United Nations Report Alleges Human Rights Violations in Southeastern Turkey

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — On Friday, March 10th, the United Nations Human Rights Office released a report alleging detailed depictions of mass destruction, killings and other human rights offenses committed in Southeast Turkey from July 2015 through December 2016.

Between 355,000 and 500,000 people were displaced, and more than thirty towns and “entire neighborhoods” were destroyed because of the clashes (Photo courtesy of UN News Centre)

The United Nations (“UN”) report accused Turkish security forces of violating Kurdish fighters’ human rights in the southeastern part of the country. The violations allegedly took place after a 2013 ceasefire declared between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (“PKK”) broke down. Since the end of the truce in the summer of 2015, Turkey and the PKK have been “engaged in escalating clashes.”

The UN revealed that the findings in its report were based on “remote monitoring,” namely interviews, official records, public documents, satellite images, and analysis of information provided by the Turkish government and NGOs.

The report stated that approximately 2,000 people were killed in Southeast Turkey during the specified period. The number of local residents killed was nearly 1,200. The report went on to state that of that 1,200, an unknown number may have “been involved in violent or non-violent actions against” Turkey. The UN further indicated that an additional 800 individuals belonging to security forces were killed during fighting. The report also stated that between 355,000 and 500,000 people were displaced, and more than thirty towns and “entire neighborhoods” were destroyed because of the clashes.

The UN indicated that a majority of the human rights violations took place during “unannounced, open-ended, 24-hour curfews” instigated by Turkish authorities. Satellite images referenced in the report further revealed that houses in residential areas were destroyed by “heavy weaponry[.]” The report revealed that up to 189 individuals had been trapped in basements for several weeks without food, water, medication or electricity. They were later “killed by fire induced by shelling.”

The Human Rights Chief of the UN, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, noted that Turkey denied access to investigators and “contested the veracity” of the allegations. The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the report after stating it was “biased, based on false information and far from professional.” The Foreign Ministry indicated that the country remains committed to sharing information regarding anti-terrorism activities with its partners. A parliament member of Turkey’s ruling AK Party, Mr. Taha Ozhan, stated that the PKK was responsible for the negative findings referenced in the report due to its decision to move the combat zone from rural to urban areas.

For more information, please see:

Reuters—U.N. documents human rights violations in southeast Turkey—10 March 2017

UN News Centre—Turkey: UN report details allegations of serious rights violations in country’s southeast—10 March 2017

AlJazeera—UN accuses Turkey of abuses in country’s southeast—11 March 2017

Daily Sabah—Turkey slams UN human rights body for ‘biased’ report on counter-terror operations—10 March 2017

The New York Times—U.N. Accuses Turkey of Killing Hundreds of Kurds—10 March 2017

 

Jordan Executes Fifteen in Largest Mass Killing in Country’s Recent History

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

AMMAN, Jordan — On Saturday, March 4th, Jordanian officials carried out a mass execution of fifteen people within the Suwaqa prison near the country’s capital of Amman. The killings were attended by senior ranking government officials, including Amman’s prosecutor general and the prosecutor general of the high criminal court.

Amnesty International condemned the executions, which were allegedly carried out in “secrecy and without transparency.” (Photo courtesy of Whatson)

Ten of the executed individuals had been convicted of terrorist attacks dating from 2003 through 2016, whereas the remaining five had been convicted in murder charges. One had carried out an attack on an intelligence compound near a Palestinian camp. The attack, which took place last year, had resulted in the deaths of five security personnel. Five of those executed had been implicated in an assault by suspected ISIS fighters on a militant hideout. The attack, which had also been carried out last year, had led to the deaths of seven terrorists and one police officer.

The executions have drawn international attention from human rights organizations. Amnesty International condemned the mass killings due to the manner in which they were carried out. The rights group indicated that the fifteen individuals had been hanged in secret and “without transparency.” Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of the Beirut Regional Office, Mr. Samah Hadid, called the scale of the executions “shocking[,]” while adding that it is a “big step backwards on human rights protection in Jordan[.]” Mr. Hadid further noted that capital punishment in the country was “problematic” as confessions in some cases had been obtained through torture or other coercive measures. Meanwhile, the government of Jordan denied any mistreatment of its prisoners, and asserted that the judicial system abides by human rights laws.

The Middle East Director of Human Rights Watch, Ms. Sarah Leah Whitson, indicated that the death penalty would not act as a deterrence to violence. She stated that militant attacks have increased in recent years despite the imposition of death penalties to at least one hundred prisoners who had been convicted on charges relating to radical Islamist groups. Ms. Whitson further noted that capital punishment “will never . . . make the citizens of Jordan safer,” despite the country’s efforts to project an “image of strength[.]”

A senior Jordanian judicial authority stated that Saturday’s executions were the largest carried out in the country’s recent history. Jordan’s government spokesperson, Mr. Mohammad Momani, indicated that the killings were carried out in an “attempt to bring justice to the victims of those terrorists who threatened our national security.” Mr. Momani further added that any individual engaging in similar behavior “will face the same destiny.”

