‘Collective punishment & war crimes’: HRW condemns forced relocation of ISIS families in Iraq
In a report published Thursday, HRW said that at least 170 families of suspected ISIS fighters, mainly women and children, were relocated against their will to a closed “rehabilitation camp” in Bartalla, 14 kilometers east of Mosul, Iraq, recently retaken from terrorists.
The organization considers the relocations “abusive acts” amounting to “war crimes.”
The Middle East director at HRW, Lama Fakih, called on Iraqi authorities to stop abusive actions against entire families, noting that such abuses impede reconciliation in the liberated areas.
“Iraqi authorities shouldn’t punish entire families because of their relatives’ actions,” Fakih said.
“These abusive acts are war crimes and are sabotaging efforts to promote reconciliation in areas retaken from ISIS.”
The first so-called “rehabilitation camp” was reportedly established on Sunday to give the families “psychological and ideological rehabilitation,” according to HRW.
Belkis Wille, a senior Iraq and Qatar researcher for HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division, told RT that she visited the camp, describing it as “incredibly bleak.”
“[There are] almost no humanitarian services, and hundreds of families of women, kids, who have no understanding of how long they’re going to be there and why they’re essentially being held prisoner,” Wille said.
“What we’re seeing is that in areas like the Old City [of Mosul] that are now finally outside of ISIS control, security forces are simply rounding up all women and kids coming out, under the assumption that because they are not with a man, their husband must have been ISIS, was killed in the fighting, and these women and kids are automatically being labeled as so-called ‘ISIS families.’"
Hundreds of families also faced forced relocations and arbitrary detentions in Anbar, Babil, Diyala, Salah al-Din, and Nineveh governorates, while Iraqi authorities “have done little to stop these abuses, and in some instances participated in them,” according to HRW.
During the visit to the camp in Bartalla, HRW spoke to 14 families held in the camp over suspicion that they have relatives linked to ISIS. There are up to 18 members in the interviewed families and none of them had been accused of any wrongdoing themselves, according to the report.
“The whole idea of collective punishment, punishing a woman for being the wife of a fighter, punishing children for being the children of a fighter, that is an absolute violation of international law, which does not allow you to punish people for something they did not do,” Wille said.
More families from other camps and areas are expected to arrive to the site, the NGO reports, citing Iraqi officials, who also stated that if a special committee does not find any ISIS relatives, families are free to leave.
Mosul was declared liberated from the terrorists less than a week ago. Iraqi and US-led forces have faced severe criticism from human rights organizations and the international community for the eight-month-long operation to retake the city, as it caused civilian casualties and massive displacement.
Wille said that although “ultimately the obligation to put a stop to this and to free these families lies with the Iraqi government,” the US-led coalition has “a significant level of obligation to make sure this operation is conducted in line with international law.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday that the coalition forces failed to secure organized evacuation of civilians during the offensive, which could increase the number of victims. Amnesty International also issued a damning report slamming the US-led coalition in Mosul for misplaced and excessive airstrikes and wants it to publicly admit its failure to protect civilians.