Recent car and suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) targeting crowded markets and hospitals in Baghdad amount to crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said today. The Iraqi authorities should improve its implementation of the law to compensate victims of “military mistakes and terrorist actions” as part of its efforts against ISIS.
“ISIS has routinely carried out devastating attacks that appear designed to inflict maximum death and suffering on ordinary Iraqis,” said Nadim Houry, director of the terrorism and counterterrorism program at Human Rights Watch. “The Iraqi and international strategy against ISIS should not ignore the victims of these and other unlawful attacks by all sides.”
Governments have the responsibility under international law to protect the lives of all those under their jurisdiction and to bring those who commit criminal offenses to justice. They should consider establishing mechanisms to address the needs of victims, including but not limited to reparations.
In recent weeks, several deadly attacks have mainly targeted Baghdad’s Shia-majority eastern districts. On December 31, 2016, two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a central market of Baghdad, killing at least 25 people and wounding 50, according to Iraqi police. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
On January 2, 2017, a car bomb claimed by ISIS exploded in a busy square in Baghdad’s Sadr city, killing at least 39 people and wounding at least 61, according to the Interior Ministry. The media reported that the bomber lured laborers to his car by promising them work, then blew himself up. Nine of the victims were women in a minibus passing through the square at the time, Reuters said. A short while later, another car bomb detonated in the parking lot of the nearby al-Kindi hospital, killing three people.
On January 5, a car bomb exploded in al-Obeidi neighborhood, also in eastern Baghdad, during the morning rush hour, killing five people and injuring seven, according to the Interior Ministry. ISIS said in an online statement it had targeted a gathering of Shia Muslims. A second explosion that day hit the central district of Bab al-Moadham near a security checkpoint, killing eight. Both bombs had been left in parked vehicles.
ISIS claimed two attacks on January 8 on busy markets in eastern Baghdad. Media reported that in the first blast, the assailant drove an explosives-rigged car into a large vegetable market in the Jamila district, and detonated it, killing 13. Security forces had opened fire on the car to try to stop it. A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest blew himself up a few hours later at a market in the Baladiyat district, killing at least seven.
Murder, when carried out as part of a widespread or systematic “attack against a civilian population” – that is, as part of a policy of a state or organized group to commit murder – can constitute a crime against humanity, whether committed in the context of armed conflict, political unrest, or peace.
“It is usually Iraqi civilians who bear the brunt of ISIS bombings,” Houry said. “These victims often remain nameless and faceless, yet their well-being and those of their families is a critical element in the fight against ISIS.”
The United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy adopted by the General Assembly in 2006, and reviewed every two years by the assembly, recognizes the importance of supporting, and showing solidarity with terrorism victims. While there is no recognized international instrument outlining countries’ specific obligations toward terrorism victims, there has been growing recognition that countries should develop national assistance systems that promote the needs of victims and their families and facilitate the normalization of their lives.
The UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, in 2012 outlined 14 framework principles for securing the human rights of terrorism victims and urged that countries provide full and effective reparations to all victims of terrorism, regardless of who is responsible for an attack.
Since then, the UN General Assembly has repeatedly adopted resolutions stressing the need to promote and protect the rights of terrorism victims. The UN Conference on Human Rights of Victims of Terrorism held in February 2016 recommended that all member states “mainstream victims’ rights into States’ counter-terrorism measures and ensure that all efforts and approaches of Member States to this effect remain centered on victims.”
Iraq has taken some measures to compensate victims of “terrorism and military errors” through a 2009 law, amended in 2015. Under this law, a committee was formed to compensate those affected by terrorism, military operations, and military errors, through providing material compensation for physical or psychological harm, a pension, and an apartment or land or a financial grant to the family to build a house.
The committee noted that it processed 15,000 claims by citizens whose property was destroyed due to “terrorist acts or military errors” in 2016, spending a total of 70 billion Iraqi dinars (US$59 million). However, Iraqi victims of violence have repeatedly complained of neglect and slow procedures, Human Rights Watch said. An Iraqi lawyer who regularly assists families in filing for compensation said that it took the authorities on average two years to process claims and that the situation was particularly difficult for Iraqis living in governorates with active military fighting as they had a very difficult time collecting the needed documents from the authorities to file claims.
“While the Iraqi authorities have set up compensation mechanisms for victims, it is essential to develop a more comprehensive national plan,” Houry said. “The government should ensure that victims feel they are effectively supported psychologically and medically, and are able, if they wish, to participate in legal proceedings against those who attacked them.”