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch—Jordan: Executions Won’t End Terror Attacks, Murder—5 March 2017

Reuters—Jordan says executes 15, with 10 for terrorism convictions—4 March 2017

Middle East Eye—Jordan hangs 15 for rape and terrorism in mass dawn execution—4 March 2017

The Jordan Times—15 convicted criminals, terrorists executed on Saturday—4 March 2017

Jurist—Human rights groups condemn execution of 15 in Jordan—5 March 2017

 

Two Transgender Pakistanis Killed by Saudi Arabian Police

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — On Tuesday, February 28th, two transgender Pakistanis were killed in Saudi Arabia after allegedly being beaten and tortured by Saudi Arabian police.

Amna and Meeno were arrested for violating the country’s laws against cross-dressing and engaging in homosexual activity (Photo courtesy of Daily Mail)

The two transgender individuals, Amna and Meeno, were allegedly killed by Saudi Arabian police while in custody following a house raid which took place during “Guru Chela Chalan” festivities. The celebration is one in which the Pakistani transgender community elects a “guru” to lead their group. Amna and Meeno were reportedly arrested for cross-dressing and engaging in same-sex relationships, which are prohibited under Saudi Arabian law. It is claimed that the two were “packed in sacks,” kicked, “thrashed with sticks and tortured to death[.]” The police force spokesperson indicated that the house was under surveillance for possible violations of the country’s clothing ban.

The raid resulted in the arrests of thirty-five transgender people. Eleven of those arrested paid a fine of over $40,000 for their release, whereas twenty-two were still in custody. While sex-change operations are illegal in the country, homosexual activity is punishable by death.

Human rights activists strongly condemned the actions taken by the Saudi police. Qamar Naseem, a transgender rights activist, cried out against the abuses inflicted upon Amna and Meena by stating the inhumane nature of “[t]orturing humans after throwing them into bags and beating them with sticks[.]” He indicated that the twenty-two transgender individuals remained in police custody and that no one would save them because transgender lives are “not of any value to anyone, not even our own government[.]”

Further outcries came in the form of transgender individuals’ inability to practice their religion. Farzana, a transgender woman in Saudi Arabia, indicated that the government prohibited transgender individuals from carrying out their annual pilgrimage to Mecca or their Umrah pilgrimage. She stated that this prohibition is considered “inhumane” due to the religious mandate that all Muslims must complete the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. The Saudi Arabian embassy, however, indicated that the government had not issued a ban prohibiting transgender individuals from traveling to the holy land for pilgrimage.

LGBTQ activists around the world called upon Saudi Arabian authorities to provide answers into the deaths of Amna and Meeno as well as the arrests of the thirty-five transgender individuals. Naseem further urged the government to release information due to the fact that the transgender community is feeling “delicate and scared” as a result of the “very confusing situation[.]”

For more information, please see:

Independent—Two transgender Pakistanis ‘tortured to death’ in Saudi Arabia—3 March 2017

Daily Mail—Two transgender Pakistanis ‘are packed into sacks and thrashed to death with STICKS’ by police in Saudi Arabia—1 March 2017

International Business Times—Saudi Arabia: 2 transgender Pakistanis allegedly tortured to death by police in Riyadh—2 March 2017

Sputnik News—Two Pakistani Transgender People Beaten to Death by Saudi Police, 33 Arrested—2 March 2017

The Daily Dot—Saudi police torture and kill 2 transgender Pakistanis—3 March 2017

Houthi Rebels Recruiting Young Boys for Battle in Yemen

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANA’A, Yemen— According to a statement released by Amnesty International on Tuesday, February 28th, the Houthi militia in Yemen are recruiting child soldiers as young as age fifteen to fight in the frontlines of the war in Yemen. The United Nations (“UN”) High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that approximately 1,500 child soldiers had been enlisted by the militia thus far, but that the actual number of boys who had been drawn into the war was most likely higher.

The boys are reportedly “excited to shoot Kalashnikovs . . . and wear military uniforms[.]” (Photo courtesy of Middle East Eye)

Amnesty International stated that Houthi rebels have been recruiting boys between the ages of fifteen and seventeen in the city of Sana’a, after taking it in September 2014. The rights group indicated that activities and lectures held at religious centers are being used to encourage young boys to join the battle to protect the country against Saudi Arabia.

A Yemeni reporter, Ms. Afrah Nasser, further stated that the Houthis also go door-to-door, knocking and demanding that boys in their teenage years “join the jihad.” She indicated that two of her cousins were moved out of Sana’a by their families and therefore avoided being recruited. She noted, however, that the families are now displaced, with one being in Saudi Arabia and the other in Ethiopia.

Deteriorating conditions in Yemen are allegedly contributing to the ease with which the children are recruited. The UN stated that the young boys are tempted by the rebels through promises of “financial rewards or social status.” They are then quickly sent to the frontlines or assigned to guard checkpoints. Witnesses claim that the boys are “excited to shoot Kalashnikovs . . . and wear military uniforms[.]” Amnesty International noted that the Houthis promise to pay the families a fee of $80 to $120 per child if he becomes “martyred” by dying on the frontlines in an effort to silence them. The families of the children, however, are reportedly afraid to speak up or search for their children for fear of being detained. The rights organization further stated that parents are typically unaware of their children’s recruitment. The families of four boys were alerted to the situation only after local residents informed them that they had seen their children boarding a bus at a Houthi center.

Mr. Samah Hadid, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s regional office in Beirut, called the Houthi forces’ act of taking young boys from their homes and placing them on the frontlines of battle “appalling[.]” Citing violations of international law, Mr. Hadid stated that the Houthis
“must immediately end all forms of recruitment of children under [eighteen] . . . [.]” The UN, moreover, demanded an immediate release of all child soldiers in Yemen.

