Iraq: Yezidis captured by ISIS amid mounting sectarian attacks

Amnesty International has spoken to recently released detainees from the Yezidi community who were captured by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq, as well as to family members of those still held by the group.

At least 24 Iraqi border guards and soldiers were captured by ISIS last month in north western Iraq. Some were later released; the rest are being held by ISIS across the border in north eastern Syria. The captives are among scores of minorities who have been targeted in a spree of sectarian detentions and abductions carried out by ISIS in recent weeks. In a video issued by the group on 29 June entitled “The End of Sykes-Picot” the men are referred to as “devil worshippers.”

“A clear pattern is emerging whereby ISIS is deliberately targeting Iraq’s minorities as well as others suspected of opposing the group, singling them out for detention and abduction,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser currently in northern Iraq.

“Every day I meet families desperate to find their sons, husbands and brothers who have been taken by ISIS groups and whose fate and whereabouts are unknown.  Most do not want the names of their missing relatives mentioned because they fear for their safety.”

Distraught family members of the Yezidi border guards and soldiers who are still held by ISIS told Amnesty International that they are desperately worried about their missing loved ones.

“We are simple people who have always lived in harmony with our Muslim brothers and neighbours. We appeal to the humanity of those who are holding our son to let him come to his children,” the parents of one of the missing men said.

ISIS has often killed those they detained, both civilians and army and security forces members.

“Killing detainees in custody is a war crime.  ISIS fighters have in the past displayed an appalling disregard for basic humanity. Anyone who is detained must be treated humanely,” said Donatella Rovera.

The organization has also documented a string of abductions carried out by ISIS targeting minority communities, including Turkmen and Shabak Shi’a, Yezidi and Christians. Sunni Muslims suspected of opposing ISIS have also been targeted. Some of those abducted in recent days have since been found dead.

On 30 June Amnesty International met a 16-year-old boy and a young man, both members of one of Iraq’s minorities, who had been released the previous day. They had spent 10 days in ISIS custody in Mosul and said that they were not subjected to ill-treatment but were encouraged to convert to Islam.

ISIS is not the only party responsible for killing captives in sectarian attacks. Amnesty International has documented mass extrajudicial execution of Sunni detainees by Iraqi government forces and Shi’a militias in recent weeks.

“The conflict in Iraq is rapidly descending into a vengeful and aggressive battle for survival amid mounting sectarian attacks, with parties on all sides unlawfully killing members of other communities,” said Donatella Rovera.

Amnesty International is calling on all parties to the conflict to treat detainees humanely at all times and to make clear to all those under their command that the killing of captives, torture, hostage-taking and other war crimes will not be tolerated.