[JURIST] EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini [Guardian profile] on Thursday expressed great concern over potential war crimes [press release] being committed by Islamic State (IS) [JURIST backgrounder] militants in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra [UNESCO profile]. The statement came after members of IS entered [BBC report] the site of Palmyra after seizing the neighboring town. “With the reported occupation of the ancient city of Palmyra by [the Islamic State], yet again hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more risk to be exposed to arbitrary violent actions and more destructions of cultural sites might be perpetrated,” Mogherini said in the statement. “[The Islamic State’s] mass killings and deliberate destruction of archaeological and cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq amount to a war crime according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.” The seizure comes during the IS’s current campaign of “cultural cleansing” in which the group is destroying significant historical relics all across the area of ancient Mesopotamia.
IS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has caused increasing international alarm over its human rights abuses [JURIST report] since its insurgence into Syria and Iraq in 2013. In March the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported [JURIST report] that the actions of IS in Iraq may amount to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In February the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights jointly released a report [JURIST report] detailing violations against Iraqi civilians under the spread of IS. Also in February IS led suicide bombings in eastern Libya, killing at least 40 people [JURIST report] and injuring 70 more. IS said this was the group’s way of retaliating against Egyptian airstrikes protesting the IS presence in Northern Africa. In December the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the IS executed [JURIST report] 1,878 people in Syria between June and December.