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 In this issue...
  1. Reports Point to ISIL and the Iraqi Government Committing Possible Atrocities against Civilians Based on Religion and Ethnicity
  2. UN Officials Demand Urgent Action as Populations in Kobane, Syria under "Imminent Threat" 

New reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International paint an alarming scene in which actions against civilians by both the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS, the Islamic State, and Daesh) and the Iraqi government could respectively amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Human Rights Watch has documented that ISIL is holding captive hundreds of Yezidis (a Christian minority under attack during an ISIL offensive in Iraq in August 2014) in detention facilities in Iraq and Syria. According to interviews, ISIL has separated Yezidi women and girls from their families, forcing some to marry its fighters, while selling others and coercing still others into slavery. Meanwhile, ISIL has also abducted boys, compelling them to convert to Islam under threat of death. According to Human Rights Watch, such “systematic abduction and abuse of Yezidi civilians may amount to crimes against humanity.”
ISIL’s own magazine, Dabiq, corroborates these reports. As the New York Times revealed on 14 October 2014, ISIL’s propagandists admit on Dabiq’s website that its fighters had treated Yezidi women and girls as slaves and forced them to marry fighters. The magazine article, titled “The Revival of Slavery” goes on to provide justification for such enslavement, claiming that “their [Yezidis] esoteric faith makes them pagans whose religion needs to be eradicated from the Muslim world…Their continual existence to this day is a matter that Muslims should question as they will be asked about it on Judgment Day.” According to point four of the Analysis Framework by the UN Office for the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, which focuses on the “motivation of leading actors in the State/region; acts which serve to encourage divisions between national, racial, ethnic and religious groups”, such propaganda campaigns and fabrications about a targeted group may constitute a risk factor for genocide.
Meanwhile, in a new report titled “Absolute Impunity: Militia Rule in Iraq”, Amnesty International has detailed how Shi’a militias supported and armed by the Iraqi government have abducted and killed “scores” of Sunni civilians, in an apparent bid for revenge for attacks committed by ISIL. These militias, who number in the tens of thousands, wear military uniforms but “operate outside any legal framework and without any official oversight”, allowing them to enjoy total impunity for their war crimes. Indeed, according to Amnesty’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser, Donatella Rovera, “by failing to hold militias accountable for war crimes and other gross human rights abuses the Iraqi authorities have effectively granted them free rein to go on the rampage against Sunnis.” Amnesty strongly urged the new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to act swiftly to rein in the Shi’a militias and establish the rule of law.
For more on the threat to minorities in Iraq, see the ICRtoP Blog “Convert, Pay, or Be Killed: Iraq’s Minorities Under Threat.”

The town of Kobane, Syria, which lies on the border with Turkey, has now been under siege by ISIL for almost four weeks. According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, a small fraction—perhaps a few hundred—of Kobane’s population remains, while hundreds of thousands have fled into Turkey, other parts of Syria, or Iraq’s Kurdistan region.  Though the coalition of states led by the US has been bombing ISIL positions around Kobane in an effort to halt ISIL’s advance, the militants have captured a significant portion of the town.  And due to domestic and regional politics, Turkey—whose borders are a mere few hundred feet from Kobane—has so far been reluctant to act to save the primarily Kurdish town, insisting that the coalition undertake more direct actions in the fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including the imposition a no-fly zone over Syria.
As a reflection of the grave dangers facing civilians in Kobane, the UN Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect released a statement on 10 October 2014. According to the Special Advisers, ISIL and other armed groups have reportedly committed violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The situation in Kobane “raises the credible prospect that the population is at imminent risk of being subjected to similar acts.” The Special Advisers urged regional and global actors to take “urgent concerted and coordinated action…to ensure the protection of the populations and avert the possibility of further atrocity crimes.”
The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, echoed the Special Advisers’ words,warning  that “the world has seen with its own eyes the images of what happens when a city in Syria or in Iraq is overtaken by the terrorist group called ISIS or Da'esh: massacres, humanitarian tragedies, rapes, horrific violence.” In a press conference, Mistura then likened the situation in Kobane to that of Srebenica in 1995. Such massacres had engendered the idea of the UN’s Human Rights Up Front Strategy and the principle that “when there is an imminent threat to civilians we cannot, we should not be silent.”

Mistura implored the international community to unite to protect the people of Kobane, specifically requesting Turkey to open its borders to allow for the flow of refugees and equipment. He cautioned that “The world, all of us, will regret deeply if ISIS is able to take over a city which has defended itself with courage but is close to not being able to do so. We need to act now.”
Read the Special Advisers’ full statement here, Mistura’s statement here and his press conference here.

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