Iraq's Christians were victims of ISIS war crimes, UN report finds

It says they were persecuted, had their property seized and were subjected to sexual violence and other 'inhumane acts'

A church at the Chaldean Monastery of St George in Mosul reopens in November last year.  AP
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Christians in Iraq were persecuted by ISIS, which forcibly transferred them, seized their property and subjected them to sexual violence and other “inhumane acts”, a UN report has found.

An investigative team said they had collected evidence that strengthens preliminary findings that the extremist group committed crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Christian community after it seized about a third of the country in 2014.

The report on Thursday night to the UN Security Council said crimes also included enslavement, forced conversions and destruction of cultural and religious sites.

The team said they had identified leaders and prominent members of ISIS who participated in the attack and takeover of three predominantly Christian towns in the Nineveh plains north of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, in July and August 2014 ― Hamdaniyah, Karamlays and Bartella. It also started collecting evidence of crimes committed against the Christian community in Mosul.

What these holy sites in Mosul are expected to look like in 2024

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ISIS fighters seized Iraqi cities and declared a self-styled caliphate in large areas of territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014. The group was formally declared defeated in Iraq in 2017 following a three-year bloody battle that left tens of thousands dead and cities in ruins, but its sleeper cells continue to stage attacks in different parts of Iraq.

The 26-page report was submitted by the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes committed by ISIS.

The team updated its investigations into the extremists’ development and use of chemical and biological weapons, attacks on the Yazidi and Sunni communities, the mass execution of prisoners and detainees at Badush prison near Mosul in June 2014, and crimes in and around Tikrit.

In December 2021, the head of the UN team, Christian Ritscher, told the Security Council that ISIS extremists committed crimes against humanity and war crimes at the prison in Badush.

In May 2021, Mr Ritscher’s predecessor, Karim Khan, told the council that investigators had found “clear and compelling evidence” ISIS extremists committed genocide against the Yazidi minority in 2014. He also said the militant group successfully developed chemical weapons and used mustard gas.

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The new report said Mr Ritscher’s team found evidence of payments to the families of ISIS members killed deploying chemical weapons and records of payments for training senior operatives on the use of chemical weapons and devices to disperse such weapons.

The team said they were still assessing evidence of the use of agents.

“Evidence suggests that ISIS manufactured and produced chemical rockets and mortars, chemical ammunition for rocket-propelled grenades, chemical warheads and improvised explosive devices,” the report said. “Furthermore, the ISIS programme involved the development, testing, weaponisation and deployment of a range of agents, including aluminium phosphide, chlorine, clostridium botulinum, cyanide, nicotine, ricin and thallium sulphate.”

As for the destruction of cultural and religious sites by ISIS fighters, the team said it expanded its investigations into different Iraqi communities and focused on several areas in Nineveh and Mosul.

This has led to a preliminary inventory of over 150 Kaka’i, Shabak and Shia Turkmen sites “suspected of having been destroyed by ISIS, along with enforced displacements, disappearances and sometimes killings of members of those communities,” the team said. They also identified places of worship and heritage sites in Tikrit that were severely damaged or destroyed by ISIS.

“The evidence obtained thus far shows that religious and cultural sites were either intentionally destroyed or taken over and occupied by ISIS, sometimes for military purposes, which resulted in their severe damage or destruction,” they said.

“While the motives and methods adopted by ISIS are still being reviewed, it appears that explosives and heavy equipment were used to destroy many of the sites.”

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With regard to attacks on the Yazidi community in Sinjar, the team said they has expanded the list of identified perpetrators to include the names of 2,181 people, including 156 foreign fighters.

“In-depth case files have been developed in relation to 30 primary persons of interest,” they said.

The team said they had expanded the investigation into crimes by ISIS against the Sunni community in Anbar, citing progress in an investigation into the execution of hundreds of members of the Albu Nimr tribe between 2014 and 2016.

The UN investigation into the mass execution of detainees at Badush prison on June 10-11, 2014, continues, the team said. It includes interviews with additional witnesses and survivors.

This yielded “new and corroborative evidence on the circumstances under which approximately 1,000 predominantly Shia prisoners were targeted and executed by ISIS inside the prison and in various other locations,” the team said.

The team said they had also continued investigating crimes against civilians in Tikrit and Alam in 2014 and 2015, and were gathering further evidence on the mass killing of unarmed military cadets and personnel from the Tikrit Air Academy in June 2014.

In the coming months, the investigators said they plan to focus on making the transition from investigations to building cases and sharing information with Iraq to spur prosecutions and accountability.

Updated: December 02, 2022, 6:16 AM