Selectivity will not solve the issue

On 1st September 2014 the Human Rights Council held its 22nd Special Session under the title “The Human rights situation in Iraq in the light of abuses committed by the so called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and associated groups”. GICJ participated actively in the Session and held that even if there is no excuse for atrocities committed by ISIL, no viable a solution to the situation will be found without addressing the root of the problem, which is the illegal US-invasion of 2003 and the subsequent occupation that paved an environment ripe for extreme forms of human rights violations to be committed with impunity. The injustice inflicted on Iraq left the Iraqi people with outrage and despair, especially as the international community failed to take effective action to bring those responsible for to justice and ensure accountability.

Understanding the situation in Iraq after 2003

The 2003 US-invasion has been widely forgotten by the international community. Among the most insidious consequences was the disastrous situation of the Iraqi judicial system after the illegal dismantling by the American occupiers in 2003. The disastrous societal vacuum led to a chaotic, anarchical situation.

Since then and throughout this year (2014) arbitrary arrests, denial of due process, torture and rape to extract confession continue to be the norm rather than the exception, frequently on a sectarian base. Execution rates have risen to record heights.

Corruption in Iraq played a further significant role in the devastation of the Iraqi society. About 40% of the reconstruction projects assessed following the invasion had major deficiencies and the culture of corruption has been further refined and institutionalized by the outgoing Prime Minister Maliki and his government.

Unfortunately the world did not listen when millions of Iraqi people took their protests to the streets from 2011 on and demanded to end the sectarian policies and horrendous institutionalized human rights committed against them. The international community also did not react when the Iraqi government responded to peaceful demonstrations by massive attacks using tanks, helicopters and missiles under the official pretext of “national security”. 

Such rhetoric is a direct reflection of the very pretext that the Americans had used to justify their military operations. Just as the American occupiers utilised the “sectarian divide” to break-up any resistance during the occupation, successive governments prolonged that legacy to keep the country divided in their plight to retain power. 

The international community also failed to recognize the actual political motivation when the violence escalated at the turn of the year in 2013/ 2014 and government forces consistently conducted indiscriminate attacks against several cities, which led to more than a half million refugees months before the appearance of ISIL. This was although many human rights organizations denounced that the government was bombing cities indiscriminately without any confirmation of terrorists being in place.

The injustice inflicted on Iraq left the Iraqi people with outrage and despair, especially as the international community failed to take effective action to bring those responsible for to justice and ensure accountability.

The sense of frustration grew even stronger when the Iraqi people realized that the US-installed Iraqi government apparently got away with impunity for its sectarian policy that undermined all attempts to form a unified opposition and violently broken down efforts to peacefully partake in the political process. Unfortunately, ISIL knew to ride the wave.

22nd Special Session of of the Human Rights Council on the HR situation in Iraq

The 22nd Special Session began by an introduction given by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Flavia Pansieri. She noted that OHCHR continued to gather strong evidence that serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law have been committed in areas under the control of ISIL and associated groups and that at least 850,000 people belonging to ethnic and religious groups under attack have found refuge in displacement camps.

The Deputy High Commissioner however also expressed concerns about reports that in recent months the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and anti-ISIL armed groups have perpetrated violations of human rights and humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes.

In this regard she outline that (On 15 June, at least 31 detainees were executed at the al-Qalaa police station in Tal Afar by police officers fleeing their posts shortly before the approach of ISIL fighters. On 17 June, members of Asayeb Ahl al-Haq, a Shi’a armed group, entered al-Wahda police station in the Qatoon area of Diyala and reportedly executed 48 detainees, all Sunni. On 22 August, members of the so-called “volunteers units” affiliated with the ISF, and other armed men, carried out an attack on the Musab bin Omair Sunni mosque in Bani Wais village, in Khanaqin district.

They opened fire on worshippers from the entrance and the windows of the mosque, as well as from the roof, killing at least 73 men and boys, and wounding 38. Iraqi Army and police units were allegedly close to the scene at the time of the attack, but failed to intervene. I welcome the announcement by the Speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives that an investigation into the incident has been launched with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice. Mortar rounds and shelling by the ISF have killed and injured many civilians in Tel Keyf city, Batnaya and Tel Esquf towns.

