UN Committee Denounces Appalling Children’s Rights Abuses in Iraq

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Iraqi refugee children who fled their homes due to the violence of armed groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) walk past the tents in the Sharya refugee camp in Duhok, Iraq on January 26, 2015. Anadolu/Emrah Yorulmaz

Published Thursday, February 5, 2015

Updated at 5:51 pm (GMT+2): The ongoing conflict in the country pitting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadist group against Iraqi and Kurdish forces and a US-led air coalition has led to a litany of serious children’s rights abuses, a United Nations watchdog said on Wednesday.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) denounced in particular the killing of children committed by both sides of the conflict, as well as ISIS militants’ use of children as suicide bombers or slaves.

Iraqi boys aged under 18 are increasingly being used by ISIS as suicide bombers, bomb makers, informants or human shields to protect facilities against US-led airstrikes, the CRC said.

"We are really deeply concerned at torture and murder of those children, especially those belonging to minorities, but not only from minorities," committee expert Renate Winter told a news briefing.

"The scope of the problem is huge."

Children from the Yazidi sect or Christian communities, as well as Shias and Sunnis, have been victims, she said.

"We have had reports of children, especially children who are mentally challenged, who have been used as suicide bombers, most probably without them even understanding," Winter told Reuters.

"There was a video placed (online) that showed children at a very young age, approximately eight years of age and younger, to be trained already to become child soldiers."

The 18 independent experts who worked on the report called on Iraqi authorities to take all necessary measures to "rescue children" under the control of ISIS and to prosecute perpetrators of crimes.

The CRC also voiced concern with regards to children who have been separated from their parents during displacements or due to the parents being forced to give them up to ISIS. It urged the state to take all necessary action to reunite the children with their families and provide them with the necessary psychological healthcare.

ISIS is a breakaway al-Qaeda group that declared an Islamic caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq last summer. It has killed thousands and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

On Tuesday, the group released a video showing a captured Jordanian pilot being burned alive.

The UN body, which reviewed Iraq's record for the first time since 1998, denounced "the systematic killing of children belonging to religious and ethnic minorities by ISIS, including several cases of mass executions of boys, as well as reports of beheadings, crucifixions of children and burying children alive."

The report made public on Wednesday did not expand further on its allegations of crucifixions and live burials of children by ISIS.

A large number of children have also been killed or badly wounded during airstrikes or shelling by Iraqi security forces, while others had died of "dehydration, starvation and heat," it said.

The committee condemned the “large number of children killed and severely injured” as a result of the Iraqi security forces’ military operations. It added that it considered deaths from dehydration, starvation and heat in conflict areas to be the responsibility of the state and urged it to take precautions to prevent such events.

“The Committee strongly urges the State party to take all necessary actions to ensure the safety and protection of children and their families, and enable them to leave areas affected by conflicts and to access basic humanitarian assistance,” the report said, adding that Iraqi forces should “respect the principles of distinction and proportionality when carrying out armed operations against the so-called (ISIS) and other armed groups.”

"There is a duty of a state to protect all its children. The point is just how are they going to do that in such a situation?" Winter said.

ISIS has also committed "systematic sexual violence," including "the abduction and sexual enslavement of children," the CRC report on Iraq said.

"Children of minorities have been captured in many places… sold in the marketplace with tags, price tags on them, they have been sold as slaves," Winter said, giving no details.

Wednesday’s report echoes another UN report in October which said ISIS was committing “crimes against humanity” in Iraq carrying out mass executions, raping abducting women and girls, and using children as fighters.

Amnesty International said in late December that women and girls from Iraq's Yazidi religious minority forced into sexual slavery by ISIS committed suicide or tried to.

In November, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report that claimed ISIS militants in Syria forced children as young as 14 to watch videos of beheadings and beat them with cables during six months of captivity.

The militants abducted a group of children on May 29 who were returning to the Syrian town of Kobane after taking school exams in the city of Aleppo. It freed the final 25 hostages on October 29.

The abuse of more than 150 children, some held as long as six months, amounted to war crimes, HRW said, citing testimony from interviews with four boys among the group.

In addition to direct physical abuse, the UN said in January that ISIS had been depriving an estimated 670,000 Syrian children of education after it ordered the closure of schools until the curriculum is made to conform with its strict interpretation of the Islamic Sharia.

Prior to 2011, Syria had one of the best rates of basic education enrollment in the Middle East with 96 percent. The number is currently estimated to be lower than 40 percent, according to a 2014 report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

The report said that the effects of this drop in enrollment and access to proper education are expected to impact the country severely for many generations to come.

Information on human rights violations is very difficult to verify in Syria and Iraq due to ISIS’ control of swathes of territory in both countries and the dangerous situation on the ground after nearly four years of conflict in Syria.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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