Investigators have uncovered more than 200 mass graves containing thousands of bodies in areas of Iraq formerly controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), according to a United Nations human rights report out on Tuesday.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said the 202 mass grave sites were found in governorates of Nineveh, Kirkuk, Salahuddin and Anbar in the north and western parts of the country – but there may be many more.
In the joint report, Unearthing Atrocities, the UN entities said the evidence gathered from the sites “will be central to ensuring credible investigations, prosecutions and convictions” in accordance with international due process standards.
Ján Kubiš, the top UN official in Iraq and the head of UNAMI, said that the mass grave sites “are a testament to harrowing human loss, profound suffering and shocking cruelty.”
“Determining the circumstances surrounding the significant loss of life will be an important step in the mourning process for families and their journey to secure their rights to truth and justice,” he added.
Between June 2014 and December 2017, ISIL seized large areas of Iraq, leading a campaign of widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, “acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possible genocide,” the report states.
Traumatized families have the ‘right to know’
The UNAMI-OHCHR report also documents the “significant challenges” families of the missing face in trying to find the fate of their loved ones.
At present, they must report to more than five separate authorities, a process that is both time-consuming and frustrating for traumatized families.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, underscored that the families “have the right to know.”
“ISIL’s horrific crimes in Iraq have left the headlines but the trauma of the victims’ families endures, with thousands of women, men and children still unaccounted for,” she said.
“Their families have the right to know what happened to their loved ones. Truth, justice and reparations are critical to ensuring a full reckoning for the atrocities committed by ISIL.”
Victim-centred approach needed
Among its recommendations, the report calls for a victim-centred approach and a transitional justice process that is established in consultation with, and accepted by, Iraqis, particularly those from affected communities.
It also urges a multidisciplinary approach to the recovery operations, with the participation of experienced specialists, including weapons contamination and explosives experts and crime scene investigators.
Alongside, it also calls on the international community to provide resources and technical support to efforts related to the exhumation, collection, transportation, storage and return of human remains to families, as well as their identification, particularly by helping strengthen the national Mass Graves Directorate.
Gun Control: Lessons from the East
28th April, 1996 is deemed as one of the darkest days in the history of Australia. The infamous and deadly Port Arthur massacre took place in the famous tourist spot of Port Arthur, Tasmania where a 28 year old Australian, Martin Bryant open fired with a semi-automatic weapon, killing many. Before the day was over, he had attacked people in different places killing 35 people and injuring 18 people in total.
In the wake of this tragedy, government officials in each of Australia’s six states and two mainland territories decided to call a ban on semi-automatic and other military-style weapons from across the continent in almost 10 days after the massacre. The officials halted the import of these weapons and launched a nationwide program called ‘Gun-Buyback Program.’ Under this program, Australians were encouraged to freely give up their weapons and many of them agreed. The Australian government confiscated almost 650,000 automatic and semi-automatic rifles under this program. It also established a registry which kept a record of all guns that were owned in the country. It also introduced a new permit which became mandatory for all new firearm purchase.
These policies and reforms led to a significant decline in Australia’s firearm homicide rate and firearm suicide rate. Since the reforms took place, some experts believe that there has been an 80% drop in gun-related homicides and suicides. With limited access to guns and stringent laws put in place related to gun-purchase, number of mass-shootings and gun-suicides plummeted.
Recently, the world was shook by the deadly Christchurch mosque shootings that took place in New Zealand. There were two consecutive mass shootings which resulted in the death of almost 50 people. Six days after the attack, in a swift action, New Zealand announced a new ban on sale and distribution of a range of semi-automatic rifles and other weapons in the effort to curb gun violence. They also imposed a ban on ownership of previously-owned firearms and also initiated a buy-back program. Moreover, countries like Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and China have the lowest number of gun-related deaths in the world.
