Civilians Fleeing Fallujah At Risk of Double Jeopardy

This family fled Fallujah as a military offensive against the city continues. This family fled Fallujah as a military offensive against the city continues. © UNHCR/Semih Bulbul

7 June 2016
People fleeing the violence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)-occupied city of Fallujah face severe abuse and death.

Residents of the city of Fallujah occupied by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have been risking their lives to flee the city only to be faced with further abuse and even death from the forces who came to liberate the city. Today, the Iraqi Government has been urged by the United Nations Human Rights Chief to take urgent measures and assure the safety and treatment of the civilian population in accordance with international human rights and international humanitarian laws.

“There are extremely distressing, credible reports that some people who survive the terrifying experience of escaping from ISIL, then face severe physical abuse once they reach the other side,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said on Tuesday. “Eyewitnesses have described how armed groups operating in support of the Iraqi security forces are intercepting people fleeing the conflict, separating the men and teenage boys from the women and children, and detaining the males for ‘security screening’, which in some cases degenerates into physical violations and other forms of abuse, apparently in order to elicit forced confessions. There are even allegations that some individuals have been summarily executed by these armed groups.”

Amnesty International has reports on the dangers many Fallujah residents were exposed to upon escape from the city. Some people caught by ISIL fighters were executed on the spot. Others risked travelling through dangerous routes littered in mines and explosives. They also face the possibility of being arrested and attacked by the government-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), run by Shia militias.

The danger to the civilian population of Fallujah only escalates with reports of ISIL fighters hiding among the residents. “It is paramount that all individuals fleeing the violence around Fallujah must be assumed to be civilians without link to armed groups, unless there is clear and cogent evidence to the contrary,” said Zeid.

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