MOSUL: Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Sunday that Syrian officials, camp management, and three international organisations have confirmed that in early January 2018, Iraqi forces forcibly displaced at least 235 families of suspected affiliates of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS – most of them were forced to go to Daquq camp, in the Kirkuk governorate, and a smaller number of two other camps in the area.
As these families were being displaced, groups within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), also known as the al-Hashd al-Sha’abi, destroyed some of their homes, forced some parents to leave children behind, stole some of the families’ livestock, and beat at least three of the men.
The HRW Deputy for Middle East Lama Fakih said, “How can Iraq claim it’s turned a corner and supports reconciliation when its own forces are waging collective punishment on civilians. Nothing positive can be gained from government complicity in furthering divisions in Iraqi society.”
The manager of Daquq camp, 30 kilometres south of the city of Kirkuk, told HRW during a January 23, 2018, visit that the camp had received 220 families since January 4.
Some had previously been residents of the camp or other camps for the displaced between 2014 and 2016, when their homes were in areas under ISIS control, and had returned to their homes in November 2017, after Iraqi forces retook these locations.
While a number of aid groups work in the camp, it has limited medical and educational services. A representative from an international organisation confirmed that forces forcibly displaced at least 15 more families to two other camps in the area.
HRW interviewed 24 people from 19 families, who said they had been brought to the camp between January 4 and 9.
These families came from 10 villages: al-Dhirban, al-Alwiya al-Jadida, Garhat Ghazan, Gharifi, Kaysuma, Kifah, Maftool, Maratah, Murabata, and Sayid Hamid. All except one person readily admitted that they had relatives who joined ISIS.
They said that PMF and army forces rounded up the families with no warning in a coordinated effort based on lists of names they had compiled and brought them to the camp after screening at military bases.
They added that when they asked why they were being displaced, soldiers told them they were innocent but had to move to the camp because their relatives had joined ISIS.
On January 24, a lawyer and a human rights worker in Hawija told HRW that there were no federal or provincial decrees or orders to displace these families, and a Hawija judge reiterated that from a legal perspective, these families had done nothing wrong and should not be sanctioned.
Independent observers at Daquq spoke to three men from the same village on the day they arrived, who said PMF forces had beaten them. The men showed the observers their backs, which were covered with large purple bruises.
The observers took photographs, which they showed HRW. People from that village told that PMF forces had beaten them but that they were afraid to provide more details.
Those interviewed by HRW and the camp manager said that the local police working in the camp have confiscated their families’ identity papers and are holding them so that none of the families can flee. If one member of a family finds someone inside the camp to sponsor them and gets permission to leave, for example, to go to the hospital, only that member of the family can leave, but the rest must stay behind to ensure their return, the manager said.
Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite imagery that was available for three of the villages – Garhat Ghazan, Kifah, and Sayid Hamid – which corroborated the destruction of eight homes by heavy machinery between January 3 and 9, as well as the destruction of 21 homes in the nearby village of Safraa over the same period.
A local human rights activist confirmed that families were displaced from the three villages in the beginning of January, and satellite imagery available for one of the villages confirmed the destruction took place between January 3 and 9.
It is a basic international standard that punishment for crimes should only be imposed on people responsible for the crimes, after a fair trial to determine individual guilt. Imposing collective punishment on families, villages, or entire communities is strictly forbidden and can itself be a crime, especially if it results in forced displacement.
Under the laws of war, forced displacement of civilians is strictly prohibited except in the limited cases in which displacement is necessary to protect civilians or for military necessity, and then only for as long as it is needed.
Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, it is a war crime to order such unlawful displacements of civilians during a conflict.
Widespread or systematic unlawful forced displacement imposed as a policy of the state or organised group can amount to a crime against humanity.
Iraqi authorities should take immediate steps to investigate these alleged war crimes and other allegations of unlawful demolitions, looting, and destruction of civilian property, HRW further added.
Fakih said, “Iraqi authorities forcibly displacing these families are condemning them to a bleak future of difficult economic circumstances, restricted educational opportunities, and dismal living conditions in prison camps.”