Six months ago, the Human Rights Council adopted a deeply flawed, one-sided resolution on the human rights situation in Iraq, failing to address the necessity of holding pro-government militias and volunteer fighters accountable for the atrocities they have committed in fighting ISIL. The resolution adopted in March 2015 ignored the conclusions of the report then presented by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. At this present session, there is simply no draft resolution on the table.
However, the violations that would have justified the Council’s decisive action six months ago have continued unabated. Recent research by Human Rights Watch found that Iraqi government-backed militias carried out widespread destruction of homes and shops around the city of Tikrit in March and April 2015 in violation of the laws of war. Militiamen deliberately destroyed several hundred civilian buildings with no apparent military reason after the withdrawal of the extremist armed group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, from the area. After ISIS fled, Hizbollah Battalions and League of Righteous forces, two of the largely Shia pro-government militias, abducted more than 200 Sunni residents, including children, near al-Dur, south of Tikrit. At least 160 of those abducted remain unaccounted for.
By turning a blind eye to abuses in March 2015, the Council failed its mandate to act to prevent human rights and humanitarian law violations in Iraq. Abusive militias acting with impunity undermine efforts to protect civilians from ISIS and ultimately put all civilians at greater risk of atrocity and reprisal. Iraqi authorities should urgently discipline and appropriately prosecute militia commanders and any complicit security force personnel involved in destroying Sunni homes and shops and committing other serious crimes.
In Yemen, the Council is repeating the same mistakes. Since it adopted its last resolution, all parties to the conflict have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law. The Saudi-led coalition has conducted indiscriminate airstrikes that have killed and wounded scores of civilians and destroyed numerous civilian objects. Coalition members have not investigated alleged violations, as required by international law. Houthi and allied forces have also repeatedly violated international humanitarian law, including by launching rockets indiscriminately into civilian populated areas in southern Yemen and across the border in Saudi Arabia, mistreating persons in custody, and recruiting children for their forces.
It is regrettable that the only consensus possible at this Council seems to be its failure to establish an independent, international mechanism to investigate violations and abuses by all sides in Yemen. Such a mechanism would have been crucial to confront continued impunity for crimes committed in the country, but also to send a clear message to all parties that they should respect their international legal obligations to protect civilians and other non-combatants. The increasingly desperate Yemeni population should not be ignored by the world’s preeminent human rights body.