A new strategy to combat Jihadism in the Arab heartland

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) addressing the Security Council on November the 18th announced a fact-finding mission to Iraq and made the case for a new strategy to combat Jihadism in the region.

His call is based on two fundamental points. The first is to stress we are facing an ideological struggle rather than a security one. In this context, he showed how the actions of the fanatic groups are far from the Muslim religion rulings. The second is that while denouncing ISIS as a specific horrendous jihadist group, one should not forget the ISIS rival Shi’a armed groups such as Asayib Ahl al-Haq. Targeting ISIS (Daesh) in tactical collusion with the terrorist groups supported by the Syrian or Iraqi authorities and masterminded by Tehran is a great disservice to the fight against jihadism.

In other words, the international community cannot see this war as an issue to be sorted out mainly by air bombs and it must condemn Jihadism across the Shia-Sunni divide.

A five days trip across Kurdistan supported by “Luftbrücke Iraq” – a German based association that fights to free Yezidis from captivity – leads me to fully subscribe the qualification of genocide made by OHCHR to the crimes of Daesh.

OHCHR estimations of a minimum number of thousand five hundred of Yezidi women and children enslaved by jihadists are underestimates. “Luftbrücke Iraq” has already over 5000 documented cases.

Furthermore, and coming back to the issue of the methods to be used in combatting Daesh, we should keep in mind that while a large numbers of captives were sold or otherwise taken away from the front line to big cities in both Iraq and Syria, a large numbers remains or was returned to villages in the Sinjar region transformed in concentration camps for them. A military action across the front line in the region could result in the immediate liberation of many of these slaves, inflicting a serious blow to the Jihadists.

On the ideological front line – the fundamental one, as High Commissioner Al Hussein stresses – it is important to note that a large number of clerics firmly condemn the jihadist religious interpretations and stress that the forced conversions of Yezidis should be considered non-valid. But this might not be enough.

The United Arab Emirates labelled as terrorist not only the jihadi organisations producing violence in the front line but the jihadi ideologues operating legally, sometimes even supported by the state, in countries like the US and the UK. I believe this bold attitude of the UAE authorities should be fully supported by OHCHR. How can we defeat jihadists bombing them in Iraq and Syria but protecting their ideologues back home?

And after setting the principles, we should than proceed to evaluate the actions proposed. High Commissioner Al Hussein repeatedly makes the case for Iraq to accept the International Criminal Court (ICC), and no one could contest the importance of this invitation. However, this does not lead to a realist strategy to deal with the issue.

First, because if Iraq would accept the ICC, the terrorist gangs operating with the benediction of the authorities would certainly get in trouble; second because this move from Iraq would not cover crimes already committed and thirdly because it is impossible to distinguish Iraq and Syria territorial jurisdiction in these crimes.

The only viable alternative is to constitute a special tribunal to judge Jihadist genocide crimes in Syria and Iraq, as it was done prior to the existence of ICC, in Nuremberg, for instance, or more recently in Rwanda, Sierra Leone’s, Yugoslav; Cambodia or Bangladesh.

It goes without saying that all of the courts constituted up to our day followed the defeat of the human rights violations perpetrators, and that we are now considering such an enterprise while the culprits of these violations remain in power.

This means that the new judicial instrument would develop its action side by side with military operations in the ground. International justice would serve not only as a deterrent for new cases of human rights violations but also as a deterrent in ongoing human-rights violations.

This proposal has been advanced namely by some US law makers targeting Assad regime crimes in particular. Most likely, it would need serious legal work to become workable, but it is the only realistic option we have in front of us.

Jihadist major crimes against humanity from both the Sunni-Shia spectrum divide have been continuous in Iraq since 2003 and in Syria since 2011.

We should wait no longer. This is a challenge I leave here for the consideration of High Commissioner Al Hussein.


Erbil, 2014-11-24


Paulo Casaca

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