The United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) adopted a resolution earlier this week to launch an investigation into the human rights abuses being committed by the Islamic State organization in Iraq (also known as ISIS, ISIL, or just IS). The resolution, adopted during a Special Session on the situation in Iraq, calls for dispatching a team of 11 experts to Iraq as soon as possible to document the abuse being wrought upon the people of Iraq.

Over the course of the last several weeks, media outlets have been documenting extensively the way in which ISIS fighters have subjugated populations and taken over entire cities in Iraq. According to the UN HRC, the most reported severe violation has been the killing and maiming of children – 693 cases have been reported since the beginning of the year. Today, there are 1.4 million internally displaced people in Iraq, and thousands have died in recent months (in June, 2,700 civilians were killed, the most civilian deaths in Iraq since 2005.)  The tactics used by ISIS have elicited disgust and fear in Iraq, Syria and globally. The group, which has few, if any, allies, has been targeting civilian populations directly, without restraint or rules, and, seemingly with only a hazy agenda of establishing a caliphate in the region. Interviewed in the Financial Times, Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and an expert in al-Qaeda and Islamic extremism explains “groups like al-Qaeda used violence in a tactical way, in a way proportional to their aims. For Isis [and AQI] the savagery is the point. The action is what matters, not the ideas.”

The new resolution by the UN HRC – which was adopted without a vote – will likely not act as a deterrent for ISIS fighters, who, as mentioned above, are hardly bound by the rules of war. ISIS is obviously not a member state of the UN HRC – as a non-state actor, it does not have the same treaty obligations. ISIS is also not subject to the same laws – national or international – that bind and impose limits on state’s military action  and provide an avenue for accountability and justice. The UN HRC investigation is, nevertheless, an important and necessary step in ensuring that human rights violations are documented, and that evidence that can eventually support accountability measures is being collected by a legitimate body. This is the proper and appropriate role for the Human Rights Council in a situation like this., Where and how perpetrators will be punished, however, remains to be determined.

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