The Houthis have a history of recruiting young children into their forces. In 2015, the UN had discovered that approximately 72 percent of children that were engaged in fighting were doing so on behalf of the Houthi militia.

For more information, please see:

Daily Sabah—At least 1,500 boys exploited as child soldiers in Yemen war, UN says—1 March 2017

Amnesty International—Yemen: Huthi forces recruiting child soldiers for front-line combat—28 February 2017

UN News Centre—Yemen: UN verifies nearly 1,500 boys recruited for use in armed conflict—28 February 2017

Middle East Eye—Houthi rebels recruit children to fight in Yemen’s war: Amnesty—28 February 2017

Huffington Post—Boys As Young As 15 Are Being Recruited For Front-Line Combat In Yemen—28 February 2017

Dozens of Christian Egyptian Families Fleeing After Targeted ISIS Attacks

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — On Friday, February 24th, hundreds of Christian Egyptian families fled the country’s northern Sinai Peninsula after the Islamic State (“ISIS”) killed another member of their community following several weeks of targeted killings in the area.

Families brought only their children and a suitcase of clothing (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

 

At least seven people have been killed as a result of ISIS’s attacks in the past three weeks. The fleeing Egyptians escaped their homes after ISIS released a video on Sunday, “vow[ing]” to increase their attacks on Sinai’s Christian minority. Following the video, numerous attacks were carried out by gunmen in Sinai over the course of several days. ISIS claimed responsibility for beheading one man, while setting another on fire. On Wednesday, a man was killed in front of his pregnant spouse by gunmen who “then calmly drank a bottle of Pepsi” before departing. On Thursday, a plumber was shot dead at his home in front of his wife and children.

After the series of killings, most families fled their homes with nothing more than their children and some clothes. They then sought refuge at a church compound in the city of Ismailia. A volunteer with the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms stated that ISIS “want[s] to send a message that nobody is safe[.]”

The deacon of the church in Ismailia, Mr. Nabil Shukrullah, stated that the situation is extremely difficult, and that approximately fifty to sixty more families are expected to arrive. The fleeing Egyptians indicated that they are “scared of [their] shadows,” and cried out against being “targeted in an ugly way.” A refugee from the town of Arish stated that waiting for death was not an option, while characterizing ISIS militants as “ruthless.” Residents of the town reported that Christians were warned to “leave or die” after the terrorists “circulated death lists online and on the streets[.]” A vegetable seller who fled the town on Friday, Mr. Munir Adel, indicated that anyone who is Christian was put on the list. Although his father is the second name on the list, he was unable to leave his home due to his old age. Mr. Adel stated that his father “could be killed at any moment.”

The Christian Egyptians, who belong to the Coptic faith, comprise the Middle East’s largest Christian community, and make up approximately 10% of the country’s population, currently estimated to be around 90 million. Christians of the nation declared that the security measures taken towards protecting them are insufficient, while claiming that “nothing” is being done to ensure their safety. The Coptic church, which stated that the attacks were directed towards “dividing Egyptians[,]” subsequently condemned the attacks.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times—Targeted by ISIS, Egyptian Christians Flee Violence—24 February 2017

BBC News—Egypt’s Coptic Christians flee Sinai after deadly attacks—25 February 2017

Reuters—Egypt’s Christians flee Sinai amid Islamic State killing spree—24 February 2017

Fox News—Christians flee Egypt’s Sinai after militant killings—24 February 2017

Daily Mail—More Egypt Copts flee jihadists in Sinai—25 February 2017

Washington Post—Christians flee Sinai Peninsula in fear of Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate—24 February 2017

 

 

 

ISIS Torturing Sunni Arab Women and Girls

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Human Rights Watch issued a statement on Monday, February 20th, reporting that Islamic State (ISIS) militants are “arbitrarily detaining, ill-treating, torturing, and forcibly marrying Sunni Arab women and girls[.]” The allegation states that ISIS fighters are carrying out such abuses in Iraq, within regions that are still in their control.

Human Rights Watch stated that Sunni Arab women’s sexual abuse is widely unreported (Photo courtesy of Middle East Monitor)

The report released by Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) was prepared based on interviews with six women in Kirkuk. Four of these women stated that in 2016, they had been detained by ISIS for a period of three days up to one month. Another indicated that her cousin, who is an ISIS fighter, had raped her after forcing her to marry him. One woman stated that ISIS fighters had attempted to forcibly marry her after burning down her house in response to her husband’s escape from ISIS. Of the six interviewed women, five indicated that ISIS militants had beat them.

One woman indicated that ISIS captured her and her three children, along with fifty other women, when they attempted to escape Hawija. She was branded a traitor by ISIS after her husband had escaped the town, and was told that she should marry the local ISIS leader. Upon her refusal, ISIS fighters “blindfolded [her], beat[] [her] with plastic cables, suspended [her] by her arms, and raped [her].” She, and the other women, were held by ISIS in an abandoned house for over one month, while being blindfolded and raped her in front of her children on a daily basis. She noted that the other women were most likely raped in the same manner, and forced to marry their rapists.

