Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of HRW’s Middle East & North Africa division, spoke to about videos that emerged earlier this week showing men wearing Iraqi forces uniforms beating and killing men who appear to be captured Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS, ISIL) fighters.
In one of the videos, uniformed men can be seen dragging a detainee to the edge of a cliff, before pushing him over and shooting him dead.
The incident, which may constitute a violation of international law by the Iraqi military, drew strong condemnation from Human Rights Watch, which verified the videos as being filmed in the neighborhoods of recently liberated Mosul.
“We don’t really have much information about these videos in particular, but they do match cases that we’ve been documenting for many months now, the extrajudicial executions by Iraqi security forces – both Federal police forces as well popular mobilization forces,”Whitson .
She added that the group has documented “really many cases of soldiers executing suspected ISIS militants, torturing and abusing family members of suspected ISIS militants.”
Whitson argued that by employing practices like extrajudicial killings, Iraqi forces are erasing the distinction between them and the jihadists, adding that no matter what the captives are suspected of, the Iraqi forces must abide by international law.
“The mistreatment of anybody is never justified. Even if they are ISIS fighters, they should not be mistreated – that’s why we have international laws that are going to separate us from ISIS. That’s why we can say that the international community is better than ISIS because we don’t mistreat detainees,” she said, adding that Baghdad must refrain from violence towards the captives if they want to not only recapture the swathes of land, but also “win the peace.”
The Iraqi authorities, she argued, must guarantee human rights to all Iraqi citizens and detainees, as “without that, their efforts to regain control of Mosul will fail.”
Whitson went on to note that although the Iraqi authorities had pledged to investigate the alleged human rights violations with regards to prisoners, they largely failed to do so.
“To date we have never seen the Iraqi government actually hold any soldiers accountable for these abuses that are being documented,” she said, adding that the reluctance to investigate potential abuse of military force is not a unique phenomenon and the same, if not worse, could be said about other international warfare, including the conflict in Syria.
“We have seen far worse for example in Syria, where efforts for accountability have been blocked by Russia at the International Criminal Court (ICC),” she said, adding that in order to make countries like Iraq and Syria accountable for alleged abuses, they should first join the ICC.
Russia has repeatedly been the subject of severe criticism for its counter-terrorism mission in Syria, accused of lack of precision in its airstrikes, resulting in civilian casualties.
Moscow has repeatedly refuted the allegations, saying that the airstrikes were carried out on terrorist targets. During the battle for Aleppo, where Moscow provided air support for Syrian ground troops, Russia started delivering aid to the suffering people and also brokered a deal on several humanitarian corridors to let civilians flee the battle zone. Moscow repeatedly pointed out that terrorists and militants prevented the unarmed population from fleeing the conflict zone.