THE UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, speaking on Tuesday, deplored Islamic State’s (IS’s) use of human shields in Mosul as “cowardly and disgraceful”. Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the past month. He urged the coalition that is seeking to recapture the city not to fall into this “trap”, but to reconsider its tactics.
Amnesty International has accused coalition forces of failing to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths.
Information verified by the UN shows that at least 307 people were killed, and another 273 wounded, between 17 February and 22 March. In the most deadly incident, on 17 March, an air strike hit a house where, witnesses say, IS had forced at least 140 civilians to serve as human shields. Official figures indicate that at least 61 people were killed.
On Saturday, the US Central Command admitted that its airstrikes had hit this area, and said that a formal assessment had been opened to determine the facts. The US-led coalition, which includes the RAF, estimates that, between August and March, at least 220 civilians had been unintentionally killed by coalition strikes.
A senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty International, Donatella Rovera, who carried out field investigations in Mosul, said this week that evidence gathered on the ground “points to an alarming pattern of US-led coalition airstrikes which have destroyed whole houses with entire families inside.
”The high civilian toll suggests that coalition forces leading the offensive in Mosul have failed to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.”
The use of civilians as human shields by IS amounted to a war crime, she said, but this “does not absolve Iraqi and coalition forces from their obligation not to launch disproportionate attacks”.
Civilians have been advised by the Iraqi government not to leave during the offensive.
The UNHCR representative in Iraq, Bruno Geddo, said last week that people were “stuck between a rock and a hard place”. Those who tried to flee the bombing risked being shot by extremists, but life was becoming impossible owing to a lack of food, clean water, or fuel. Up to 12,000 people a day are arriving at a UN reception centre outside the city.
The conduct of air strikes in such an environment, Prince Al Hussein warned, “may potentially have a lethal and disproportionate impact on civilians”.
At least 400,000 people are thought to be trapped in western Mosul, with about 2000 IS fighters.
The organisation IHP, which facilitates the donation of medicines between health-care companies and aid agencies, is highlighting a “critical shortage of essential medicines” in Iraq, and appealing for financial donations.
A pharmacist at West Erbil hospital, the nearest to Mosul, reports that he has received no new medicines in two months.