HRW’s Deputy Middle East Director, Ms. Lama Faikh, stated that the sexual abuse endured by Sunni Arab women living under ISIS’s control is widely undocumented and unknown. She urged the international community and local Iraqi authorities to take action to ensure that victims receive much needed support.

A foreign aid worker indicated seeing many cases of forced marriage and rape. She noted, however, that most victims do not report the abuse because women tend to cover it up due to fear of societal stigma or retribution. She highlighted the concern that “babies born of rape or forced marriage may also face stigma[,]” while stating that “long-term psychological support and medical treatment” are particularly noteworthy.

HRW indicated that efforts to overcome the stigma associated with sexual violence are present, yet insufficient. The rights group highlighted the “lack of awareness” with regards to services, psychosocial or mental health support, and medical professionals in Kirkuk. A psychiatrist at an international organization in Iraq’s Kurdistan region stated that men are not being adequately informed on how to support women who are victims of gender-based violence. She indicated that male relatives will typically “forbid women” from obtaining counseling.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch—Iraq: Sunni Women Tell of ISIS Detention, Torture—20 February 2017

Middle East Online—HRW says IS jihadists raping, torturing Sunni Arab women too—20 February 2017

Daily Mail—’I was raped every day for a month in front of my children’: Women reveal the horrors they endured as ISIS sex slaves… despite being SUNNI Muslims just like their captors—20 February 2017

Middle East Monitor—HRW: Daesh rapes and tortures Sunni Arab women—21 February 2017

International Business Times—Sunni Arab women raped, tortured and forced to marry Isis fighters, Human Rights Watch says—21 February 2017

Yemeni Women and Children Killed in Air Strike on Funeral

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANAA, Yemen — On Thursday, February 16th, witnesses and medics reported that at least eight women and a child lost their lives after an overnight air strike directed by the Saudi-led coalition struck a funeral reception near the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. 10 other women and children were also reportedly wounded in the attack, which struck near the funeral’s women’s reception area.

Villagers stated that their homes were bombed immediately after they heard planes overhead (Photo courtesy of Daily Mail)

 

The attack took place in a village where mourners had gathered to pay their condolences after the death of a “well-known local woman.” Village residents stated that they ran from their houses after hearing the sound of planes. They stated, however, that bombs hit the houses directly afterwards, which led to the roofs collapsing. Villagers indicated that “[b]lood was everywhere[.]” Pictures released from the scene portrayed villagers searching through the rubble of a destroyed house, and a “man kneeling in the dust with the corpse of an elderly women in his arms.” At the time of the attack, a villager, who lost his wife in the raid, had been receiving condolences after the death of his brother. Defining the attack as “barbaric,” he stated that he saw four women die immediately.

Injured children were taken to a nearby hospital in Sanaa for treatment. One of the children is suffering from a “horribly burned” face, and a “body pitted with shrapnel” from flying debris. Doctors were required to tie her hands to her hospital bed to prevent her from scratching her wounds.

Houthi supporters alleged that the attack was a “double tap strike,” which entails an initial bomb followed by the detonation of a second bomb. Such strikes are targeted towards killing and injuring individuals who rush to the aid of those wounded in the first attack.

The parliament of Yemen “strongly condemned” the attack by characterizing it as a “horrific, brutal Saudi war crime[.]” It indicated that the coalition “lacks all religious and humanitarian principles[,]” and called upon the United Nations to urgently prosecute Saudi Arabians in the International Criminal Court to protect the citizens of Yemen against war crimes.

The United Nations’ Special Envoy to Yemen, Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, stated that attacks directed towards civilians are “unjustifiable.” The United Nations’ Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, Mr. Jamie McGoldrick, stated that he was “saddened and appalled” by the attack.

The Saudi-led coalition has long been accused of targeting funerals, hospitals, weddings and schools in Yemen. Although the coalition has repeatedly denied deliberately attacking civilians, in October, it accepted responsibility for an air strike on a funeral which led to the deaths of 140 people. At the time, it had blamed the deaths on “incorrect information.”

For more information, please see:

Daily Mail—Air raid kills eight women, child at Yemen funeral—16 February 2017

Daily Mail—Bloodied, bandaged and bodies pitted with shrapnel: Baby girls lie in hospital beds opposite each other after air strike on mourners at a WAKE in Yemen kills seven women and a child—18 February 2017

Middle East Eye–Nine women, child killed in raid on Yemen funeral—16 February 2017

Yemen News Agency—Yemen’s parliament condemns Saudi massacre on Arhab women funeral house—18 February 2017

The Washington Post—Saudi-led coalition to probe Yemen funeral airstrike—16 February 2017

 

Human Rights Watch Determines Syria Using Chemical Weapons

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — Human Rights Watch released a report on Monday, February 13th, in which it stated that the government of Syria used chemical weapons in attacks late last year on opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo while fighting to retake the city.

Children are most susceptible to the effects of chlorine bombs (Photo courtesy of CNN)

In reaching its conclusion, Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) indicated that it conducted in-person and phone interviews with witnesses, and analyzed video footage, photographs and social media posts. Through the evidence-gathering process, the rights group determined that government helicopters had dropped chemical bombs in Aleppo’s residential areas on at least eight occasions from November 17th through December 13, 2016. HRW further indicated that the attacks led to the deaths of at least nine civilians, including children, and injured hundreds more.

