United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay on Monday condemned “appalling, widespread” crimes being committed by Islamic State forces in Iraq, including mass executions of prisoners and “ethnic and religious cleansing”.
The persecution of entire communities and systematic violations by the al-Qaeda offshoot, documented by U.N. human rights investigators, would amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes under international law, she said in a statement.
Echoing her concerns, independent U.N. experts fighting racial discrimination worldwide called on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to propose that the Security Council “set up a UN peace force as a temporary emergency measure in order to create a safe zone” in the Nineveh plain.
“Grave, horrific human rights violations are being committed daily by ISIL and associated armed groups,” Pillay said, citing targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, slavery, sex crimes, forced recruitment and destruction of places of worship.
“They are systematically targeting men, women and children based on their ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation and are ruthlessly carrying out widespread ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control.”
Christians, Yazidis and Turkmen were among the minorities targeted by the Sunni militant group, which has forced people to convert to their strict form of Sharia law, she said.
In their separate and rare emergency statement, the 18 experts on the U.N. Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said they were acting under early warning procedures due to an increased “risk of genocide”.
Meeting in Geneva, they also asked the U.N Human Rights Council to meet in special session to investigate Islamic State militants who might be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.
Islamic State insurgents have captured a third of Iraq with little resistance and declared a caliphate in the areas of Iraq and Syria it controls. It has drawn the first American air strikes in Iraq since the end of the occupation in 2011.
Last week Islamic State released a video showing one of its fighters beheading the U.S. journalist James Foley, kidnapped in Syria in 2012. Their wealth and military might represent a major threat to the United States that may surpass that once posed by al Qaeda, the U.S. military says.
Some 1.2 million people have fled fighting and ISIL’s advance in Iraq this year, the U.N. refugee agency says.
For the latest news follow us on Twitter
Join our Weekly Newsletter