20 November 2017
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Red Cross Warns of ‘Dehumanizing’ Rhetoric in ISIS Fight

Sunday, 29 October 2017 20:52
Displaced men suspected of being Islamic State members were searched at a security screening center near Kirkuk. Credit Ivor Prickett for The New York Times Displaced men suspected of being Islamic State members were searched at a security screening center near Kirkuk. Credit Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon — It may not be politically popular to raise concerns about the human rights of Islamic State fighters and their families. But the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has monitored the treatment of the wounded, prisoners and civilians in wartime for a century and a half, sought to do just that in a strongly worded statement on Thursday.

The organization is concerned about rhetoric that “dehumanizes” and “demonizes” the enemy or suggests that a particular adversary is “outside the bounds of humanity” and can be treated “as if humanitarian law doesn’t apply,” the group’s deputy director for the Middle East, Patrick Hamilton, told reporters via a telephone conference call.

Language that could appear to justify or encourage war crimes and illegal treatment of detainees has become more common on all sides of the sprawling conflicts in Syria and Iraq, Mr. Hamilton said, to the point that the Red Cross felt it necessary to remind all combatants that international law requires due process and humane treatment of detainees “with no exceptions.”

His comments come as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, is surrendering more territory to an array of government and militia forces. Several Western officials have said that it would be best if their citizens who have fought with the Islamic State died in combat.

The Red Cross has a longstanding policy of not singling out governments or groups for criticism, because it seeks to preserve access to all sides in order to carry out missions such as monitoring the treatment of detainees and prisoners. The organization said its warning was directed at all combatants as well as countries that might receive returning Islamic State fighters.

“It’s not that we are going to name no one,” Mr. Hamilton said of his warning against inflammatory rhetoric. “We name everyone.”

France’s defense minister, Florence Parly, said last week that if Islamic State fighters “perish in this fight, I would say that’s for the best.” Rory Stewart, a British government minister, said of British ISIS members that “unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them.”

And Brett McGurk, the American envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, said the mission was to make sure foreign fighters “die here in Syria.” Earlier this year, Trump administration officials referred to “annihilating” ISIS.

To be sure, none of those statements called for extrajudicial killings or any other war crime. But in an already tense and dangerous atmosphere — punctuated by atrocities carried out by insurgent and militia groups in the past — all parties need to “de-escalate their language,” Mr. Hamilton said.

“These are emotive, difficult issues but the law does provide a sober mechanism for dealing with all of this,” he said, noting that the Red Cross has been advising governments on handling detainees and civilians through 154 years of conflicts and world wars. “These events are not without historical precedent.”

The Red Cross has visited 44,000 detainees in Iraq this year, and is currently providing humanitarian assistance to 1,300 women and children from around 20 nationalities, detained near Mosul as suspected relatives of Islamic State fighters. The Red Cross also is seeking to expand access to detainees throughout the region.

Risks of violations are increased by the complexity of the fight, with more than 20 states involved and often in partnerships with nonstate militia groups, which Mr. Hamilton said had created “a diffusion of responsibilities” for following the laws of war.

Another risk arises from the enormous humanitarian crises spawned by recent battles, with millions of people affected and chaotic scenes as people flee across deserts.

Little is known about the numbers and conditions of Islamic State members detained in the Syrian city of Raqqa as the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces took over last week. Nor has any information surfaced about the many people who had long been held prisoner in Raqqa by Islamic State and have not been found.

Source: The New York Times

 

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