Although the use of chlorine could not conclusively be determined, HRW stated that chlorine bombs are identifiable initially through “yellow or yellow-green smoke” at the impact site of a bomb. It further stated that victims’ and witnesses’ physical ailments are indicative of the use of chlorine. Affected individuals experience symptoms such as difficulty breathing and swallowing, burning throat and eyes, severe coughing, nausea, fainting, and foaming at the mouth. As it is heavier than air, it sinks into basements and bomb shelters, thus suffocating anyone harbored inside. Chemical weapons are known to affect children most severely as they “inhale the[] smells and [] end up suffocating.”

The chlorine attacks were focused on areas the government forces were attempting to retake. HRW’s Deputy Emergencies Director, Mr. Ole Solvang, indicated that use of chemical weapons at the same time as the “frontline” was a strong indicator that the chemicals were an “integral part of the offensive.” He stated that this is suggestive of chlorine attacks being “coordinated with the overall military strategy[,]” while noting that senior military officers “knew that chlorine was being used.”

The Chemical Weapons Convention bans parties from using “properties of any chemical as a weapon.” As a signatory since October 2013, HRW stated that Syria has violated the terms of this treaty by dropping chlorine bombs since April 2014 and using sarin in attacks in August 2013.

HRW called upon the 192 states who are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention to address Syria’s “continued violation” of the treaty, while taking steps to ensure compliance and strengthen the customary international law norm against use of chemical weapons. The organization further called upon the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on senior leaders in the chain of command, by stating that it should enact consequences against anyone or any authority utilizing chemical warfare. It also urged the government of Syria to immediately cease the use of chemical weapons.

For more information, please see:

Reuters—Syrian government forces used chemical weapons in Aleppo: rights group—13 February 2017

Human Rights Watch—Syria: Coordinated Chemical Attacks on Aleppo—13 February 2017

Middle East Eye—Syrian army ‘used chemical bombs in co-ordinated Aleppo assault’—13 February 2017

The Washington Post—Syrian forces used gas attacks as key part of campaign to retake Aleppo, Human Rights Watch says—13 February 2017

The New York Times— Syria Used Chlorine Bombs Systematically in Aleppo, Report Says—13 February 2017

AlJazeera—HRW: Syria carried out chemical attacks in Aleppo—13 February 2017

CNN—Report suggests Russia, Syria deliberately targeted civilian areas of Aleppo—13 February 2017

Syrian Prison Home to Over 13,000 Executions

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — Amnesty International released a report in which it stated that Syrian military police hanged over 13,000 detainees in a prison north of Damascus starting with the 2011 uprising through 2015.

Saydnaya prison is known as the “slaughterhouse” (Photo courtesy of Mirror)

The Amnesty International report indicated that mass hangings took place at the Saydnaya Prison, known to prisoners as the “slaughterhouse.” The rights group stated that as many as fifty people were hung once or twice per week, typically on Mondays and Wednesdays. The report, titled “Human Slaughterhouse,” revealed that prisoners were told they were being transferred to a civilian prison in Syria in the middle of the night. Instead, they were blindfolded and moved to a cell in the prison basement where they were severely beaten. After being brought to the Saydnaya prison grounds, they were then hanged, while still blindfolded. All hangings were reportedly authorized by senior officials, including President Assad’s deputies, the defense minister and top religious authorities.

A deputy research director at Amnesty International, Ms. Lynn Maalouf, stated that prisoners were informed of their hanging only a few minutes before execution. She noted that the sentences were issued after a “sham trial” held by a “so-called Military Field Court[,]” which lasts from one to two minutes. During the trial, prisoners would be asked their name and whether they committed the crime. The report, however, alleged that the prisoners would be convicted and sentenced to death regardless of their answer.

The Amnesty International report was prepared based on interviews with over eighty-four people, including prison guards, judges, attorney, and prisoners. Ms. Maalouf stated that the hangings “reveal a hidden, monstrous campaign,” targeted towards eliminating President Assad’s dissent, as the executed prisoners were “believed to be opposed to the government.” Amnesty International urged the United Nations to take immediate action towards conducting an independent investigation into the findings.

The government of Syria has rejected the accusations, stating that the report was aimed towards “harm[ing] the government’s international reputation[.]” The country’s official news agency, Sana, released a statement in which the justice ministry denied the claims as “baseless[,]” while urging that all executions “followed due process.”

For more information, please see:

Fox News—At least 13,000 people hanged at Syrian prison, human rights group says—6 February 2017

CNN—13,000 people hanged in secret at Syrian prison, Amnesty says—7 February 2017

Amnesty International—Syria: Secret campaign of mass hangings and extermination at Saydnaya Prison—7 February 2017

The New York Times—Amnesty: Up to 13,000 Hanged in Syria’s ‘Slaughterhouse’—7 February 2017

BBC News—Syria rejects Amnesty report on hangings at Saydnaya prison—8 February 2017

 

Ten-Year-Old Iraqi Girl Killed by ISIS Torture Device

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A new group of female-only “ISIS police” have been administering a new torture technique in which women are “ripped to death with ‘metal jaws’” if they violate the strict rules set by the group. Upon breaking one of the rules set forth by the brigade, a ten-year-old Iraqi girl bled to death after being “bitten” by a poison-lined medieval torture device.

