Iraqi security forces and militias affiliated with the government appear to have unlawfully executed at least 255 prisoners in six Iraqi cities and villages since June 9, 2014.
In all but one case, the executions took place while the fighters were fleeing Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) and other armed groups. The vast majority of security forces and militias are Shia, while the murdered prisoners were Sunni. At least eight of those killed were boys under age 18.
The mass extrajudicial killings may be evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity, and appear to be revenge killings for atrocities by ISIS, a Sunni extremist group that in the past month has captured large areas from the Shia-led central government.
ISIS, which on June 30 changed its name to Islamic State, summarily executed scores of captured soldiers, Shia militiamen, and Shia religious minorities in areas it controls.
“Gunning down prisoners is an outrageous violation of international law,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “While the world rightly denounces the atrocious acts of ISIS, it should not turn a blind eye to sectarian killing sprees by government and pro-government forces.”
An international commission of inquiry or a similar mechanism should investigate serious violations of the laws of war and international human rights law by all sides in the Iraq conflict, including by government forces, pro-government militias, and ISIS and associated forces, Human Rights Watch said.
The inquiry should be mandated to establish the facts, and identify those responsible for serious violations with a view to ensuring that they are held accountable. The inquiry should collect and conserve information related to abuses for future use by judicial institutions.
Human Rights Watch documented five massacres of prisoners between June 9 and 21 – in Mosul and Tal Afar in northern Nineveh province, in Baaquba and Jumarkhe in eastern Diyala province, and in Rawa in western Anbar province. In each attack, statements by witnesses, security forces and government officials indicate that Iraqi soldiers or police, pro-government Shia militias, or combinations of the three extrajudicially executed the prisoners, in nearly all cases by shooting them. In one case the killers also set dozens of prisoners on fire, and in two cases they threw grenades into cells.