Simultaneously, western countries like the USA, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala and Venezuela account for almost half of all global deaths that occur from gun violence. In 2018 it was estimated that almost 250,000 number of global deaths happened due to gun-homicide or gun-suicide, and half of those deaths took place in 6 aforementioned countries. It is also estimated that suicide by shooting is on a rise and more number of people are using firearms to commit suicide each year. Over 150 mass shootings took place in the US alone in 2018 killing over 1,100 people and injuring as many. This devastation figure started a widespread discussion on gun-control in the US.
According to a research conducted by the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, ease of access to a firearm during a vulnerable moment, higher firearm-ownership and loose gun legislations in a country have led to higher gun violence. In the USA, the last substantial gun-control legislation was imposed in 1994 which placed a federal ban on military style assault weapons for 10 years. However, this ban was not imposed on people who already owned these arms. When the ban was lifted in 2004, many Americans acquired military-style rifles which also became a popular choice of weapon for mass shooting. It is surprising that in many parts of the US, an American can easily purchase a military style rifle before they are legally allowed to buy beer. Many people also justify purchasing and carrying of weapons in the name of self-defence.
I am aware of the fact that the USA and many other western countries are bigger in size and population compared to Eastern countries, however with the growing number of gun-deaths, we have to underscore the importance of strict gun-control legislations and vigilant policies on ownership of gun. Moreover, background checks of people wanting to purchase guns and acquisition of permits by gun-selling stores should be made mandatory. If the USA could place a ban on gun-sale all those years ago, it can do it again. The government must find a way to work around USA’s Second Amendment and place stricter laws in relation with gun-ownership.
Who is Brenton Tarrant: Insight on the New Zealand Attack
A misfortunate incident hit by surprise the usually peaceful city of Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday. The attacker, Brenton Tarrant, 28, Australian, accused of carrying out attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, resulted in the deaths of at least 50 people, all worshipping Muslims, including children, was charged with murder as he appeared in a district court on Saturday. A global debate has aroused on the fact that the charge merely speaks of the killer being accused of murder and not terrorism, which is another debate.
The event has sprung up international attention, with gun-laws of New Zealand being revised, investigations underway and multiple gestures and actions given by the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern and globally in support of victims. An incident as such has occurred in New Zealand after almost 30 years, taking the world by surprise.
The live video of the attack was uploaded by the attacker, which aired for almost 17 minutes- making plenty of room for criticizing the social media outlet for letting an act of violence being aired without action.
Tarrant, described by Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison as an “extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist”, expressed admiration for other violent white nationalists and his intention to “create an atmosphere of fear” and to “incite violence” against Muslims.
In a 74-page so-called Manifesto, Tarrant wrote: “My language originated in Europe, my culture is European, my political beliefs are European, my identity is European and, above all, my blood is European” before the attack on the Internet. It details an anti-immigrant, neo-fascist ideology and deplores the so-called decline of European civilization. and described himself as an “ordinary white man.” Tarrant did not have a criminal history and was not on any watch lists in New Zealand or Australia.
A set of questions that arise in the wake of this unfortunate condition are: Who is responsible for the massacre of 50 people- The man behind the attack? The social media platform that aired live the attack for 17 minutes? The 26-minute delayed response from the New Zealand police and government, who already were informed about the “manifesto” of the attacker 9 minutes prior to the shooting or the immigrants who have been a source of the highly debated emerging “Islamophobia” globally. Moreover, why did the attacker perform the heinous attack and under what influence?
A possible explanation to the posed questions can be given by a phenomenon given under the area of terrorism and counter-terrorism. By definition, the attack was all that defines a “terrorist attack” but the attacker is slightly different to what a “terrorist” is defined as- rather, is a “lone wolf”.
A solitary actor, a terrorist of solitary actors, or lone wolf, is someone who prepares and commits violent acts alone, outside any order structure and without any group aid material. They can be influenced or motivated by the ideology and beliefs of an external group and can act in support of this group. These people do not have connections to any organization, but are self-auto rotated through the construction of a certain ideology from the accumulation and assimilation of knowledge by their own.
Lone wolves are hard to identify. These are normal people dwelling in normal conditions, usually showing no sign of violent behavior. Keeping such people under check is as hard as recognizing their lethal abilities. They tend to be more dangerous than terrorist organizations since they take by surprise through their actions, they’re neither under check or suspected or, as a matter of fact, identified.
