The Islamic State (ISIS) radical group is putting civilians and staff at risk by occupying hospitals in Mosul, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.
ISIS took control of al-Salam Hospital in eastern Mosul, and set up a consistent presence of about 10 fighters inside the hospital for more than two years.
After the battle around the al-Salam Hospital in Wahda neighborhood, ISIS dragged seven Iraqi soldiers’ corpses through the streets, an eyewitness told HRW several days later seeing the bodies of three soldiers hanging from a bridge.
“We just stood there on the street, horrified,” one resident said. “ISIS used to come to the neighborhood and give us these videos of executions, telling us we needed to watch them, but we ignored them and didn’t. So witnessing this was just so awful.”
“Under the law of armed conflict, all parties must take all possible measures to prevent the dead from being despoiled. It is a war crime to ‘commit outrages upon personal dignity’, which includes dead bodies,” HRW said, noting that Iraqi security forces have also dragged bodies of ISIS fighters.
“As the battle for Mosul unfolds, we are finding that ISIS is regularly occupying medical facilities and placing civilians and staff there at risk of incoming attacks,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Shamefully, ISIS fighters have also taken to advertising their abuses on the streets, as they did with the soldiers’ bodies.”
Under the laws of war applicable to the armed conflict in Iraq, hospitals and other medical facilities receive special protection. Armed forces or groups should not occupy medical facilities, undermining their protected status and placing civilians and civilian objects at risk, HRW said.
Even when medical facilities are used for military purposes, they are only subject to attack after a warning has been given, setting a reasonable time limit, and after the warning has gone unheeded.
A staff member at al-Salam Hospital in Wahda neighbourhood of eastern Mosul said that when ISIS took control of Mosul, it set up a consistent presence of about 10 fighters inside the hospital, and took over its administration.
Moreover, ISIS brought in additional 100 fighters to the hospital during battles in December, and used local mosque loudspeakers to call on the Iraqi army to surrender.
This is also not the first time ISIS fighters have positioned themselves inside medical facilities in Mosul, beside occupying clinics and hospitals in other parts of Iraq.
“ISIS is known to use facilities such as mosques, hospitals, and schools, which are protected under the rules of international law, as weapons storage facilities, fighting positions, and bases for its terrorist operations,” the US-led coalition said in a statement in January.
“We have seen this tactic used in ever greater numbers as the Iraqi Security Forces successfully push further into Mosul,” it added.
“While the Coalition takes extraordinary effort to protect civilians and strike appropriate military targets, we will continue to strike ISIS wherever and whenever our partner’s lives are in danger in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict.”
On 17 October, Iraqi and Kurdish forces with support of the United States-led international coalition, formally began military operations to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which ISIS fighters captured in June 2014.
On January 24, 2017, the Iraqi government announced that all of eastern Mosul had been retaken, while the western half of the city remained under ISIS control.
It’s expected that new operations will soon be launched to take the rest of Mosul.
“The enemy is completely surrounded in West Mosul, and those who do not surrender to Iraqi Security Forces will be killed there,” Air Force Col John L. Dorrian, a Spokesman for the US-led coalition said on Wednesday.