Reports and Briefings

As atrocities continue to mount in Syria, new report reveals potential options for securing justice during the conflict

May 2015

As atrocities continue to mount in Syria, A Step towards Justice: Current accountability options for crimes under international law committed in Syria is the first report to offer a detailed examination of the mechanisms available to deliver justice to the Syrian people while the conflict goes on.

Drawing on comprehensive legal analysis, the joint report by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) evaluates the potential avenues towards securing accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, including massacres of civilians, indiscriminate aerial bombardment, enforced disappearances, systematic torture, rape, and the use of children in hostilities.

While there are constraints on the current feasibility of the most prominent mechanisms, including domestic courts and the International Criminal Court, as well as alternative mechanisms such as hybrid tribunals, the use of foreign national courts remains open.

‘European jurisdictions are increasingly prosecuting those charged with supporting ISIS in Syria, but not those from the government side who commit atrocities,’ said Mark Lattimer, Ceasefire’s Director. ‘The challenge now is whether foreign courts or other mechanisms can bring to justice perpetrators from all sides of the conflict, including those with responsibility for the gravest crimes.’

‘Some countries might be able to utilize their domestic jurisdictions to prosecute a few perpetrators,’ said Mohammad Al Abdallah, Executive Director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Center. ‘While this is a good first step towards justice, and may be the only available one at the moment, it is not sufficient and does not respond to the magnitude of the violations occurring in Syria over the past four years.’

The report examines the practical and ethical challenges of the various accountability mechanisms currently available. By providing recommendations to better inform the international community’s role in securing accountability under international law, the report helps to guide the next step towards justice in Syria.

The report’s findings will be discussed at a meeting at the American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights in Washington DC on Tuesday 12 May from 2:00PM – 3:00 PM (EDT) with:

Chair: Honorable Patricia Wald, former Chief Judge, US Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit. A former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, she is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Mark Lattimer, Director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights

Mohammed Al Abdallah, Executive Director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre

Jennifer Trahan, Associate Clinical Professor at the Center for Global Affairs, New York University


SianAs atrocities continue to mount in Syria, new report reveals potential options for securing justice during the conflict
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No Way Home: Iraq’s minorities on the verge of disappearance

May 2016

No Way Home: Iraq’s minorities on the verge of disappearance seeks to document the situation of Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities most affected by the violence that escalated after the fall of Mosul in June 2014. It is published by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, jointly with Minority Rights Group International, the International Institute for Law and Human Rights, No Peace Without Justice and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO).

Since June 2014, many thousands of persons belonging to minorities have been murdered, maimed or abducted, including unknown numbers of women and girls forced into marriage or sexual enslavement. ISIS forces and commanders have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide, including summary executions, killing, mutilation, rape, sexual violence, torture, cruel treatment, the use and recruitment of children, outrages on personal dignity, and the use of chemical weapons.

Cultural and religious heritage dating back centuries continues to be destroyed, while property and possessions have been systematically looted. These abuses are ongoing at the time of writing and appear to be part of a conscious attempt to eradicate Iraq’s religious and ethnic diversity. It should also be stressed that as the latest phase in the conflict reaches a two-year benchmark, forces fighting ISIS have also apparently committed human rights and international humanitarian law violations, including Iraqi Security Forces, Popular Mobilization Units and Kurdish Peshmerga.

The millions of displaced still remain in camps, and there are no serious returns to areas retaken from ISIS. As of March 2016, internal displacement exceeded 3.3 million. Iraqi sources estimate the total number of those who have lost their homes and are internally displaced at more than 4 million, factoring in those IDPs not registered.

Currently, there appears to be no serious Iraqi or international effort to build the political, social and economic conditions for the sustainable return of those who lost homes and livelihoods as a result of the conflict. Militias and unscrupulous local authorities are exploiting this vacuum.

This report is called ‘No Way Home’ to highlight the despair Iraqi ethnic and religious communities feel about prospects for return. This perspective is rooted both in a sense of hopelessness about the prospect of return and frustration with the continued deterioration of humanitarian conditions. There is a lack of trust that the government, regional actors, local officials or the international community will provide the necessary support to facilitate returns, locate missing persons, provide justice, facilitate the difficult process of reconciliation and ensure the return of looted possessions and homes. The result will be another Iraqi lost generation, radicalized by homelessness and depredation, repeating the cycle

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Iraq’s Displacement Crisis: Security and protection

March 2016

Since the present displacement crisis began in January 2014 with the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham (ISIS), the humanitarian emergency in Iraq has become more severe. The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq now stands at 3.2 million, while more than 8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. With the UN lacking funding and the Government of Iraq and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) under both military and economic strain, the protection of human rights and provision of humanitarian assistance have been gravely compromised.

Iraq’s Displacement Crisis: security and protection provides an up-to date overview of the situation of IDPs in Iraq since the ISIS onslaught and resulting conflict, including not only forced displacement committed by ISIS but also that perpetrated by other armed groups, including government forces. The report also explores the facilitation of IDP returns to areas of origin. Due to poor living conditions in areas of displacement, many families are seeking to return even though the situation in their area of origin may not have improved. Almost without exception, however, liberated areas are in need of better security, reconstruction of basic infrastructure and the resumption of public services.

Two years on, social tensions are rising in both areas of displacement and areas of return. With new population movements and territorial control shifting between armed groups, host communities and authorities are under greater pressure. Intimidation and harassment of IDPs based on their origins are common and increasing in areas of displacement. Communities who find themselves in areas where they are a religious, ethnic or linguistic minority live in fear of physical assault and discrimination.

