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Crimes committed in the context of the conflict with ISIL (2014–ongoing)

Last updated: January 2021

In a report from 2015, the UN Human Rights Council found that ISIL’s targeted violence against civilians and minorities in particular may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide [Targeting, Context]. Regarding the Yazidis, the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, made it clear, that ISIL has committed the crime of genocide, as well as multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes [Targeting, 2.2.4]. Since 2014, the Yazidis have been severely persecuted by ISIL. Between 2 000 and 5 500 Yazidis were killed by ISIL. More than 6 000 were abducted in August 2014, including 3 500 women and girls, who were subsequently sold or offered as sex slaves to ISIL members. The almost 3 000 men and boys in captivity were enrolled as fighters. As of August 2020, an estimated 3 000 Yazidis are still missing or thought to be in captivity. Other minorities (e.g. Christians) faced numerous abuses by ISIL, including kidnapping, rape, enslavement, forced marriage and sexual violence [Targeting, 2.2.3, 2.2.4; see also Religious and ethnic minorities, and stateless persons].

In areas under their control, ISIL committed widespread, systematic violations and abuses against civilians. These acts include executions, targeted killings and enforced disappearances of religious, community and political leaders [Targeting, 2.2.1].

In November 2018, the UN announced that more than 200 mass graves had been discovered allegedly resulting mainly from atrocities perpetrated by ISIL between 2014 and 2017; the graves are believed to contain the remains of thousands of civilians, including women, children, elderly and disabled, as well as members of the ISF [Security situation 2019,].

ISIL continues to carry out targeted attacks against civilians and asymmetric attacks across Iraq [Targeting, 2.1; Security Situation 2020, 1.2.5].

Although most abuses in the 2014 - 2017 period were committed by ISIL, elements of the PMU, especially Shia militias, but also the ISF, were accused of committing serious human rights abuses in the course of the fighting against ISIL. Security actors have been engaged in unlawful and extra-judicial killings, torturing during arrest, forced disappearances and abductions of civilians, child recruitment, evictions and extortion of civilians, destruction of property and revenge attacks [Targeting, 1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.2.2, 3.8.1].

PMU and ISF are primarily targeting perceived ISIL affiliates who are often Sunni Arabs. After October 2017, there were reports on PMU human rights violations against the Kurdish population in the disputed territories, especially in Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu [Targeting, 1.1.2; Security situation 2019,, 2.4].

The battle against ISIL has also afforded KRG forces the latitude to carry out serious abuses under the guise of fighting terrorism. There have been retaliatory attacks by Kurdish security forces and associated armed groups, against Sunni Arab civilians and property following the recapturing of the disputed areas, including Kirkuk, from ISIL. Since 2014, units of the KRG have carried out mass destruction of civilian property in these areas [Targeting, 1.2.3].

The Kurdish security actors are targeting primarily political and societal opponents as well as perceived ISIL affiliates, who are often Sunni Arabs [Targeting, 1.1.3, 1.2.3]. There have been reports of Asayish forces torturing perceived ISIL affiliates in order to extract confessions [Targeting, 1.2].