Prosecute Captured Fighters Linked to War Crimes
(New York) – The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, summarily executed at least 13 people including two boys following a village uprising in October 2016, Human Rights Watch said today. The executions, which are war crimes, took place in the neighboring villages of al-Hud and al-Lazzagah, 50 kilometers south of Mosul, following local attempts to expel ISIS fighters who controlled the villages.
Iraqi security forces should appropriately investigate incidents of alleged war crimes so that those responsible, if in government custody, can be fairly prosecuted, Human Rights Watch said.
“ISIS responded to the village uprising by unlawfully executing people captured in the uprising and civilians who weren’t involved,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Security forces who capture ISIS fighters should properly investigate their participation in alleged war crimes like these.”
ISIS captured al-Hud and al-Lazzagah on June 10, 2014. Under ISIS, villagers said they lived in constant fear of punishment, including death, for activities like smoking or using a cell phone. Human Rights Watch spoke to seven residents of the villages, who said that on the morning of October 17, as Iraqi security forces were closing in, about 30 villagers in al-Lazzagah and 15 in al-Hud attacked ISIS forces to clear them from their villages, killing 19 ISIS fighters.
One participant in the uprising, “Ahmed,” 37, an oil worker from al-Lazzagah, told Human Rights Watch that his cousin “Hussein” came to his home along with three men earlier that morning to discuss the planned attack. While Hussein went home to get a gun, Ahmed and the others walked outside. Four ISIS fighters stopped Hussein about 200 meters from Ahmed’s home and started questioning him, and then shot and wounded him. Ahmed said that he and the three others opened fire on the four fighters, killing them.
“Ammar,” 54, an oil worker from al-Lazzagah, said that four men gathered at his house that morning to discuss targeting ISIS fighters from the windows of their homes. The group left at about 11:30 a.m. As an unarmed member, “Mahmoud,” 19, walked toward his home, an ISIS fighter on the street stopped and shot him unprovoked. Ammar said he then pulled out his concealed gun and shot the fighter. Two ISIS fighters ran over to remove the fighter’s body but the villagers opened fire on them, wounding one. Ammar was later wounded in the clashes in another part of the village.
Others involved in the uprising deployed in a cluster of about 10 homes near the main road entering the villages, and fired on incoming ISIS military vehicles. ISIS fighters stormed the houses, most of which were abandoned. A female neighbor said she saw ISIS fighters execute “Faris,” 45, outside his home among the cluster of houses, after they found an Iraqi flag in his possession. He was unarmed and in their custody when they shot him, the neighbor said. Several villagers also saw ISIS fighters execute “Youssef,” another unarmed man they had taken into custody. They found his and Faris’ bodies lying outside. Two villagers involved in the uprising said that Faris and Youssef were not involved in the attack, though their execution would have been unlawful in any case.
The villagers who had fired on ISIS fighters in al-Hud that morning hid in different homes after running out of ammunition. At about 3:30 p.m. more ISIS fighters arrived in al-Hud and started searching for the attackers. Five ISIS fighters went to the home of “Hassan,” 40, a laborer, searched it and took away his brother “Karim,” 33, a former Iraqi soldier who Hassan said participated in the attacks. They also took their neighbor “Hakim.” Hassan said he watched the ISIS fighters execute both men in the middle of the street about 300 meters from his home. Their bodies remained there until the next morning because it was too dangerous to retrieve them.
At about the same time, ISIS fighters went to the home of “Sulaiman,” 44, one of the attackers, and took him and his nephew, 14, who was not involved in the attack. ISIS fighters executed both, said Hassan, who saw the bodies lying in the street.
Also at about 3:30 p.m., ISIS fighters stormed the home of two brothers who had been part of the attack, and killed one inside their home and the other outside on the street, two witnesses said. The witnesses found the bodies after the fighting ended.
“Muhammad,” 45, a local oil worker not involved in the uprising also said that at about 3:30 p.m., he heard gunfire outside his home. He sent his family to another house, about 15 meters away, that he thought would be safer because it was a bit further from the shooting. Minutes later, three ISIS fighters dressed in black banged on his door, which he opened. Two searched the home while the other held a gun to his back. When they found no one else there, they forced him to take them to his family.
His wife, four daughters, and two sons were at the nearby house. Two of his friends, 54 and 40, and one of their nephews, 19, were also there, but because they were involved in the attack they had gone to the roof to hide, Muhammad said. Muhammad’s son, 13, who did not participate, hid on the roof with them because he was frightened, his family said.
Muhammad said that the ISIS fighters found the four unarmed men on the roof. From his roof, he watched the fighters throw two grenades at the men and boy, killing one man and the nephew. The fighters then shot and killed Muhammad’s son though Muhammad heard one fighter say, “Don’t kill him, he is just a kid.” They shot the third man on the roof in his leg. He escaped and started running, but the fighters shot and killed him in the street. Muhammad said he then fled his house and hid nearby until the next morning.
Several other villagers who may have been participating in the hostilities and thus subject to attack were killed. Two witnesses said that a villager, 35, was in the street engaged in a firefight with ISIS fighters at about 5:00 p.m. when he was wounded in the leg. His two brothers, 30 and 32, ran out to pull him to safety. ISIS fighters shot and killed all three, and their bodies lay there until the next day, Hassan said. Four more men, all involved in the attack, were killed in fighting with ISIS fighters during the afternoon.
Iraqi Security Forces reached al-Lazzagah at 7:30 p.m., villagers said, and entered al-Hud the next morning. On the morning of October 18, Hassan and Muhammad were on the streets with many other villagers celebrating, when a sniper hit “Jasim,” 19, an unarmed civilian who was celebrating with them, killing him. It took Iraqi forces several days to clear the whole village. After that, they brought the residents’ bodies to the clinic in the town of Qayyarah, eight kilometers south, to have death certificates issued.
The laws of war permit attacks only against military objectives, including enemy fighters or weapons and ammunition. Civilians are immune from attack, except those “directly participating in the hostilities.” While that phrase has various interpretations, it includes not only people currently engaged in fighting, but also anyone directly assisting those fighting, such as by providing ammunition or spotting opposing forces.
Common article 3 to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, applicable to the armed conflict in Iraq, and other sources of the laws of war, prohibit the summary execution or other mistreatment of individuals in custody, including captured combatants, civilians, and incapacitated fighters. Murder and other wilful killings of those in custody are war crimes.
As Iraqi forces capture more alleged fighters and others affiliated with ISIS, Iraqi criminal justice authorities should investigate in accordance with international due process standards alleged war crimes perpetrated by ISIS, up to the highest levels of responsibility. Those found criminally responsible should be appropriately prosecuted.
“After two years of ISIS abuses committed with complete impunity, Iraq’s government has an opportunity to bring real justice to some of its victims,” Fakih said. “Prosecutors should give particular attention to ISIS war crimes committed against people who were forced to live under its control.”
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