Rights abuses 'fuelled' rise of militants

Rights abuses 'fuelled' rise of militants
Human Rights Watch criticises the west for turning a blind eye to sectarian policies on the part of the Iraqi and Syrian governments, which have led to the rise of Islamic State group and other extremists.
3 min read
29 January, 2015
The Syrian opposition has argued that they have been ignored by Western powers (Getty)
Human Rights Watch sharply criticised the international community, and specifically western nations for allowing what it described as the conditions that led to the rise of the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS).

The New York based rights group said in its World Report 2015, that the international community failed to end abuses committed by the the Assad regime in Syria and the government of Nouri al-Maliki in Iraqi. HRW said that this failure contributed, partly at least, to the rise of IS.

"ISIS did not emerge out of nowhere,” said Kenneth Roth, the HRW director, in his introduction to the 656-page report.

“The sectarian policies of the Iraqi and Syrian governments, and international indifference to those governments' serious rights abuses, have been important factors.”

Roth highlighted the international community's inaction in the face of the Syrian regime's use of barrel bombs that indiscriminately target civilians, as well as Maliki's use of sectarian militias to target what he described as a “persecuted” Sunni minority.

Roth also argued that the rise of IS, that has taken over large swathes of Iraq and Syria and has committed atrocities in both countries, is in part a product of the US invasion of Iraq, and the abuses that were committed by the US administration over the years that followed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The reaction to the Egyptian authority's crackdown on dissent was described as “shamefully inadequate”, and support for Egypt's president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi as “a disaster for the Egyptian hopes of a democratic future”.

HRW linked this to the rise of IS, arguing that the group were now available to say that Islamists could only attain power through violence, and not democracy.

“ISIS can now credibly argue that violence is the only path to power for Islamists because when they sought power through fair elections and won, they were ousted with little international protest,” said Roth, referring to the July 2013 coup against Egypt's first democratically-elected president, and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Muhammed Morsi.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were criticised for their support for Sisi, as well as for their own internal crackdowns on dissent. HRW said that the two Gulf monarchies were “terrified” of the Muslim Brotherhood as it provides an alternative, apparently democratic, Islamic form of rule to the absolute autocracies in both countries.

Post-Charlie Hebdo fears

HRW expressed fears that the French government's response to the Paris attacks earlier in January may lead to a crackdown on free speech.

“Using counterterrorism legislation to prosecute speech that does not incite violence... will have a chilling effect on free expression and encourage other governments to use such laws,” HRW said.

The weeks following the attacks have seen numerous arrests in France targeting people who wrote or produced material deemed offensive by the French authorities, who argued that this was glorification of terrorism.

Concerning the summer war in Gaza, HRW criticised Hamas for endangering Palestinian civilians by fighting from heavily-populated areas, but reserved most of its criticism for Israel.

“Tens of thousands of Israeli rockets, bombs... and lax concern for civilian casualties, left an estimated 1,500 civilians dead in Gaza and wreaked unprecedented destruction on civilian homes and infrastructure,” Roth said.

The Palestinians have joined the International Criminal Court in frustration at Israel's apparent ability to escape punishment for its attacks on civilians and its continuing occupation of Palestinian land. Many Western governments' opposition to this was criticised by HRW, who labelled it as a “selective embrace” of justice that “emboldens critics who argue that international justice is reserved for weak nations”.