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UN: Iraqis Prevented From Fleeing IS-Controlled Areas

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Syrian refugees, flee intense fighting in northern Syria between Kurdish fighters and Islamic State militants, are seen massed at the Turkish border in Akcakale, southeastern Turkey, June 15, 2015.

FILE - Syrian refugees, flee intense fighting in northern Syria between Kurdish fighters and Islamic State militants, are seen massed at the Turkish border in Akcakale, southeastern Turkey, June 15, 2015.

The United Nations Human Rights Office reports the Islamic State group is clamping down on Iraqis trying to flee areas under its control.

It says IS militants are using violence to prevent people from escaping across the Hamrin mountain chain in northeast Iraq into Kurdistan and northern Syria.

It reports at least four families, including children and elderly people, died earlier this month after attempting to cross the mountains.

U.N. human rights monitors say they have received reports of IS gunmen setting ambushes for people fleeing, with snipers reportedly attacking and killing those caught.

In one incident, U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani says three taxi drivers were summarily executed for helping residents escape through the mountains. She says there also are reports of many families being abducted by IS, also known as ISIL, while en route to Tikrit in Kurdistan and Al-Alam in northern Syria.

“ISIL continued to viciously target those perceived to be opposed to its ideology and rule, with despicable violence," said Shamdasani. "On 20th of July, ISIL reportedly publicly killed an Imam in western Mosul following a decision by a self-appointed court ... There have also been an increasing number of civilian casualties across the country due to car bombs and other uses of IEDs, improvised explosive devices ... but there have also been daily attacks in Baghdad, causing serious casualties.”

Shamdasani says any deliberate direct attack against civilians is a serious violation of international humanitarian law. She says all warring parties must protect civilians and ensure they are able to leave areas affected by violence safely.

She agrees this message is probably lost on IS, a group that cares nothing about International Humanitarian Law.

“They are producing thousands upon thousands of victims on a monthly basis of all sorts of human rights violations," said Shamdasani. "We have to speak out whether they listen or not. We have to continue to speak out and hope that we will have some impact on some of the people who may potentially be recruited by ISIL or some other people who are currently working with them. We certainly cannot remain silent in the face of this.”

Ramdashani says the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights believes long term solutions to the threats posed by this terrorist group lie in addressing the root causes that have created sectarian divisions in Iraq.

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