14 October 2014

The situation of Iraq’s minorities is one of unfolding catastrophe, say Minority Rights Group International (MRG) and the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, in the first comprehensive report on religious and ethnic minorities published since the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in the country.

In the first nine months of 2014, over 12,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq, and minorities – including Chaldo-Assyrian and Armenian Christians, Turkmen, Yezidis, Kaka’i, Shabak, Sabean-Mandaeans, Baha’i, Faili Kurds, Black Iraqis and Roma - have been among the primary targets, say the rights organisations.

In areas controlled by ISIS, minorities have been subject to summary executions, forced conversions, kidnappings, torture, sexual violence and destruction of property. At least half a million have been forced to flee Ninewa, home to minority communities for thousands of years, with little more than the clothes on their backs.

‘With terrifying speed, ISIS is completing a process of ethnic cleansing that has been underway for years. Many minority communities have been reduced in size by emigration and killing to the point that they are now in danger of extinction,’ says Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Executive Director. However, 2014 did not mark the beginning of the crisis for Iraq’s minorities. For years MRG has been documenting assassinations, torture, kidnappings, armed robberies, and bombings targeting their religious rituals.  ‘Since minorities generally do not have their own militias or tribal protection structures like the majority groups in society, they are especially vulnerable. The federal government of Iraq has shown that it is either unable or unwilling to protect the safety of minorities. In the vast majority of cases, investigations are not properly conducted and the perpetrators of attacks go unpunished, often with indications of official complicity,’ adds Lattimer. Across Iraq, the minorities who do remain live in constant fear for their safety, says the report. Their religious sites are the target of attacks and they are afraid of openly displaying their religious identities. Their areas suffer from deliberate neglect and they face high barriers in accessing education, employment, housing, healthcare and other essential services.

The report recommends urgent measures be taken to prevent further devastation for the country’s most vulnerable citizens. ‘The sectarianism gripping Iraq’s government and security forces must be reversed and those responsible for attacks on minorities should be held to account in Iraq, and internationally,’ says Mark Lattimer. ‘All parties to the conflict should abide by international humanitarian law and should prohibit any aerial bombardment, or other attack, expected to result in a disproportionate loss of civilian life.’ From Crisis to Catastrophe: the situation of minorities in Iraq, based on extensive research and recent interviews with minority activists, covers major human rights violations which took place in 2013-2014, as well as more long-term manifestations of discrimination present in the social, economic, political, legal and cultural fields.