This section covers human rights concerns relating to ISIL only. For
broader human rights concerns relating to Iraq and Syria please
see their country of concern sections.
2014 saw ISIL make substantial territorial gains in Iraq and Syria.
The UK government has been horrified by the brutality and
inhumanity of ISIL, and the worsening humanitarian situation in
Iraq and Syria.
ISIL fighters routinely use beatings or lashings, stoning,
amputations and crucifixions as punishments. There are numerous
reports of murder, unlawful detention, sexual violence enforced
disappearances, and torture, inhuman and degrading treatment of
civilians, including children.
ISIL uses extreme brutality to repress populations. There have
been widespread reports of massacres against civilians, including
of Yezidis and Christians in Mosul and Sunni tribesmen in western
Anbar Province, both in Iraq, and mass executions in Ar-Raqqah
and Homs in Syria. Mass graves have been discovered in Deir ez
Zour in Eastern Syria.
ISIL routinely conduct executions, including of children. Residents
are encouraged to attend and bodies are often displayed for days.
The UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria has said that there
are “reasonable grounds to believe that [ISIL] has committed the
war crime of execution without due process”. Numbers are difficult
to obtain or verify but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has
documented 1,175 executions of civilians by ISIL in Syria.
ISIL have kidnapped and murdered hundreds of innocent people,
including international journalists and humanitarian workers.
Freedom of expression is severely restricted in ISIL-controlled areas.
The COI found that ISIL “systematically targeted sources of dissent”.
ISIL has attacked or imprisoned those who speak out, or do not
adhere to the group’s ideology. Journalists have been abducted
and killed and Reporters Without Borders say ISIL-controlled areas
are now media “black-holes”.
ISIL routinely persecute human rights activists, including Sameera
Salih Ali al-Nuaimy, an Iraqi human rights lawyer, who was
abducted, tortured, and publicly executed in Mosul.
ISIL has imposed a twisted interpretation of Sharia law, enforced
by its Al-Hisbah morality police. The COI found that harsh penalties
are summarily meted out on the principle of “guilty until proven
innocent” and detainees “have no access to lawyers and are
afforded none of the due process rights inherent in a fair trial”.
Punishments, including lashings, execution and crucifixion, are
often carried out publicly as a deterrent.
ISIL’s attacks on civilians are not just confined to Iraq and Syria. In
addition to attacks in the region, attacks have also taken place in
Europe, Australia and Canada, including the first attack in Europe
which took place in Brussels in May, killing four people. While the
extent of ISIL’s involvement is yet to be determined, it is clear that
these attacks were ISIL-inspired, and that at least one was carried
out by an ISIL returnee from Syria.
Minorities in Iraq and Syria – including Christians, Turkmen
Shi’a, Yezidis and Kurds – have been systematically targeted by
ISIL, placing the long-term survival of some communities at risk.
Amnesty International reported that ISIL has carried out ethnic
cleansing “on a historic scale” in Iraq. The COI noted ISIL’s targeting
of minorities has forced communities to assimilate or flee. ISIL
enforce their ideology strictly and brutally. There have been
widespread reports of minorities being pressured to convert to
Islam or risk execution. ISIL fighters have also destroyed sites holy
to non-Sunni Muslims in both Iraq and Syria.
Women and girls have seen their freedom appallingly restricted
by ISIL. Women have been banned from public life and those who
do not adhere to ISIL’s strict rules risk brutal punishment, including
lashings and stoning. There have been widespread reports of
women and girls, including several thousand Yezidis in northern
Iraq, being abducted by ISIL fighters, subjected to forced marriage,
rape and other sexual violence, and sold into slavery. Displaced
women and girls are also vulnerable in and outside internally
displaced persons (IDP) camps. They are exposed to increased
levels of domestic violence as well as sexual harassment, organised
prostitution, and sex trafficking.
Children have been indoctrinated by ISIL in school and trained
as child soldiers. There are reports of children being used as
executioners, checkpoint guards and suicide bombers.
The UK condemns the brutal human rights abuses perpetrated
by ISIL fighters, and is committed to defeating ISIL through a
comprehensive and sustained international strategy, as part of the
efforts of the global anti-ISIL coalition. In Iraq, the UK is working
closely with regional, US, European and other partners to defeat
ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and to help prevent and manage the impact
of ISIL on the region, particularly in Lebanon and Jordan. And, at
home, we are taking action to prevent attacks and identify those
who are planning them.
Cutting off ISIL’s access to funding and foreign fighters is key
to defeating ISIL. We have led efforts to reinforce sanctions
against those who try to recruit fighters, and strongly supported
multilateral initiatives including UN Security Council Resolutions
(UNSCRs) 2170 and 2178. UNSCR 2170, a UK initiative, was
adopted unanimously in August 2014, condemning ISIL, the Al-
Nusra Front (ANF) and other terrorist groups listed under Al Qaeda
sanctions. In Iraq, UK airstrikes, surveillance and support to the
Iraqi Security Forces and the Peshmerga forces have contributed
to halting the advance of ISIL and its brutal practices. The UK cosponsored
the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council
on 1 September, which highlighted ISIL’s abhorrent actions, and
committed to a fact-finding mission to Iraq to investigate these
atrocities. The mission’s findings will be discussed in March 2015.
We have called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the
International Criminal Court and supported a UNSC resolution to
that effect in May, which was vetoed by Russia and China.
We have pledged £700 million in aid to Syria and the region. The
Department for International Development is supporting partners
to protect and support survivors of sexual and gender-based
violence. We are also working with the Canadian government to
build the capacity of Iraqi organisations to prevent and respond to
In both Iraq and Syria, we will continue to look at every available
option to ensure accountability, and to work with our international
partners on what can be done both to assist the victims and
to bring those responsible to justice. We will work closely with
coalition partners to continue the international fight against ISIL.