[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Friday expressed alarm over reports of rights abuses in Iraq [press release] as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) [BBC backgrounder] forces have seized control of several cities. Pillay is concerned by reports of extrajudicial killings and summary executions, as well as the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians. She reminded parties of their obligation under international law to treat humanely those who surrender and stressed that murder, torture and other inhumane treatment would constitute war crimes. Pillay said:
I am extremely concerned about the acute vulnerability of civilians caught in the cross-fire, or targeted in direct attacks by armed groups, or trapped in areas under the control of [ISIS] and their allies. … And I am especially concerned about the risk to vulnerable groups, minorities, women and children. … I call for the immediate cessation of acts of violence and abuses committed against civilians in violation of applicable international humanitarian law, which governs the conduct of conflicts, and international human rights law which applies during time of war and peace.
The commissioner urged the Iraqi government to ensure protection of civilians and work toward a solution to the crisis.
ISIS, which formed in April of last year out of al Qaeda in Iraq [JURIST backgrounder], has become one of the main jihadist groups opposing the government in Syria [JURIST news acrhive]. Over the past week the group has seized control of the Iraqi cities of Mosul, Tikrit, Baji and towns through northern Iraq.