As the number of civilian deaths continues to rise in Mosul, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that the latest information suggests that US-led coalition and Iraqi forces have not taken the necessary precautions to prevent civilian casualties during the campaign against the Islamic State (ISIL) in the city. Evidence has shown that Iraqi forces employed large explosive munitions during attacks, which are known to pose an “excessive risk to civilians” when used in densely-populated neighborhoods. Additionally, several attacks caused disproportionate civilian harm in comparison to the military advantage gained, potentially violating international law. One specific example listed was an attack on 17 March, when US airstrikes killed 200 civilians while targeting only two ISIL fighters. Another two documented US-led coalition or Iraqi attacks occurred with no clear presence of ISIL militants in the area, but resulted in the deaths of at least 13 civilians. HRW has asserted that during efforts to secure Mosul, anti-ISIL forces should take “all feasible precautions” to minimize civilian casualties and injuries, including in “choice of weaponry in heavily populated areas.”
Furthermore, Iraqi government forces have allegedly carried out dozens of extrajudicial executions over concerns that the victims were affiliated with ISIL. Experts have suspected that Iraqi forces perpetrated the killings, as at least 26 blindfolded and handcuffed bodies were found in firmly government-controlled areas in Mosul, according to 4 June reports. Reuters has reported previously this year on bodies being seen floating down the Tigris River over several months, having reportedly originated from government-controlled towns in Iraq. This has raised the possibility that extrajudicial killings have been ongoing. Extrajudicial killings in conflict constitute war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity if conducted systematically.
ISIL has also been directly responsible for civilian casualties, with UN Human Rights Chief Zeid bin Ra'ad al-Hussein noting ISIL’s particular brutality during an assault last week when the group left the bodies of 163 civilians lying in the streets. According to the UN on 6 June, the civilians had been directly targeted to prevent them from fleeing Mosul, and many hid among the piles of bodies in an effort to survive. Additionally, as US-led coalition and Iraqi forces move into the final phase of securing the city, ISIL has reportedly resorted to using civilians as human shields. Priyanka Motaparthy, Senior Emergencies Researcher at HRW, stated on 6 June that any future Iraqi or US-led coalition strikes should take the possibility of human shields into account.
other than direct action by armed groups, other aspects of the conflict have created an at-risk scenario for civilians. For example, Iraqi and US officials have stated that the maze-like narrow alleys in the old parts of the city make it extremely difficult to evacuate civilians. Furthermore, the UN estimated on 3 June that nearly 200,000 people face a severe food and water crisis in the city. Iraqi Major General Najim Abdullah al-Jubouri said on 3 June it will take at least another month before the liberation of Mosul is achieved, but his forces have halted attacks temporarily in order to create a safe passage out of the city for civilians fleeing from ISIL and the violence.
(c) 2017 RtoP Weekly