OTTAWA — Two Toronto-based human rights organizations have written a letter to the Iraqi and Canadian governments alleging pro-Iraqi government Shia militias were responsible for a massacre of at least 55 Yazidi slaves kidnapped by ISIS and possibly hundreds more Sunni civilians during the liberation of Ramadi in early January.
Iraqi forces ousted ISIS soldiers from the city with the support of coalition airstrikes, including Canadian Armed Forces aircraft that participated in operations to strike ISIS positions in January.
The allegations, if true, represent a troubling development for the Canadian government, which has unveiled a plan to send Canadian soldiers to aid Iraqi and Kurdish security forces, and to place advisers within Iraq’s defence and interior ministries.
The Toronto Star was unable to independently verify the allegations, and a spokesman for the UN in Iraq said it had seen “no evidence’ to corroborate the allegations.
Majed El-Shafie, of One Free World International, and Mirza Ismail, who heads the Toronto-based Yezidi Human Rights Organization International, signed the letter that cites accounts they received from unnamed sources of “the killing of innocent civilians by militias fighting with the Iraqi armed forces.”
The letter was sent Monday to the ambassador of Iraq in Ottawa, Canada’s Global Affairs Minister, Stéphane Dion, and to key coalition partners — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“During the early-January offensive that drove ISIS out of Anbar province and reclaimed the territory under Iraqi sovereignty, whistleblowers have reported Shia militias indiscriminately killed Yazidis and Sunni civilians who remained behind after ISIS forces had fled,” the letter states.
“One such report included the killing of 55 Yazidi girls in one compound who were being used by ISIS as sex slaves. Based on our sources it is estimated that hundreds were killed in this manner.”
Samir Ghattas, a spokesman for the UN in Iraq, said in an email response to the Star that the UN has no information to corroborate the allegations made by the Canadians. “We as UN have not come across anything like that in Anbar, the killing of women Yazidi ‘slaves’ by government forces or by associated Shia militias. No evidence whatsoever.”
The Canadian military said it was not aware of any such allegations about Anbar prior to the Star’s inquiry. “We are closely reviewing the details. The CAF strongly condemns any unlawful practices that violate the Law of Armed Conflict,” said Capt. Kirk Sullivan, a spokesman for the Canadian Joint Operations Command Headquarters.
“The CAF is not aware of any evidence that would indicate that the incidents described in the report occurred in any area where CAF members are conducting operations.
El-Shafie said the alleged massacre occurred in a suburb of Ramadi. He and Ismail said their biggest concern is what might happen in light of an anticipated offensive to liberate Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, where several thousand Yazidi sex slaves are believed to be held by ISIS.
A Jan. 19 United Nations report outlines concerns over violence committed by ISIS, as well as government forces and government-friendly militias. The report documented alleged abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law by ISIS and “by the Iraqi Security Forces and associated forces, including militia and tribal forces, popular mobilization units, and Peshmerga.”
The report flagged “concerning reports” of unlawful killings and abductions “perpetrated by some elements associated with pro-Government forces.”
“Some of these incidents may have been reprisals against persons perceived to support or be associated with ISIL,” the UN says, using another acronym for the so-called Islamic State, which is sometimes known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Additionally, on Feb. 1, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq reported new monthly massacre casualties that align with the same numbers El-Shafie first flagged to the Star in mid-January.
The UNAMI office in Baghdad, citing information from the Health Directorate in Anbar, said that in January the area “suffered a total of 304 civilian casualties (56 killed and 248 injured),” adding that the figures it reported “have to be considered as the absolute minimum.”