BAGHDAD: US Army soldiers watch as fellow coalition soldiers pass by near the entrance to the International Zone in Baghdad. – AFP

BAGHDAD: Amnesty International yesterday urged Iraq to reveal the whereabouts of 643 Sunni Muslim boys and men abducted five years ago by Shiite paramilitaries fighting the Islamic State group. The men and teenagers disappeared during an operation by the Hashed Al-Shaabi in June 2016 to retake Fallujah in the western desert from the IS, which then held the country’s Sunni provinces.

The Hashed have since been integrated into Iraq’s state security forces. Witnesses cited by Amnesty International said that on June 3 gunmen wearing Hashed uniforms “took an estimated 1,300 men and boys considered to be of fighting age away from their families”. “At sunset, at least 643 men and boys were boarded onto buses and a large truck. Their fate remains unknown” while the rest alleged they were tortured, the human rights watchdog said in a statement.

On June 5, Iraq’s then prime minister Haider Al-Abadi established a committee to investigate disappearances and abuses during military operations to retake Fallujah. “The committee’s findings have never been made public,” Amnesty said. “For five years, the families of these men and boys have been living in anguish, not knowing the fate of their loved ones, or whether they are even alive,” said the London-based rights watchdog.

“The families deserve to know what happened to their loved ones. They deserve an end to their suffering.” The Hashed denies having abducted or arbitrarily arrested people, but its commanders often claim to have jails packed with jihadists, without proving the prisoners really belong to IS. Sunnis regularly claim to be discriminated against in post-IS Iraq, where thousands of them have been arrested and often sentenced to prison or death for belonging to IS, rightly or wrongly. Today, the Iraqi government is under fire for closing camps for those displaced in the fight against the Islamic State group.

“The government has closed 16 camps over the last seven months, leaving at least 34,801 displaced people without assurances that they can return home safely, get other safe shelter, or have access to affordable services,” Human Rights Watch said. The displaced forced to leave their tent cities have often had their homes destroyed or are considered “terrorists” by the authorities and their communities, accusations “without any evidence”, HRW said in a statement.

Generational catastrophe
The coronavirus pandemic has severely affected children’s rights worldwide, with young people risking a “generational catastrophe” if governments do not act, a rights group said in an annual survey yesterday. Millions of children have missed out on education because of Covid-19 restrictions while there will be a long term impact in terms of their physical and mental health, Dutch NGO KidsRights said as it launched its annual ranking. The survey ranks Iceland, Switzerland and Finland as best for children’s rights and Chad, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone as the worst, out of a total of 182 countries.

Marc Dulleart, founder and chairman of KidsRights, said that the effects of the pandemic on children had “unfortunately exceeded our predictions at the outset last year”. “Apart from patients of the coronavirus, children have been hardest hit, not directly by the virus itself, but fundamentally failed through the deferred actions of governments around the world,” he said.

“Educational recovery is the key to avoiding generational catastrophe,” Dulleart added. The group said schools for more than 168 million children have been closed for almost a full year, with one in three children worldwide unable to access remote learning while their schools were shut. An additional 142 million kids fell into material poverty as the global economy was hit by the pandemic, while 370 million kids missed out on school meals. KidsRights paid tribute to Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford for his campaign to extend free school meals.

It also hailed Bangladesh for taking over a national TV channel for home schooling and praised Belgium and Sweden for trying to keep schools open. Meanwhile 80 million children under the age of one could miss out on routine vaccination for other diseases because of disruption to healthcare systems, it said. Britain and New Zealand were ranked at 169 and 168 respectively, below North Korea, Syria, Iraq, and Sudan, and just ahead of Eritrea. Austria and Hungary also fell heavily due to discrimination. The survey uses UN data to measure how countries measure up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. – AFP