On 14 and 15 August, two air strikes in the Hawija area of Kirkuk killed 25 civilians, including four women and three children, and wounded 20 others. Other air strikes in the Daquq district in Kirkuk resulted in the killing and injury of civilians on 13 August; four civilians were wounded in Saad village; and five civilians (including one woman and three children) were killed and three more wounded in al-Wahda village. In Fallujah, in the province of Anbar, from 14-17 August the General Hospital recorded 17 civilians killed (including one child), and 26 wounded (including six children and two women), as a result of shelling.

We have also received reports that ISF air strikes in areas near the Baiji refinery in Salah Al-din have resulted in the killing of at least 25 civilians and the wounding of 40 more. Even though this conflict has severely reduced the Iraqi Government’s control over large parts of its territory, the Government continues to bear primary responsibility for the protection of all persons on its territory, and must endeavour to implement its obligations.

All parties to the ongoing armed conflict are obligated to abide by international humanitarian law, which governs the conduct of conflicts, and international human rights law, which applies during times of war and peace, Ms. Flavia Pansieri concluded. All parties must also take all feasible precautions, in areas under their effective control, to spare civilians from the effects of hostilities, and to respect, protect and meet the basic needs of civilian populations.

Leila Zerrougui in her role as Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict gave the second presentation of the Special Session. She expressed her particular concern about the recent rapid expansion of ISIL and their total disregard for human life, yet she also noted that violations against children have sadly been a consequence of the instability in Iraq over the years. Six-hundred and ninety-three child casualties have been reported since the beginning of the year, she said, noting that most casualties are due to indiscriminate attacks, including shelling of populated areas, by Government forces and by armed opposition groups.

The United Nations has documented incidents of schools being destroyed or damaged by indiscriminate attacks, including airstrikes and IEDs, Leila Zerrougui, further explained. Within the last three months, thirty-two targeted attacks on schools and teachers were reported, of which 22 have been verified. Most of the attacks were related to the use of these facilities as polling stations for the parliamentary elections on 30 April. Of equal concern are incidents of attacks on hospitals and other medical facilities. Hospitals have been hit by Government forces in the context of shelling of populated areas.

Children continue to be recruited by militias from all sides of the conflict, including those supported or backed by the Government, and those fighting alongside opposition groups. These recruitments by militias take place in all conflict-affected areas, including Baghdad and Basra governorates. I was informed that instructions were given by the Iraqi authorities to prevent the recruitment of children by Government-backed militias.

GICJ participated in the discussion following the opening statements. It held that no solution can be found without understanding those factors that led to the build-up of the crisis, which was an illegal and subsequent occupation that totally destroyed the country and led to a situation where human rights violations could be commited with impunity.

Full text of the statement

Thank you Mr President,

This is a joint statement by the Indian Council of South America, OCAPROCE and Geneva International Centre for Justice. We all agree and are deeply concerned about the crimes against humanity committed by ISIL and humanitarian disaster resulting from it.

There is however no viable a solution without addressing the root of the problem, which is the illegal US-invasion in 2003. Years of occupation along with a deliberate divide and conquer policy by the invading forces have further paved an environment ripe for extreme forms of human rights violations to be committed with impunity. We therefore fully agree with the statement made by Cuba holding that the root is based on illegal acts of aggression as we also agree with South Africa that the text needs amendments.

Unfortunately the international community turned a deaf ear to the desperate calls of millions of Iraqi people, who took to their protests to the streets from 2011 on and peacefully demanded to end the human rights violations committed against them. It also did not react when these protests were cracked down by massive batteries of tanks, helicopters and missiles or when few months ago government forces began to conduct bombings and attacks against several cities throughout Iraq, with or without any confirmation of terrorists in place. The situation we are facing today is the tragic result of the frustration resulting from the suffering and injustice inflicted on the Iraqi people, which prepared a dangerous ground for extremist groups to spread their influence.