The al-Khansaa have been administering torture to women who violate the strict morality laws set forth by ISIS (Photo courtesy of Daily Mail)

 

The Iraqi girl, Faten, allegedly stepped over the threshold of her home while cleaning. Per the strict rules imposed by ISIS fundamentalists in Mosul, women are not permitted to leave their homes by themselves. In response, the al-Khansaa brigade, ISIS’ female “morality police,” approached Faten’s mother to ask whether punishment should be administered to her or her daughter. Thinking the punishment would be in the form of a bite delivered by a person, Faten’s mother elected to have her daughter take the penalty instead of herself. Her mother, however, was not aware that the punishment would be administered by a medieval torture device, lined with poison.

The device is described as a “clamp with four ends as sharp as knives, like teeth, which can pierce the skin from both sides when pressed down.” While administering the punishment, the device tore the girl’s flesh in various places. After receiving the “bite,” Faten bled to death from the wounds before the poison could take effect.

The al-Khansaa brigade acts as a religious law enforcer, in which they punish females who violate the strict moral rules set forth by ISIS, including breastfeeding outside, not wearing black socks, wearing high heels, or lifting a full-face veil.

The women of Al-Khansaa have been administering brutal punishment all over Mosul. A woman reportedly died from injuries she sustained after being punished for “slightly” lifting her veil to examine merchandise at a market. She was immediately ordered to sit on the ground by the al-Khansaa and received thirty lashings. A woman who witnessed the death cried out against having to wear a hijab and face veil by stating “[i]t’s like I’m getting into a bag and it’s closed on me so I can’t even breathe . . . .”

For more information, please see:

Daily Mail—Iraqi girl, 10, is ‘bitten to death’ with medieval torture device by female ISIS fanatics after her mother was asked to choose if she or the child would be punished for stepping outside their house—7 February 2017

The Sun—Sick ISIS female jihadis ‘bite Iraqi girl, 10, to death’ with medieval torture device as punishment for stepping outside her house—7 February 2017

Express—Iraqi girl, 10, ‘bitten to death’ for stepping outside house in horror ISIS torture—7 February 2017

Mirror—Mother’s horror after ISIS female fighters tear daughter to death with metal jaws—7 February 2017

Daily Star—ISIS unleash lady jihadi BITING BRIGADE armed with ‘metal jaws’ to tear women to death—7 February 2017

Iraqi Men and Boys Being Screened and Secretly Detained by Iraqi Military Forces

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) issued a statement accusing Iraqi military members of screening men who are fleeing Mosul for Islamic State (“ISIS”) membership and secretly detaining them in undisclosed prisons.

Fighters of Popular Mobilization Units have been detaining men and boys for interrogation without justification (Photo courtesy of Voice of America)

The HRW report indicated that fighters with the Popular Mobilization Units (“PMU”) have been abducting such men and holding them at detention centers for interrogation. HRW urged that the men are at “heightened risk of abuse, including arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance” as PMU’s are not trained in screening. The rights group further highlighted that the screenings and detentions are carried out abnormally, while prisoners are denied contact with the outside world.

The deputy Middle East director at HRW, Ms. Lama Fakih, stated that relatives are increasingly reporting male family members’ disappearance following questioning by PMU fighters. She further stated that the “lack of transparency” with regards to the detained mens’ whereabouts is a “cause for real concern.”

HRW interviewed families which stated that PMU fighters had evacuated their village to a refugee camp. They indicated that five men never returned to the village after they had left to sell sheep. The same men were later shown on a television broadcast depicting them as captured ISIS militants. One of these men stated that he had been attacked and detained by PMUs after leaving the village to sell sheep. Although he had been released and reunited with his family, the remaining men have not resurfaced.

The HRW report stated that the interviewed families all provided the same description for the screening process. Notably, they indicated that screening would be carried out overnight by members of the Iraqi military, who would separate men and boys over the age of fifteen from women and children. The military forces would crosscheck the men and boys’ IDs against Iraqi watchlists for suspected ISIS associations. They would then be detained without any justification for interrogation.

Ms. Fakih indicated that men have been disappearing with increasing frequency, even though official screenings by Iraqi security forces reveal that they are not on a watchlist. She noted that only those with a “screening mandate” should be permitted to screen individuals, while calling upon Iraqi authorities to ensure that prisoners are kept only at “recognized detention center[s]” which provide access to “independent monitors” and guarantee due process rights. She stated that all detention must be based on “clear domestic law.” Ms. Fakih further highlighted the importance of guaranteeing that each prisoner be brought before a judge promptly, as Iraqi law mandates a judicial hearing within 48 hours of detention. Additionally, she also indicated that prisoners’ family members should be made aware of their whereabouts.

PMUs were officially integrated into the Iraqi army in November. Yet they remain autonomous and have attracted widespread criticism regarding mistreatment of prisoners and “carrying out indiscriminate sectarian retributions.”

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch—Iraq: Men Fleeing Mosul Held in Secret—2 February 2017

Middle East Eye—HRW: Iraqi militias detaining men fleeing Mosul—2 February 2017

Al-Jazeerah—Iraqi Government Militiamen Forcibly Transfer Whole Sunni Villages, Abduct Men Fleeing Mosul, Abuse and Torture them, Steal their Money—3 February 2017

Voice of America—Rights Group: Iraqi Shi’ites Detaining Sunni Men Fleeing Mosul—2 February 2017

 

Children in Prison Allege Being Tortured by Kurdish Security Forces

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Seventeen children imprisoned by the Kurdistan Regional Government (“KRG”) stated that they were tortured or abused by government security forces while in detention. Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) reported that the children were detained due to suspicion of involvement with the Islamic State (“ISIS”).

