Iraqi govt must prevent war crimes & heavy civilian casualties as troops liberate Mosul – HRW

Iraqi govt must prevent war crimes & heavy civilian casualties as troops liberate Mosul – HRW
The Iraqi authorities must prevent collective punishment being meted out to relatives of suspected IS militants and ensure that the army doesn’t displace civilians and move them to prison-like camps, Lama Fakih, HRW deputy Middle East director, told RT.

Concerns are growing about the fate of civilians trapped in Mosul and those who fled the city, as the Iraqi security forces wrest back the western part of the city from Islamic State (IS, ISIS/ISIL) terrorists.

“We have documented a number of instances when individuals on the way out of Mosul trying to get to security have been detained, the vast majority – men, and in some cases, boys,” Fakih told RT, adding that once the people are detained they are not allowed to get in touch with families.

The government is “not informing relatives about the whereabouts of their detained loved ones and they are not allowed to communicate with them,” Fakih said, stressing that the Iraqi authorities must not infringe on refugees’ freedom of movement and must provide them access to a telephone.

By enforcing arbitrary detention and mass eviction of families in the governorate of Salah al-Din, the Iraqi authorities are acting on a local decree that forbids the families of jihadists to reside in the area for at least 10 years. Although the stated goal of the controversial legislation was to protect militants’ relatives from the revenge of the grieving victims of ISIS, it has come under fire for indiscriminately punishing people not found guilty of any crime.

“We are very concerned about the conditions in detention as well as of forced displacement of those who are not accused of doing any criminal offense but just accused of being a relative of an ISIS suspect,” Fakih said.

Such practice is in clear violation of the Geneva Convention, Fakih said, which puts the Iraqi government at risk of being accused of war crimes.

“We are continuing to call for the Iraqi federal government that they take steps to ensure that their soldiers are not committing war crimes by forcibly displacing families who are being punished for the acts of another relative,” she said.

Of a particular concern to the organization are some 200,000 people that have already been displaced. Meanwhile, as the offensive enters its decisive stage, up to 250,000 more people are expected to leave the city in the coming weeks, according to UN estimates.

The intense bombing campaign by the Iraqi forces, backed by the US-led international coalition, has been criticized for inflicting heavy civilian casualties.

READ MORE: ‘We’re scared both of ISIS & liberators’: RT meets refugees who escaped Mosul crossfire (EXCLUSIVE)

Fakih believes the Iraqi government must prioritize the protection of civilian lives and take all possible measures to avoid hitting civilians, including “giving advanced warning” and not launching attacks “when they know that the resulting harm to civilians is going to be greater than military objectives there.”

The bitter fighting of the last few days has brought considerable ground gains to the Iraqi army. On Monday, Iraqi elite units recaptured a key local government complex in central Mosul, encompassing the Nineveh governorate headquarters, a courthouse, a main branch of the central bank, a police directorate and a Turkish consulate.

READ MORE: Iraqi troops recapture key govt building in Mosul amidst exodus

The breakthrough is seen by Iraqi commanders as a game changer in the battle for Mosul’s complete liberation. Since securing the government complex, the Iraqi troops moved to force out jihadists out of the area of Bab Laksh, south of Mosul, the Joint Operation Command reported on Tuesday.

“Security forces are currently engaged in fierce battles with Islamic State inside the narrow alleys in the area,” Colonel Khodier Saleh said in a statement, as cited by Iraqi News. So far, over 30 militants have been killed and six more arrested as result of the operation.

On Tuesday, the head of the Iraqi army’s Counter-Terrorism Force reported that the Iraqi army has regained control over 60 percent of western Mosul.

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Moscow accuses Ukraine of misleading intl court, denies terrorism & racial discrimination claims

Moscow accuses Ukraine of misleading intl court, denies terrorism & racial discrimination claims
Russia has rejected accusations of financing terrorism and discriminating against Ukrainians and Tatars in Crimea during hearings in a lawsuit brought by Ukraine in The Hague. Moscow says Kiev is twisting facts and using the trial for political gain.

The Russian delegation at the hearings, which were launched by the International Court of Justice on March 6 and are set to continue until Thursday, argued that the real purpose of the litigation initiated by Ukraine is to entangle the UN court in matters that lie outside its jurisdiction.

“The first goal is to draw the panel into the discussion of the issues that should be tackled by Russia and Ukraine and are clearly outside the court’s competence, such as sovereignty, territorial integrity and the right to self-determination,” Russian Foreign Ministry Legal Department director Roman Kolodkin said, as cited by TASS.

By portraying the armed resistance of eastern Ukrainians against Kiev’s military operation as terrorism, which Russia has been accused of “sponsoring,” the authorities in Kiev are saying, in effect, that the populations of the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk are accomplices to terrorism, Kolodkin told the court on Tuesday.

“Ukraine is misleading the court on the true causes of the tragic developments that are now taking place,” Kolodkin said, noting that the real reason for the uprising in eastern Ukraine was the desire of the local population to “protect themselves from those who took the power as result of the coup d’état in 2014,” which ultimately resulted in the formation of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR).

