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UN says ‘laws of war’ apply in fighting IS

They said ISIS, which controls swathes of Iraq and Syria, had committed massacres of religious and ethnic groups and abused women. The government of President Bashar al-Assad, however, remained responsible for the majority of civilian casualties.

World powers meeting in Paris on Monday gave public backing to military action to fight Islamic State fighters in Iraq. The U.S. military struck an Islamic State target southwest of Baghdad, U.S. Central Command said, in an expansion of the Obama administration’s campaign.

“As military action on ISIS positions seems increasingly likely, we remind all parties that they must abide by the laws of war and most particularly, the principles of distinction and proportionality. Serious efforts must be made by all parties to preserve civilian life,” Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the U.N. commission of inquiry, told the Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

Air strikes against Islamic State fighters have already stirred complaints in Sunni areas of civilian casualties. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Saturday he had ordered his forces to refrain from any strikes in civilian areas, even towns occupied by IS militants.

“The Geneva Convention protocols, the laws of war must be respected by the main actors,” Pinheiro later told reporters.

The rules of war embodied in the Geneva Conventions require warring sides to distinguish between military and civil objects, such as schools and hospitals, and to carry out operations that are proportionate to the perceived threat.

Washington has been trying to build a coalition to fight Islamic State since last week when President Barack Obama pledged to destroy the militant group. France on Monday sent jets on a reconnaissance mission to Iraq, a step towards becoming the first ally to join the U.S.-led air campaign there.

The countries that did attend the Paris talks made no mention at all of Syria, where U.S. diplomats face a far tougher task building an alliance for action.

“We are worried that with the strikes in Iraq, they (ISIS) will run into Syria and human resources and equipment will go into Syria. That will make the situation much worse,” Karen Koning AbuZayd, an American expert serving on the independent U.N. inquiry, told Reuters.

Islamic State forces in Syria have brutally and publicly executed civilians, as well as captured rebel fighters and government soldiers over the past two months, Pinheiro said.

“Recent events in Iraq lay bare the threat ISIS poses for religious and ethnic minorities inside Syria,” he said.

The group killed hundreds of civilians at Al-Shaar gas fields in eastern Homs and there are reports of hundreds from the al-Sheitaat clan in Deir al-Zor being executed, he said.

“Women living in ISIS-controlled areas have been banned from public life…Some women have been stoned to death, ostensibly for adultery,” Pinheiro told the Geneva forum.

An Islamic State militant (L) stands next to residents as they hold pieces of wreckage from a Syrian war plane after it crashed in Raqqa, in northeast Syria September 16, 2014.
An Islamic State militant (L) stands next to residents as they hold pieces of wreckage from a Syrian war plane after it crashed in Raqqa, in northeast Syria September 16, 2014.

Indoctrination of children is a priority for the insurgents and youth are made to take part in hostilities, he said.


But the government of President Assad “remains responsible for the majority of the civilian casualties, killing and maiming scores of civilians daily – both from a distance using shelling and aerial bombardment and up close, at its checkpoints and in its interrogation rooms,” Pinheiro said.

Many areas under bombardment or siege are yielding to local truces, a “measure of the success of the government’s ‘starvation or submission strategy’,” he said.

“Checkpoints are often the starting point of a horrific journey of disappearance, torture, sexual abuse and, for many, death,” Pinheiro added.

In a speech, Syria’s ambassador Hussam Eddin Aala accused Qatar of providing direct support to the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front in Syria, a “terrorist organisation”.

“The best way to proceed is to recognise the responsibility of terrorist groups in Syria and the states supporting them,” Alaa said. “One should accept the fact that the fight against terrorism is the only way to bring about reconciliation.” – Reuters



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