta area of Mosul.
Attacks targeting religious minority communities
  • From the beginning of ISIS takeover of Mosul on 10 June, Christians, along with other ethnic and religious communities, have been subjected to the imposition of ISIS takfiri doctrine on all civilians in the city. From the beginning of July, ISIS significantly increased its restrictions on the Christian and other communities within the city. Of particular concern is the expulsion of Christians from Mosul and occupation of their houses and seizure of all their belongings, including personal and indispensable food items.
  • On 16 July, ISIS was distributing leaflets among Christians in the city ordering them either to convert or to pay jizyah (toleration/protection tax), to leave or face death.
  • On 17 July, ISIS started marking the houses of Christians in al-Arabi and al-Sukar areas of Mosul with the Arabic letter nun ("N") (the first letter of the Arabic word 'nasara') and "property of the Islamic State" (al-Dawla al-Islamiyya). A number of Shi'a owned houses were also reported to have been marked with the Arabic letter raa' ("R") (the first letter of the Arabic word "rafidha" - the name by which ISIS refers to Shi'a).
  • The Yezidi community continues to be systematically targeted by ISIS and subjected to gross human rights abuses. ISIS regards the Yezidi as kufara (non-believers) to whom they give the option of conversion or death.
Attacks on Muslims by ISIS
  • On 21 August, a 31-year old man was stoned to death by ISIS after a self-appointed court sentenced him to death for adultery. On 28 August, seven individuals, allegedly Sunni, were executed by ISIS after being condemned to death.
  • On 22 July, ISIS killed a Sunni Imam in eastern Baquba because he had denounced the organization. Reports allege that on 9 September, another Imam was executed in western Mosul for failing to declare his fealty to ISIS.
  • Members of the Shia Turkmen and Shabak communities were also singled out for attacks by ISIS
  • On 27 July, ISIS abducted 20 young students and a Sufi Muslim leader in Mosul. The students were studying the Holy Qur'an when the attack was carried out on the al-Rawtha al-Muhamadiya Mosque in the Muthanna District, eastern Mosul. The gunmen also destroyed some tombs of Sufi sheikhs located inside the mosque. The whereabouts of the abducted students is unknown. Families of the abducted students have pleaded with the Sunni leadership of ISIS in Mosul to release their family members.
  • UNAMI/OHCHR received reports that a number of women who had refused to wear the veil were beaten by ISIS in Mosul. On 21 August, media reported that ISIS beat with sticks women who were not wearing the veil in markets in the city. Allegedly, some women reacted, throwing stones at their attacker.

The report may be read in full here.

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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UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
UN Assistance Mission for Iraq Human Rights Office