Mr President, as we appreciate that this Special Session has been convened we regret that it comes at a time when the crisis seems almost irreversible. We recommend that this Special Session leads to an international commission of inquiry to address the root causes of the conflict so we can provide substantive remedy leading to peace and stability in the region. Even if none of the above described facts can justify atrocities committed by ISIL, only justice and accountability against all perpetrators will take out the ground from these groups. As we have done for years now our NGOs further call on this Council to investigate and prosecute all human rights violations being committed in Iraq since 2003 and finally appoint a Special Rapporteur to report on them.

Thank you

GICJ positions were shared by several country delegations including CubaVenezuela andSouth Africa, who stated that the root of the problem must be seen in the illegal act of aggression of the US-invasion in 2003 and that the draft resolution therefore should address all human rights violations. Such statements were supported by NGOs including theUnion of Arab JuristsCIVICUS and Human Rights Watch, who expressed their concerns about the atrocities committed by ISIL, yet also addressed the violations committed by all parties, including the attacks on hospitals in Fallujah at the beginning of the year 2014.

Observations about the resolution

The GICJ holds the view that the resolution that passed at the end of the session has ignored all the fundamental guidelines and principles of the of the Human Rights Council. The United Nations resolution 60/251, by which the Council was established, provided in article 2 that ( .... the Council shall be responsible for promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner). Unfortunately the resolution ignores this rule and focuses on the protection of, only, certain segment of the Iraqi society.

The selective nature of the resolution totally contradicts article 4 which stresses that the work of the Council (… shall be guided by the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity…). By dealing with the violations that occurred in Iraq after the 10th of June 2014, and ignoring all the other atrocities committed since 2003, by the occupation and the governments that followed, it hence degraded the principles of objectivity and impartiality.

Moreover, as the final adopted resolution S-22/1 requests the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human rights to dispatch an investigation mission to Iraq; it violates the Office of the High Commissioner's Mandate. The mandate itself includes preventing human rights violations, securing respect for all human rights, promoting international cooperation to protect human rights, coordinating related activities throughout the United Nations, and strengthening and streamlining the United Nations system in the field of human rights. But it does not include the authority of the Office of the High Commissioner to carry out an investigation with regard to any human rights violations. Thus the resolution is considered to be a departure of the original mandate given to the Office of the High Commissioner by the General Assembly resolution 48/141.

GICJ holds that the resolution should have instead establish an independent and impartial international Commission of inquiry to investigate all the atrocities and human rights violations that occurred and are still committed by different parties of the Iraqi political-armed conflict. Thus the violations that have been, and are still, committed in Iraq including militias and governmental forces.

Furthermore, this commission would also investigate all the violations that have been committed by the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 and the devastating consequences till the present days. But once again the international community failed the Iraqi people whose rights are systematically violated and abused, with injustice daily inflicted on them throughout the past eleven years.

Nevertheless, GICJ finds that by adopting this resolution the Council provides a legal ground for NGOs to raise all human rights violations in Iraq at the Council’s sessions and activities. The same positions were expressed in South Africa's final statement ahead of the adoption of the resolution, in which the country disassociated itself from the outcome of the session.

Participation of GICJ at Human Rights Council Sessions

Human Rights Council - 35th regular session (6 June - 24 June 2017)

Human Rights Council - 34th regular session (27 February - 24 March 2017)

Human Rights Council - 33rd regular session (10 September - 30 September 2016)

Human Rights Council - 32nd regular session (13 June - 1 and 8 July 2016)

Human Rights Council - 31st regular session (29 February - 24 March 2016)

Human Rights Council - 30th regular session (14 September - 2 October 2015)

Human Rights Council - 29th regular session (15 June - 3 July 2015)

Human Rights Council - 22nd special session on the human rights situation in Iraq in light of abuses committed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and associated groups - 1 September 2014:

Human Rights Council - 21st special session on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem - 23 July 2014:

Human Rights Council - 26th regular session (10 - 27 June 2014):

Human Rights Council - 25th regular session (3 - 28 March 2014):

Human Rights Council - 24th regular session (9 - 27 September 2013):

Human Rights Council - 23rd regular session (27 May - 14 June 2013):

Human Rights Council - 22nd regular session (25 February - 22 March 2013):

Human Rights Council - 21st regular session (10 - 28 September, 5 November 2012):

Human Rights Council - 19th regular session (27 February - 23 March 2012):

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