Children allege being burned with cigarettes and electrocuted during interrogations (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch)

 

HRW stated that it had privately interviewed nineteen boys, ranging in age from eleven to seventeen, who were being held on suspicions of terrorism. The interview took place at the Women and Children’s Reformatory without the presence of a security or intelligence official. The rights group reported that the children were “held in stress positions, burned with cigarettes, punched and kicked, beaten with plastic pipes and cables, and shocked with electricity” by the KRG. A young boy stated that he “felt that my eyes were popping out” while being interrogated with an “electricity machine” after being drenched in water. Another child indicated that he could not breathe after his face was covered up with a towel and tied with tape. He was subsequently beat for over eight hours while being told to confess. The officer then pulled down the young boy’s pants and “threatened to rape him if he did not confess an ISIS affiliation.” Furthermore, five children also reportedly had marks from cigarette burns or electric shocks administered during interrogation.

Most children stated that they denied any involvement with ISIS. Others, however, admitted that they were associated with the group because of “family connections, desire to earn money or pressure from recruiters.” A deputy director at HRW, Ms. Lama Faikh, indicated that security forces are not granted permission to “beat, manhandle or use electric shocks on children” on the basis of “legitimate security concerns.” While characterizing children escaping from ISIS as “victims,” she stated that many are faced with further abuse from Kurdish security forces. Ms. Faikh strongly urged the KRG to “thoroughly investigate” the allegations of child abuse in prisons, and prosecute those who may be responsible.

The seventeen children are among at least 183 other boys under the age of eighteen who have been imprisoned by KRG based on alleged ISIS involvement. Most, if not all, are being held without charge, and were not permitted access to an attorney during interrogation. The report further indicates that government officials have not informed the children’s families of their whereabouts, and most children have not been permitted to contact their families since being detained.

In response to the HRW report, the KRG denied the allegations of torture by Kurdish security forces. The Head of the KRG High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports, Dr. Dindar Zebari, stated that KRG authorities are “strongly prohibit[ed]” from using physical and psychological torture on prisoners. He stated that detainees’ rights are protected through established policies, legislations and practices against torture.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian—Children held in Iraq over suspected Isis links ‘say they were tortured’—29 January 2017

Human Rights Watch—Children Allege Torture by Security Forces—29 January 2017

RT—Kurdish militia tortured children to extract ISIS confessions – HRW—29 January 2017

International Business Times—Beaten, electrocuted and abused: Kurds accused of torturing Isis child soldier suspects—29 January 2017

ARA News—Iraqi Kurds deny torturing ISIS child soldiers—30 January 2017

 

Kuwait’s First Executions in Four Years Draw International Criticism

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait — On January 25th, Kuwait carried out executions, by hanging, of seven people. These executions were the first time in four years that the state had carried out a death penalty.

Seven people were executed in Kuwait for the first time since 2013 (Photo courtesy of Middle East Eye)

The executions, which were authorized by the country’s ruler, were carried out in the central prison. Among the seven executed prisoners were citizens of Bangladesh, Philippines, Ethiopia, Kuwait and Egypt. They included a member of the royal family as well as a woman who had been convicted of killing 58 women and children after setting fire to a wedding tent. Six of the deceased had been convicted of murder. The seventh prisoner, a Bangladeshi citizen, had been convicted of rape, theft and kidnapping.

Amnesty International, which opposes the death penalty, immediately responded to the executions with criticism, condemning them as “shocking and deeply regrettable.” Ms. Samah Hadid, an Amnesty International official, stated that Kuwait had “displayed a wanton disregard for the right to life” by reinstating the death penalty. She further noted that the executions “signaled a willingness to weaken human rights standards.”

The executions further garnered criticism from Human Rights Watch. Ms. Sarah Leah Whitson, the organization’s Middle East director, noted that the executions “reflect[] a growing trend in the region to increase the use of, or lift moratorium on, the death penalty.” By executing three people in early January, Bahrain had ended its six-year freeze on use of the death penalty. Similarly, in December 2014, Jordan had carried out its first death penalty in eight years by executing eleven people. Ms. Whitson urged the Kuwaiti government to “reinstat[e] the moratorium on the death penalty” rather than executing prisoners.

In response to international criticism, Kuwait issued a statement in which it “insist[ed] that all legal avenues had been exhausted.” In rejecting international disdain, the Gulf state indicated that the seven prisoners’ executions had been carried out in accordance with the country’s Penal Code. Mr. Ghanim Al Ghanim, Kuwait’s Assistant Foreign Minister for Legal Affairs, stated that the prisoners had been convicted of premeditated murder, and their death sentences had been based on “indisputable evidence [that] the[y] committed the crimes as charged.” He assured that all prisoners had been given fair trials in which all due process guarantees provided by Kuwaiti law had been met.

