Feb 17, 2019 Last Updated 6:33 PM, Feb 5, 2019

Human Rights Violations by the “Islamic State”

Islamic State

Already months before they declared their caliphate in June 2014, the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" (ISIS) started its deadly crusade by taking control over large parts of Anbar province. By now, the terrorist group has claimed territories in Syria, Iraq, Sinai and eastern Libya. Their military advance has come with the most hideous crimes committed against combatants and civilians, making violence a cornerstone of their ideology. Several international actors, including the United Nations and various human rights organizations, have accused the "Islamic State" of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

War crimes and crimes against humanity

It has been extensively documented that the jihadist extremists are responsible for the murder of civilian residents of the occupied territories, killing hostages and prisoners and wantonly destroying entire cities and religious and cultural sites. Their captives face punishment without trials, mutilation or death. These acts amount to war crimes, which are grave violations of the law that regulates the conduct of armed conflicts. Yet ISIS also attacks human dignity itself and degrades human beings in ways which under the Rome Statute are defined as crimes against humanity. Such atrocities at the hands of ISIS include systematic and widespread mass executions and massacres, kidnappings, the use of child soldiers, arbitrary imprisonment, slavery, torture, rape, organ trafficking as well as religious and ethnic persecution.

Religious and ethnic persecution

The terrorist group forces all those living under its control to follow its extremist ideology and interpretations of sharia law. Forced conversions are reported to be a common practice. Anyone who does not comply with their rules faces persecution, torture, execution or displacement. Especially Shia Muslims and religious minorities, such as Christians, Turkmen, Yazidis, Shabaks and Mandeans, are being targeted by the terrorists. As a consequence, ISIS is responsible for the internal displacement of more than 2.5 million Iraqis. When they captured the town of Sinjar in August 2014, they partly massacred and entirely displaced its Yazidi population. Thousands found themselves trapped on Mount Sinjar, either facing starvation or running into the arms of ISIS. Such systematic targeting of minorities amounts to ethnic cleansing, as Amnesty International has shown. UN officials even called it an attempt to commit genocide.

Forced marriage, rape and sexual enslavement

As an extremist jihadist organization, ISIS has used a policy of gender-specific and sexual violence since the beginning of its activities. After their seizure of Sinjar, they sexually enslaved appr. 5000 women and girls of the Yazidi community. ISIS imposes its extremist agenda on women's bodies and makes them the battlefield of their so-called "holy war". The ISIS online magazine Dabiq has officially described and justified the enslavement and rape of Yazidi women. Yet such crimes are not limited to the Yazidi minority – in March 2015, the abduction of some 200 Turkmen women was officially confirmed. Many more are reported to have died while going into labor on the run. Women and girls of all age groups have endured physical and sexual violence and their children have witnessed these crimes. Thousands are being abducted, raped, held captive in brothels and sold in markets in Mosul and Raqqa, Syria.


Amnesty International (2014): Iraq: Ethnic cleansing on historic scale. The Islamic State’s systematic targeting of minorities in northern Iraq

Human Rights Watch (2015): Iraq World Report 2015

The Guardian (2015): What will it take to stop Isis using rape as a weapon of war?

UN Human Rights Council (2015): The human rights situation in Iraq in the light of abuses committed by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and associated groups