The attacker- a lone wolf- was not known to police in Australia for violent extremism or serious criminal behavior. Three other suspects were detained along with Tarrant on Friday, but police now say he acted alone. He doesn’t classify under psychologically disturbed- as most western attackers are in such cases by any means.
Responding to his own question “Is there a particular person that radicalized you the most?”, Tarrant wrote: “Yes, the person that has influenced me above all was [US conservative commentator] Candace Owens… Each time she spoke I was stunned by her insights and own views helped push me further and further into the belief of violence over meekness”, having an “unhealthy narcissism” common among “terrorists”.
People with firm ideologies- as Tarrant- believe they are correct and it is hard to convince them otherwise (as religious ideologies e.g. Muslim ideology or nationalistic ideology e.g. Hindutva, Zionism etc). All writing over the attacker’s weapons, if read, explained and translated signify a certain incident where immigrants (particularly Muslims) have been a threat to the white, in acts of violence against the white race, justifying the attacker’s action for fighting against a group that threatens the existence of the white race.
In this situation, neither social media for airing live (not enough evidence on the attacker’s social media outlet to take prior action) nor the government (informed 9 minutes prior to attack, too small a gap for stopping a terrorist attack, not including a location or specific details) can be blamed for the incident as identification and keeping check is almost impossible.
In the case of the attacker, even after being convicted, believes has done nothing wrong, was smirking throughout the process of his detainment whilst making a hand gesture of white supremacy throughout, with the belief that he might get 27 years in prison just like Nelson Mandela and be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
The reason to this radicalization is unchecked information, quick and easy access has led to the production of numerous such lone wolves, who will unleash their preposterous ideologies into violent acts if the content that is available is not censored. Another step that may prove helpful is the production of correction centers as a strategy towards counter terrorism since just convicting and killing the terror mongers does not kill an ideology they were triggered by, but only glorifies and promotes it. These centers are particularly necessary in educational institutes, weapon clubs, online portals, social media and mainstream media etc. Immediate action is required globally with amendments in counterterrorism strategies reverting to psychological correction rather aggression against the violator, else wise, the world has no less Tarrants currently to deal with- but many more.
The Impact of Words: Christchurch Shooting
New Zealanders and Australians (two English-speaking Commonwealth nations closely knit by culture, geography and history) have been horrified by a major white extremist terrorist event in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday 15 March.
Forty-nine Muslim worshippers, at Friday prayers in two Christchurch mosques six kilometers apart, were murdered in concurrent gun attacks led by an Australian far-right nationalist extremist, Brenton Tarrant, who filmed his whole attack from a head-held video camera while he shot worshippers at random with a semi-automatic weapon. Forty people were injured, some critically. Major mainstream and social media are being asked to remove Tarrant’s deeply evil video footage, but much of it had already got out online as was his intention.
The mosques were unguarded, New Zealand having hitherto been entirely terrorism-free. Tarrant and four other unnamed persons involved, three men and a woman, who are believed at this stage to be New Zealanders, are under arrest. Tarrant’s trial is listed for April. A shaken NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed immediate government action to tighten NZ’s lax gun laws, to tighten NZ border controls, and to strengthen NZ-Australia intelligence agency information-sharing on extremist groups.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who faces an early election which has to be held by May, and which he is tipped to lose heavily, expressed sympathy and shock. He conspicuously visited Sydney’s most important mosque, in solidarity with Australian Muslim communities. But many Australians may doubt his sincerity in view of his and his Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s long personal history of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim public sentiments.
Tarrant had issued a racial-hate manifesto online, minutes before his group’s attack began, calling for an end to all Muslim migration into Australia and NZ. His views are shared within a small but vocal group of white extreme nationalist extremists in Australia who hold provocative public meetings and seek out media attention. Such a meeting is still scheduled to go ahead today in Moorabin, Melbourne, at which Senator Fraser Anning from the state of Queensland will criticise Australia’s immigration policies. A counter-demonstration is planned in protest. Police will be present.
