GICJ calls for impartial and effective investigations on the crimes committed in Fallujah
22nd May 2017 marks the first year since the initiation of the campaign for the “liberation” of Fallujah. One year ago, the military operations conducted by the Iraqi government with the support of the United States and the al-Hashd al-Shaabi militias caused hundreds of civilian casualties, provoked a massive displacement of the population and destroyed an entire city.
Therefore, on 19th May 2017, Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) sent a letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to call, once again, the attention of the United Nations and of the international community on the massacre of Fallujah.
While the tragedy was ongoing, GICJ sent several urgent appeals to the United Nations Secretary-General (24th May 2016), to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (one letter in May, four in June and one in August), to the Special Rapporteurs on: Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism and to the Working Groups on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and on Arbitrary Detention (11th October 2016).
Furthermore, on 27th May 2016, GICJ addressed a letter to the President of the United States of America to express its deep concern towards both the growing number of civilian casualties resulted from the deadly attacks at the hands of the security forces as well as the American air forces, and the grave human rights violations taking place outside Fallujah at the hands of pro-government militias.
Recalling its appeals urging the international community to interfere to halt the massacre and the United Nations to dispatch an independent commission to investigate the violations committed in Fallujah, on 19th May 2017, GICJ reiterated the need for appropriate and independent investigations to be carried out and insisted on the importance of achieving justice and accountability for all victims.
Violations and abuses
On 22nd May 2016, the Iraqi army and affiliated militias, supported by U.S. air cover and backed by the Iranian military support to the al-Hashd al-Shaabi militia umbrella organization (Popular Mobilization Forces) initiated the campaign for the “liberation” of Fallujah from the Islamic State. However, the inhuman and systematic violations committed against the helpless civilian population during such military operation clearly uncover the sectarian nature of such campaigns.
During the months of May and June 2016, the city of Fallujah and the surrounding areas were subjected to heavy shelling and indiscriminate bombings and airstrikes – which resulted in a disturbingly high number of civilian casualties. In addition to the gravity of the violations committed and to the extent of the bombing to which the city was subjected, of particular concern is the tacit complicity of the authorities to the carnage and the failure of the central government to set up adequate shelters and camps to welcome the civilians fleeing the besieged city.
People fleeing the city of Saqlawiya (one of the small cities belonging to Fallujah) headed to the closest military camps seeking for help, but, instead, they fell in the hands of the militias in the military posts. There, according to the records obtained by GICJ, they were subjected to heinous treatments, including verbal and psychological abuse, as well as disturbing practices of torture, including stabbing with knives and other weapons, beating, as well as verbal and psychological abuses of sectarian connotation. Furthermore, GICJ sources on the ground revealed that Iraqi police officials and some army leaders were physically participating in the executions of the innocent people escaping the fighting. According to those who survived the massacre, civilians were slaughtered, burnt alive and summarily executed in batches on the claims of allegedly belonging to ISIS.
Moreover, due to the inability of the government to set up adequate camps for the displaced persons, hundreds of people were forced to live in inhuman conditions, often having to sleep in open air under harsh weather conditions, and were deprived of food, water, medicines and basic supplies.
The extent of the suffering of the civilians and the atrocity of the violations committed is impossible to deny and was, in fact, acknowledged by several prominent Iraqi figures, including the Chairman of the Anbar Tribe Council, Mr Rafia Abdulkarim Al Fahdawi; a Member of the Security Committee in the Anbar Governorate, Mr Rabih Barakat Al Isawi; and the Mayor of Fallujah, Mr Sa’doun Al Sha’lan. They expressed concern on the situation, on the heinous crimes committed and on the fate of the displaced persons: their testimonies confirm that the Iraqi authorities knew about and enabled the continuation of the massacre.
One year later
Despite the strong condemnation of several UN high-level officers, and despite the pledges of the Iraqi government to conduct appropriate investigations and provide reparation to all victims, one year later, the situation has not changed. On 7th June 2016, the High Commissioner welcomed the calls of the Iraqi government on the military demanding that civilians be protected and perpetrators held accountable. Yet, in spite of such statements, the government never took concrete steps to prevent the massacre of the civilian population.