In the context of limited governance and continued insecurity, the opportunity afforded by the retaking of territory from ISIS is being lost. If communities are unable to co-exist, Iraq may soon reach a point beyond repair. Post-liberation strategies are therefore urgently required that are comprehensive in addressing security needs but are also aimed at reconciliation, reparation and re-establishing the rule of law.

This report recommends:

  • The Government of Iraq and the KRG should support the safe passage of IDPs through their territory, with transparent and non-discriminatory entry procedures at governorate borders, as well as accessible registration processes. The arbitrary detention of IDPs should be ended.
  • Iraqi authorities should implement comprehensive measures to support the return and reintegration of IDPs, including infrastructure development, property restitution or compensation, and appropriate security measures. This should be done in partnership with local civil society organizations promoting reconciliation between communities.
  • The international community should provide urgent funding to the UN and other international agencies working with the Iraqi authorities to meet the current funding gap in humanitarian assistance for IDPs. This should include technical and financial assistance for the development of a programme of property restitution and reparations, as well as transitional justice measures.
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The Lost Women of Iraq: Family-based violence during armed conflict

November 2015

PDF of report: The Lost Women of Iraq: Family-based violence during armed conflict

Women have paid a heavy price for the breakdown of law and order in Iraq. Decades of conflict, the revival of tribal customs, the eruption of sectarianism and the strengthening of patriarchal religious attitudes have meant that Iraq has seen an increase in forms of family-based violence that are otherwise generally on the decline in the Middle East. Violence inside the home has increased along with violence in the street.

Based on extensive primary research conducted in partnership with ASUDA Organization for Combating Violence against Women in Iraq, the report details:

  • an epidemic of thousands of cases of family-based violence against women, including hundreds of cases every year in which women are burnt alive;
  • increasing rates of forced and underage marriage, including large numbers of girls married under the age of 14 and some as young as ten;
  • a revival of the practice of fasliyya, in which women are bartered as a means of resolving tribal disputes;
  • the persistence of high rates of female genital mutilation, particularly in rural areas and in the north of Iraq;
  • the widespread acceptance in Iraqi society of the murder of women who are perceived to bring ‘dishonour’ to their families, leading to the perpetrators of ‘honour’ crimes routinely escaping justice.


Attempts to seek redress in cases of violence against women are undermined by a weak and ineffective judicial system and outdated laws that excuse or legitimize attacks against women. Perpetrators are often acquitted or given mild sentences for grievous crimes against women, even in the face of clear evidence. However, the large majority of cases never make it to court. In Iraq, violence against women in the home is considered a private matter and strong cultural taboos prevent victims from speaking out.

This report covers forms of violence against women in Iraq which are primarily perpetrated by family members. It complements a previous Ceasefire report, No Place to Turn: Violence against women in Iraq’s conflict, which detailed forms of violence perpetrated directly by security forces, militias or other armed groups.

In the face of the ongoing military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS), the state of women’s rights thoughout the country is being ignored. However, improving respect for women’s rights cannot be postponed until the conflict is over. The federal government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), supported by the international commuity, should undertake urgent legal and social reform to ensure that victims of violence do not continue to suffer in silence.

This report recommends:

  • Repealing provisions of the Iraqi Penal Code which grant husbands the right to discipline their wives, which absolve perpetrators of rape from punishment if they marry their victims, and which allow for greatly reduced sentences for murder and other crimes committed in the name of ‘honour’;
  • Passing a comprehensive anti-domestic violence law and establishing a system of shelters for women fleeing violence or forced marriage;
  • Initiating proper investigations into all violent deaths and reported suicides of women; and promoting the collection of comprehensive and reliable statistics on the prevalence of violence against women.
SianThe Lost Women of Iraq: Family-based violence during armed conflict
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No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict

February 2015

PDF of report: No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict

The armed conflict in Iraq has led to the violent deaths of approximately 14,000 women since 2003. Whether driven by political, ‘moral’ or sectarian motives, attacks on women have become a tactic of war used by parties on both sides of the conflict.

In addition to the women killed in bombings, shelling and air attacks on civilian areas in Iraq, women have been deliberately targeted for assassination by both pro-and anti-government militias across the country.  Shi’a and Sunni militias have also perpetrated mass extra-judicial executions of women for perceived transgression of moral codes.

A further 5,000–10,000 women and girls are estimated to have been abducted or trafficked for sexual slavery, prostitution or ransom. Both fear of the police and considerations of family ‘honour’ contribute to widespread under-reporting of female disappearances and prevent more precise estimates of the scale of the problem, but hundreds every year are trafficked in Baghdad, northern cities and onwards to Syria or the Gulf states. At least 3,000 women and girls were kidnapped in 2014 by the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS), but over six months later there is little evidence of any concrete measures taken by either the Iraqi federal government or the Kurdistan regional government to secure their release.

The fighting in Iraq has generated mass population displacement and created tens of thousands of widows and female-headed households, escalating women’s vulnerability. Weaknesses in the Iraqi laws criminalizing violence against women are compounded by systematic failures by the Iraqi police and justice system. Once a woman becomes a victim of sexual violence or is forced to flee her home, she has no place to turn.

This report recommends:

  • Reforming the Iraqi Penal Code to ensure that violence against women is adequately penalized
  • Carrying out thorough and impartial investigations into crimes against women, including crimes committed by members of the police, security forces, and non-state militias
  • Increasing the recruitment of women in the police force, and providing all police units with appropriate training
  • Implementing recent legislation to combat human trafficking and treating trafficked women as victims rather than penalizing them
  • Improving cooperation between the Iraqi federal government and the KRG to secure the release of women and girls abducted by ISIS.
SianNo Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict
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