Iraqi Government Still Silent on Hawija Humanitarian Crisis
Thousands of civilians in Hawija are still suffering from a humanitarian disaster amidst complete silence from the Iraqi Government. The Iraqi Government has not taken any stance or action towards the situation in Hawija, despite the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights’ (IOHR) efforts and demands to do so.
The IOHR first published the report detailing the horrors of the situation in Hawija on 4 August 2016, followed by the UNHCR-published report, which followed up on the claims made by IOHR, and a secondary report was later published criticizing the Government’s silence on Hawija, and yet the Government has since continued its silent treatment of the situation there.
The Government’s delay in liberating the district of Hawija from ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) control, means that the numbers of victims there will continue to increase. Hundreds of civilians had already been killed by IS, and many died because of hunger, thirst, and the lack of medicine. In turn, the Iraqi Government bears full responsibility for the humanitarian disasters facing civilians in ISIS-controlled areas. The delay of military operations to liberate those areas is not justified in the least.
The district of Hawija is in the south west of Kirkuk province, and is controlled by ISIS, who imposed a siege on the city, preventing any humanitarian aid from entering. There are also severe shortages in electricity and the water supply, threatening the lives of thousands of civilians. Its population numbers around 115,000, thousands of whom tried to escape the violence of ISIS and were either killed or captured by the terrorist organization. ISIS has captured around 3,000 people who tried to flee Hawija but were caught and prevented from doing so by ISIS checkpoints.
ISIS fighters have also planted mines in the lands surrounding the district to prevent civilians from escaping.
The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) obtained statistics from local sources, estimating the civilian population of Hawija at around 115,000, in addition to 50,000 in Zab, 50,000 in Abbasi, 84,000 in Riyadh, 36,000 in Rashad and 65,000 thousand in Daqouq. The residents of these areas are all living in a terrible humanitarian situation, which necessitates their liberation from ISIS control.
The IOHR was informed by local sources from inside Hawija via telephone that food is no longer available in those areas. The price of a flour bag (50 kg) has reached 100,000 Iraqi Dinars ($85 USD), and the price of one kilogram of sugar had exceeded 20,000 Iraqi Dinars ($17 USD).
The same sources added that many children within the district are suffering without nutrition or medicine or drinking water. ISIS has deliberately offered aid only to those who supported it, refusing to help those who did not join, a similar policy to what it used in Al Anbar province.
As for the displaced persons (IDPs) who successfully escaped the besieged city, their suffering only grows bigger. IDPs are forced to wait for several days on end at the entrances to Kirkuk in scorching summer temperatures that reach 50 degrees Celsius. They are generally malnourished and severely underfed, with no electricity, drinking water, medicine or milk for children and babies.
The IOHR has confirmed that over 500 civilians from Hawija are stuck near the Maktab Khalid area, which is under the control of Peshmerga Forces. Civilians there have to face lengthy procedures that pose an obstacle to their entry to Kirkuk. In addition, Government procedures are ineffective in providing relief or medical and humanitarian supplies, constituting a breach of International Humanitarian Law and the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.
The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) has documented, up until 7 August 2016, that ISIS has executed 45 residents from Hawija. The IOHR expects the number of executed civilians to rise in the coming days, unless urgent measures are taken to mitigate the situation there. These expectations come in light of the deepening humanitarian crisis in Hawija, and the proximity of the Iraqi Security Forces from liberating nearby areas, which will lead more residents to attempt to escape from ISIS and avoid conscription into its ranks.
The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights demands that all authorities keep in line with the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement put in place by the Economic and Social Council resolution 1997/39. The Guiding Principles state that “authorities have the primary duty and responsibility to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons within their jurisdiction.” Preemptive protection measures most likely serve as the best way to prevent humanitarian disasters associated with displacement.
The IOHR demands that the Iraqi government and UN agencies in Iraq take all the required measures to help civilians in Hawija and nearby areas. The Government must ensure the timely and effective delivery of humanitarian assistance to the district by breaking the siege imposed by ISIS.
The IOHR calls upon Iraqi Security Forces to to take all necessary precautions and measures to protect besieged civilians in areas of armed combat, and to adhere to the principle of distinction between civilians and combatants at all times, as stated in International Humanitarian Law.
The IOHR stresses the rights of refugees and displaced individuals fleeing areas of armed struggle to search for and seek refuge in safe areas, and stresses their right to safe passage.