Kolodkin said that apart from playing the “terrorism” card to initiate international court proceedings, Kiev has offered nothing to substantiate its claims, as no other state entity or organization has recognized the actions of the self-proclaimed republics as acts of terrorism.

“It is not a surprise that Kiev did not manage to accompany its allegations with documents issued by any international organization or a country, which would have characterized the actions by [the DPR] and [the LPR] as terrorist acts,” he said.

READ MORE: Drone captures endless lines of coal cars held up by blockade of rebel E. Ukraine (VIDEO)

The mere fact that the rebels in eastern Ukraine are battling the central government does not make them terrorists, Kolodkin argued. Recognizing that label could, however, set a dangerous precedent, which may have “consequences far beyond this particular case.”

The Russian delegation also denied that Moscow has been arming the rebels, stating that even before the military conflict began, large arsenals from Soviet times were stored in the coal mines of Donbass. Once hostilities began, the outdated weapons were taken and used by anti-Kiev fighters.

Ukraine’s logic in the case could lead to rather absurd conclusions, such as Kiev itself being a “sponsor of terrorism” in Donetsk and Lugansk, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s department for new challenges and threats, Ilya Rogachev, said at the hearing, noting that until recently, Kiev continued to trade with and fund organizations that have been in effect under the control of rebel authorities.

Moscow also denied that it had played any role in bringing down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 on July 17, 2014 over eastern Ukraine, which Kiev included as an act of terrorism in its indictment.

The notion was disputed by Rogachev, who stated that “neither the DSB [Dutch Safety Board] nor the JIT [Joint Investigative Team] have arrived at the conclusion the liner was shot down deliberately or that the equipment had been allegedly provided for this particular purpose,” which makes Ukraine’s accusations baseless. The crash cannot be considered an act of terrorism, he argued, and therefore does not fall under the scope of the Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, which Moscow is accused of violating.

The allegation that the jet was struck by a Buk missile coming from territory under the control of the rebels, which is disputed by Moscow, also should not be considered final, he argued.

“It is noteworthy that in the summer of 2014 Ukraine’s 156th air defense regiment armed with Buk-M1 systems was in the area of the conflict,” Rogachev said, as cited by TASS, noting that the regiment has 17 systems at its disposal.

The claims of racial discrimination against the Tatar and Ukrainian populations in Crimea were dismissed by the Russian representatives as completely unfounded.

Speaking at the hearing, Deputy Director of the Department for Humanitarian Cooperation and Human Rights Grigory Lukyantsev said that Ukraine “did not manage to provide any primary evidence” to support its allegations of mistreatment, while Russia has been pouring billions of rubles into Crimea’s development, including that of the Crimean Tatar community.

Ukraine filed the lawsuit in the International Court of Justice, accusing Moscow of breaching two international conventions – the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

In January, the Russian Foreign Ministry denounced the lack of cooperation on behalf of Ukraine to resolve the issue extrajudicially, after it withdrew from bilateral consultations on the issue and took the case to court.

“Ukraine’s main aim – if not the sole one – was not a settlement of some disputes, but search for a pretext for taking Russia to an international court,” the ministry said in a statement at the time.

READ MORE: Quarter of Russians back potential recognition of Donbass republics

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EU & Russian lawmakers may be able to visit liberated Aleppo, Palmyra – Russian MP

EU & Russian lawmakers may be able to visit liberated Aleppo, Palmyra – Russian MP
Russian lawmakers and member of the European Parliament may visit the liberated Syrian cities of Palmyra and Aleppo, the head of Russia’s Federation Council Committee for International Relations said during a video conference with his European counterparts.

“When we go to Syria again, I hope we will visit Aleppo, Palmyra and other Syrian cities that are gradually returning to normal life,” Konstantin Kosachev said in a Moscow-Brussels video conference, called “Peaceful Future for Syria,” set up by Rossiya Segodnya.

Three MEPs from Italy, Latvia and Estonia and a group from the Federation Council made a first trip to Syria in December 2016, where they held a meeting with government officials.

It was announced in December that such a trip is a possibility. After that, a group of MEPs contacted the council, asking it to organize a joint visit to Syria to see “what is going on there,” Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko said at the time.

The trip was described as a unique experience, taking place amid Russia-EU strained relations, said Andrey Mamykin of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, a political group in the European Parliament.

“The European Parliament should take an active role in Syrian peace process. We can’t sit back and do nothing. It would be very productive for us to work together with our Russian colleagues again,” said Mamykin, a Latvian MEP.

Kosachev spoke of a trip to Syria last week at similar video conference with MEPs, organized by Rossiya Segodnya.

He criticized the resolutions on Syria drafted by the European Parliament calling them “politicized” and detached from the real state of affairs.

Kosachev said that the authors of the resolutions should “go to Syria in the near future to see what’s going on there” and “open their eyes to the real world.”

“We could meet government officials and members of the opposition in Damascus. We could visit recently liberated cities as well, Aleppo, for example, and talk to people who were rescued,” Kosachev said, adding that Russia is “ready to organize such visits on a regular basis.”

Federation Council Speaker Matviyenko announced plans to convene regular TV conferences regarding the Syrian crisis on February 15. The first conference featuring officials from Moscow, Astana and Damascus took place on February 16.

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