Not only did the Iraqi government fail to protect its citizens while the crimes were ongoing, but it also failed to conduct appropriate and impartial investigations and to ensure reparation for all victims. As such, thousands of Iraqis continue to live in makeshift camps and the over 1000 persons who disappeared following the “liberation” continue to be missing.
In its letter to the High Commissioner of 12th October 2016, GICJ had included a list with the names of 643 persons kidnapped by the Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi militias in Saqlawiya. From the list, it is evident that the militias abducted men and boys belonging to the same families and tribes – thus clearly proving the sectarian agenda behind their actions. As the intent of conducting an ethnic cleansing on sectarian basis is evident, GICJ believes that such actions qualify for and may amount to genocide.
However, no efforts have been made to provide redress and reparation to the families of the disappeared nor to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice. One year later, the operation of Fallujah continues to be covered by a veil of impunity and the voices of the victims continue to go unheard.
On the contrary, authorities are continuing to mislead the international opinion into thinking that the battle for the “liberation” of the city was, indeed, a genuine attempt to eradicate the threat posed by the Islamic State in the region. In this regard, GICJ has reported extensively on the sectarian nature of all government-led and U.S.-backed operation conducted in Iraq under the pretext of fighting ISIS. In light of the pattern followed in Fallujah, Amerli, Anbar, Tikrit and Mosul, it is clear that the ultimate goal of such well-orchestrated plan is the ethnic cleansing of the “Sunni” component of the society.
Today, the destruction and the devastation caused by the military campaign in the city of Fallujah remain evident. In fact, no efforts have been made to reconstruct the buildings and the infrastructures that have been ravaged by the indiscriminate airstrikes, and public services and houses remain unusable and uninhabitable. Health care facilities as well as basic services such as water, gas and sewage disposal have not been reinstated and the signs of the merciless destruction remain evident.
The conditions of the city make return impossible for the thousands of Iraqis who were forced to flee fearing for their lives. Hundreds of families were obliged to escape overnight leaving all their belongings behind and are now unable to return to their properties and to obtain information on the fate and conditions of their houses. As such, hundreds of thousands of people are forced to remain strained in makeshift shelters and provisional camps set up in the midst of the desert, where living conditions are incredibly hard due to the harsh weather conditions and the presence of snakes and scorpions. Here, people have little access to basic services, food and clean water and can only rely on the help of few donors and charities to survive. Furthermore, most women living in the camps have no knowledge of the whereabouts and the fate of their children and husbands, who were amongst the persons kidnapped by the militias.
Finally, those who try to return to the city have to undergo long bureaucratic procedures and are forced to wait for long hours outside Fallujah while authorities thoroughly verify their identity and intentions. Furthermore, not only is return made impossible by the lack of functioning infrastructures, but it is also prevented by the presence of the militias who continue to patrol the surrounding areas, threatening the inhabitants, looting properties, kidnapping civilians and preventing workers and farmers to go back to their activities.
The abhorrent crimes committed in Fallujah must be addressed, investigated and punished. The suffering of the population cannot be ignored and impunity must cease. Yet, the Iraqi government has failed to provide redress to the victims, to investigate on all violations and to work towards the reconstruction of the city; and the international community has turned a blind eye on the atrocities committed – thus hindering the achievement of justice and accountability. In light of all this, in its letter GICJ made the following recommendations:
- Enact a comprehensive international program of action regarding the post-conflict situation in Fallujah, Anbar, Amerli, Tikrit and Mosul;
- Dissolve all the militias as they have proved to be unreliable and extremely dangerous for the civilian population;
- Provide redress and reparation to the victims of all “liberation” campaigns;
- Uncover the fate of the disappeared and provide redress to their families;
- Modify the approach used to combat terrorism to conduct military operations within the framework of international standards; and
- Dispatch an independent commission of inquiry to investigate into all violations committed during all “liberation” campaigns by the militias and the security forces that cooperate with them.
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