HRW warns of plan to confine displaced families at camp south of Mosul

Jadah camp (Photo credit: IOM)

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SULAIMANI — Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned that Iraqi authorities are planning to confine a group of families in a camp for displaced persons south of Mosul, which the group says violates international laws against arbitrary detention and collective punishment.

The rights watchdog released a bulletin on Saturday (July 20) outlining a plan to move a group of families with perceived affiliation with Islamic State (ISIS) from al-Hol camp in Syria to the Jadah 5 camp, where they will be confined in a section of the camp known as “400.”

In advance of the move, which has not yet occurred, 175 families who were living in “400” have been forcibly relocated to another part of the camp, according to four former residents of the sector that with whom HRW spoke on July 10.

HRW also said that its staff conducted a site visit on July 16 and observed “the beginnings of a fence being erected around” the section where the new arrivals are slated to be housed.

Up until this point, people living in that section had relative freedom of movement. Some families opted to leave the camp instead of relocate within it.

“Authorities in Iraq are planning to detain returning families arbitrarily, in violation of Iraqi and international law,” said HRW’s acting Middle East director Lama Fakih.

“Segregating families – mainly women and children – coming from Syria is a step toward stigmatizing and labeling them in the absence of any credible allegation that they have committed a crime.”

Al-Hol camp came to public attention earlier this year when it swelled to many times its intended capacity as civilians streamed out of Baghouz, the last pocket of ISIS-held territory, when it fell in late March. There are approximately 30,000 Iraqi nationals at the camp, many of them part of female-headed households.

HRW said that the former residents of “400” had been told that the new arrivals would “have the same extremist ideology…it is not in your interest to live next to them” and that if the former residents remained that they would not enjoy the same freedom of movement.

“Any deprivation of liberty must be according to law that is ‘accessible, understandable, non-retroactive and applied in a consistent and predictable way” and allows people to seek judicial review of their detention. Any detention that lacks such legal basis is both unlawful and arbitrary,” HRW said in the bulletin, citing a determination by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

It also said that international law has established that people must be found individually guilty of crimes during a fair trial in order to be lawfully confined.

“Imposing collective punishment on families, villages, or communities violates the laws of war and amounts to a war crime,” said the watchdog.

Iraqi authorities have been accused in the past of subjecting internally displaced persons (IDPs) with perceived ISIS affiliations to collective punishments by preventing them from returning to their homes in Anbar province.

HRW called on Iraqi authorities to suspend all transfers until safeguards are put in place to ensure that all people moving from al-Hol are doing so voluntarily and that those not wanted for crimes are allowed freedom of movement.

(NRT Digital Media)