At federal political level, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant views are most stridently represented by Senator Pauline Hanson’s minority One Nation Party and by Senator Anning, who was elected as a Queensland state senator on the One Nation Party ticket but subsequently broke with Senator Hanson. Queensland is a state characterised by high youth unemployment and a declining coal industry. It is a focus of far-right white nationalist extremism.
Anning, who is not expected to be re-elected, desperately seeks publicity. Just hours after the Christchurch shootings, he published a highly offensive media release blaming the shootings on Muslim immigration to Australia and NZ, alleging that the governments had created a climate of racial tension. His media release effectively endorsed much in Tarrant’s manifesto. It has been almost universally condemned in Australia.
This well-planned politically-motivated mass murder is being compared to the Anders Breivik mass murder of young Norwegians in 2011. It is also being compared to recent targeted terrorist attacks, in US and elsewhere, on people at prayer in mosques and synagogues.
Questions are being asked about context and coincidence.
How was it possible for an Australian with known links to white supremacist extremist organisations in Australia to fly to New Zealand without NZ Security agencies being alerted to monitor him? How was it possible for his group to buy guns and ammunition in New Zealand without security agencies being alerted? Are Australian and New Zealand security agencies too focused on monitoring alleged threats from Islamist extremist groups, to the neglect of even more dangerous far-right white nationalist extremists?
Also: the attack coincided with a day of major ‘school strikes’ and street demonstrations by many thousands of young people in all major cities around Australia, protesting at Australian federal and state governments’ inadequate climate change policies, including their failure to ban opening of new coal mines. Similar demonstrations were taking place in New Zealand, supported by PM Ardern. Australian PM Morrison had criticised the demonstrations as inappropriate on a school day. In any event, the NZ shooting tragedy totally eclipsed media attention to the young people’s climate change and anti-coalmines demonstrations. Was this planned by the perpetrators, and who might have advised them?
Some critics claim, I believe correctly, that right-wing politicians who now dominate the governing party coalition, and right-wing mainstream media, have over recent years fostered and helped to generate a supportive climate for an anti-immigrant extremist movement in Australia, helping it to gain respectability and take root among economically depressed and politically alienated white Australian youth. These critics say that these politicians and media must now accept shared responsibility for fostering a political climate that encourages such terrible acts as the massacre of innocents in Christchurch.
Senior police leaders in Australia have appealed to politicians and media to consider the impact of their words. I hope they will do so.
Though this terrorist event has visibly shocked decent mainstream opinion in Australia and New Zealand, it may push race relations and immigration issues into greater prominence in the forthcoming Australian federal election. There is a danger of polarisation under Scott Morrison’s clumsy leadership: he could as in past Australian elections try to talk up racial fears to his party’s presumed advantage.
Australia’s and New Zealand’s foreign policies are also coming under scrutiny in the wake of this attack. Both countries are members of the ‘Five Eyes’ Intelligence-sharing network. Their military forces are deeply enmeshed in US-led past and present military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Sophisticated US-Australian joint defence facilities at Pine Gap, Central Australia are believed to be in current use to assist US military targeting in Syria. The Australian arms industry is selling weapons technology to Saudi Arabia that is being used by the Saudi Air Force in lethal bombing operations against Yemeni civilians.
The danger is that, after the initial public shock and horror at this attack has passed, the desperate and failing Morrison government may be tempted to exploit it to try to create a ‘national security’ and anti-immigration pre-election climate. The Labor Party Opposition and its leader Bill Shorten will need to watch its own words and policies in coming weeks. So will Australia’s mainstream and social media.
I believe the lessons for all responsible governments and politicians are: firstly, to consider the impact of their policies and words on disaffected youth, and always to uphold inter-ethnic and inter-religious harmony; secondly, to task national security agencies to monitor equally extremist elements of all persuasions. I believe by both these yardsticks the Russian Federation has a very good record. I wish I could currently say the same of Australia.
First published in our partner RIAC
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