The Human Rights Council Fails to Condemn Iraqi Militias


Atrocities committed by the jihadist group known as ISIS (the Islamic State) have been denounced in a resolution on the Iraq conflict adopted by consensus at the United Nations Human Rights Council on March 27, 2015. However, as underlined by Human Rights Watch, a key point concerning this matter was missing. Indeed, the human rights violations by militias, volunteer fighters, and Iraqi forces were not condemned. As a consequence, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch John Fisher, stated: “No one questions the Human Rights Council's attention to the widespread atrocities by ISIS in Iraq, but ignoring abuses by Iraqi militias and security forces is not only indefensible, it's dangerous.”

The resolution in question was prepared by Iraq. It was put forward by the Arab group of countries at the Human Rights Council on March 19. Documenting ISIS abuses, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also unveiled that militias and Iraqi forces “carried out extrajudicial killings, torture, abductions and forcibly displaced a large number of people, often with impunity.”  This suggests that they “may have committed war crimes.” A similar conclusion was reached by Human Rights Watch when analyzing the widespread and gross human rights violations of ISIS in Iraq. After the retreat of ISIS from the town of Amerli in September 2014, “militias looted property of Sunni civilians who had fled the fighting, burned their homes and businesses, and destroyed at least two entire villages, all in violation of the laws of war”, said Human Rights Watch. At present, Iraqi militias and security forces, backed by the United States, are engaged in an offensive in Tikrit.

According to Human Rights Watch, the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council on March 27 clearly carries a one-sided message. Nonetheless, it was supported by France and Germany, which are both part of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Whilst the United States and the United Kingdom initially intended to strengthen the draft, they eventually “joined in cosponsoring the resolution”. On another note, the resolution urges the Iraqi government “to investigate all alleged abuses and violations of human rights and violations of International Humanitarian Law.” Quite logically, this call thus includes abuses committed not only by ISIS, but also by Iraqi government forces and militias. Furthermore, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been asked to “to provide technical assistance to Iraq, and to report back to the council in September”.

In spite of this, John Fisher insisted on the following point: "With military operations in Tikrit under way, the council missed a crucial opportunity to send a strong signal to Iraq and its allies to take all necessary steps to end abuses by militias and security forces." Mr. Fisher also warned that "impunity for such crimes will only help ISIS."