Geneva - Following the Speaker of Parliament’s shocking claim that the people who were forcibly disappeared or went missing during military operations against ISIL several years ago did not survive, Euro-Med Monitor calls on the Iraqi government to assume responsibility towards those missing as well as their long-suffering families.
Euro-Med Monitor expressed deep concern over statements made by Iraqi Speaker of Parliament Mohamed al-Halbousi during a television interview last Wednesday regarding the missing and forcibly disappeared people. Al-Halbousi stated, “We should change their label and inform the public of what actually occurred. The disappeared, who can [also] be called the betrayed…lost their lives.
“I can be more candid with people,” he added. “We should not have families hoping that they (i.e. their sons and daughters) are missing and will return, as this is completely untrue.” In the same interview, al-Halbousi emphasised Iraqi authorities’ responsibility to compensate the victims’ families and apply the country’s Terrorism Law to victims, as well as include victims and their families in the Martyrs Foundation.
Euro-Med Monitor strongly condemned the Iraqi government’s silence and refusal to comment on the Speaker of Parliament’s statement, which affects the fate of thousands of missing and forcibly disappeared people. Despite the high sensitivity of the issue and the passage of several days since al-Halbousi’s statement, the government has made no statement, leaving thousands of families in the dark about the fate of their sons and daughters.
The Iraqi government should investigate the Speaker of Parliament’s statements as soon as possible, take all possible measures and procedures to reveal the fate of the missing and forcibly disappeared people, and inform their families of their fate in order to put an end to years of agonising uncertainty.
Euro-Med Monitor stated that there is a lack of accurate government data related to the numbers of missing and forcibly disappeared persons during the military operations against ISIL (2013-2017). Based on field information, however, the number reaches several thousand.
Most of the time, armed militias allied with the Iraqi government’s official military formations were involved in enforced disappearance operations. Those operations were concentrated in several cities in the governorates of Anbar, Nineveh, Diyala, Saladin, Baghdad, and Babylon. Under the guise of fighting ISIL, the militias conducted mass detention campaigns against the population and forcibly disappeared thousands of people; since then, official authorities have yet to declare their fate and have refused to thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding their disappearance.
The most notable of these incidents occurred on 3 June 2016 in the town of Saqlawia, northwest of Fallujah, when armed militias allied with government forces kidnapped over 700 civilians from the Albu Akash village in a single day. The fate of the kidnapped civilians has remained unknown since then.
Omar Alajlouni, a legal researcher at Euro-Med Monitor, said: “If the statement of the Speaker of Parliament is proven to be true, it is necessary to address this issue in an institutional manner by establishing a national commission tasked with forming specialised teams to uncover mass graves and obtain the remains of the victims through DNA tests in collaboration with relevant UN bodies.
“Parallel to the procedures for identifying burial sites and victim identities, a strict and effective accountability process must be initiated within a specific time frame and under UN supervision to identify and prosecute those involved in these crimes,” Alajlouni added.
Euro-Med Monitor emphasised the importance of compensating victims’ families as per Article 2 of Law No. 20 of 2009 on Compensation for Victims of Military Operations, Military Mistakes and Terrorist Actions. The law stipulates that compensation must be provided for the following damages: Martyrdom or being missing as a result of the operations provided for in [Law No. 20 of 2009]; full or partial disability based on the report of a competent medical committee; and injuries/casualties and other cases requiring temporary treatment based on the report of a medical committee specialising in the relevant field(s).
There is a need to develop Iraqi legislation that classifies the crime of enforced disappearance as a separate crime, with a clear definition and specific and deterrent penalties for those involved—whether they were participating, supervising, or issuing orders themselves. Such atrocities were mainly able to take place due to government inaction, which left the door open for the formation of unofficial armed militias and their use in violent military operations; the state should never have allowed these militias to create an extra-legal military force or use it to commit heinous crimes without consequences.
Iraqi authorities must assume responsibility for missing and forcibly disappeared persons, compensate victims’ families financially and help ease their suffering by revealing the truth about what happened to their loved ones, launch an urgent campaign to hold all perpetrators accountable, and establish a penalty for perpetrators of enforced disappearance as a separate crime in national legislation.
The United Nations Human Rights Council should establish a fact-finding commission to investigate Iraqis who were forcibly disappeared or went missing during military operations against ISIL, and should cooperate with Iraqi authorities, particularly at the technical level, to identify the identities and burial sites of these missing persons if the Speaker of Parliament’s claim is proven to be true.