For more information, please see:

Washington Post—Kuwait hangs 7 prisoners, including royal, in mass execution—25 January 2017

Middle East Eye—Kuwait executions part of worrying trend: Rights group—26 January 2017

Human Rights Watch—Kuwait: First Executions in 4 Year—26 January 2017

Newsweek—Kuwait’s Execution of Prince and Six Others Part of ‘Alarming Trend’ in Middle East—26 January 2017

Gulf News—Kuwait rejects criticism of execution of seven convicts—28 January 2017

Bahrain News Agency—Kuwaiti ministry: Executions based on Penal Code—27 January 2017

Iraqi Prime Minister Orders Investigation into Alleged Human Rights Violations

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — On January 23rd, the Prime Minister of Iraq, Mr. Haider al-Abadi, ordered an investigation into human rights violations allegedly committed by government troops and a Shia paramilitary group.

Iraqi forces are being accused of torturing and killing civilians following a video that surfaced on social media (Photo courtesy of Washington Post)

The allegations include claims of kidnapping and civilian abuse as the troops attempt to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS). The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq demanded a governmental inquiry from Iraq when a video surfaced on social media allegedly showing “brutal treatment” and the murdering of at least three ISIS members. The video, which is almost three minutes in length, showed several members of the Iraqi security forces wearing army and police uniforms. The video then contains graphic recordings of the individuals “dragging and beating [] suspects in a residential area before showering them with bullets.”

Two days later, Mr. al-Abadi’s office issued a statement saying that he had “ordered to form a committee to investigate cases of kidnappings, mistreatment and violations . . . against civilians by groups exploiting the name of the security forces and Shia paramilitary units.” Mr. al-Abadi subsequently indicated that he had instructed field commanders to ensure that the laws of armed conflict were followed to prevent human rights violations from being committed under the guise of war operations. He further stated that cases of abuse had been recorded and later uploaded to social media to “spoil the joy of victory[,] defame the real image of the brave security forces and their sacrifices to liberate the land[,] and [] maintain security.”

On January 5th, Amnesty International had issued a statement indicating that Iraq’s “Popular Mobilization Units” (PMU) had been “engaged in a systematic pattern of violations, including enforced disappearances, torture and unlawful killings targeting the Sunni community.” Formed in 2014 to join in on the war against ISIS, PMU is a coalition made up of mostly Iranian-trained Shia groups. The coalition was officially merged with the Iraqi armed forces in 2016.

In January 2016, Human Rights Watch had issued a statement in which it “accused Shia militias of abducting and killing [scores] of Sunni civilians in central Iraq.” The rights group had later called upon the Iraqi government to prevent Shia militias from joining the Mosul operation due to concerns of severe human rights violations.

For more information, please see:

Middle East Eye—Iraq PM orders investigation into abuses reported in Mosul battle—23 January 2017

Washington Post—Iraq premier orders probe into violations by troops in Mosul–23 January 2017

Business Standard—Iraqi PM orders probe into abuses by troops in Mosul—23 January 2017

Kurdistan24—Iraqi PM orders investigation of alleged abuses by Iraqi troops in Mosul—24 January 2017

ISIS Using Drones to Drop Grenades on Civilian Targets

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The Islamic State (ISIS) has evolved the use of commercial drones to release explosive devices and grenades on civilian targets in districts of Mosul.

ISIS struck a civilian market with modified drones capable of carrying grenades (Photo courtesy of Mirror)

 

ISIS’s newest effort to modernize technology lies in modifying commercial drones for use as “weapons that terrorize the city of Mosul[.]” Off-the-shelf drones are capable of flying for up to half an hour with a range of several miles, and can easily be afforded by terrorist groups. The improvised drones, which are made up of a “plastic tube attached to a camera drone,” can drop 40 milimeter grenades. This creates a medium through which ISIS can engage in acts of terrorism from afar, thus reducing the risk of death to members of the group.

During the week of January 9th, a U.S. Army commander stated that ISIS was using these improvised weapons as part of their effort to avoid losing control of the “former ISIS stronghold of Mosul.” At the time, ISIS had carried out a strike on a market in Eastern Mosul, where eight people were injured. A young boy, Hussein, stated that he had been shopping with his family when a “small ISIL plane dropped a grenade on [them].” He was later treated for a “broken bone protruding from his foot.”

ISIS has a history of using drones to record footage for propaganda videos and to conduct aerial surveillance. A research fellow at a U.K. military think tank, Mr. Justin Bronk, stated that ISIS is “known for turning things they can get hold of into weapons.”

International fear has developed over the possibility of ISIS leaving behind an “army of brainwashed and dangerous children[.]” Mosul’s youth have been exposed to long-term messages of hate while ISIS has occupied the country’s second largest city. They have further been taught “how to become terrorists and suicide bombers[,]” while learning the “extreme views of Muslim Sharia law[.]”

The Iraqi Commission for Human Rights urged the United Nations (U.N.) to “save a generation of children from religious extremism.” The Commission’s media director, Mr. Jawad al-Shamri, stated that two years ago, ISIS started modifying school syllabi to teach children how to make explosive belts, prepare booby traps and take female hostages.

For more information, please see:

Tech Times—ISIS Weaponizes Everyday Consumer Drones, Turns The UAVs Into Bombers—17 January 2017

Mirror— ISIS use drones to drop grenades on Iraq forces in Battle of Mosul’s desperate last stand—19 January 2017

The Telegraph—Islamic State using drones to drop explosives on civilians and troops advancing on Mosul—14 January 2017

The Washington Times—ISIS strikes Iraq with drone grenades—January 17, 2017