Tanks of Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces take positions as they attack Islamic State militants in the area in Dohuk, north of Mosul, during an operation to attack ISIS fighters in the northern Iraqi city on October 20, 2016. The U.N. on Friday emphasized that civilians must be protected in the battle of Mosul. Photo by Shvan Harki/UPI | License Photo
GENEVA, Switzerland, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein on Friday said the Iraqi government must do everything it can to protect civilians in Mosul amid reports the Islamic State is using them as human shields.
Hussein said the Islamic State, also known as Daesh, ISIS and ISIL, may rather kill civilians than see them flee Mosul.
"We are gravely worried by reports that ISIL is using civilians in and around Mosul as human shields as the Iraqi forces advance, keeping civilians close to their offices or places where fighters are located, which may result in civilian casualties," Hussein said in a statement. "We therefore welcome the public statements by Iraq's leaders that the utmost efforts will be made to protect civilians, as required by international humanitarian law."
Those held captive by the Islamic State -- particularly from ethnic or religious communities the Islamist group has specifically victimized -- are at extreme risk, Hussein said, adding that his agency has documented incidents since Monday in which the Islamic State forced people to leave their homes in nearby villages to head to the embattled city.
"The killings and abuses committed by ISIL fighters when they captured Mosul in 2014, and the horrors they have subjected its inhabitants to ever since, should leave us in no doubt as to the risk civilians face as the fighting for control of Mosul and surrounding areas continues," Hussein said. "We know ISIL has no regard for human life, which is why it is incumbent upon the Iraqi Government to do its utmost to protect civilians."
Hussein, a Jordanian prince, also said security screening of civilians who are fleeing areas controlled by the Islamic State should be carried out only by established authorities such as the Iraqi security forces.
"There need to be real checks to identify vulnerable people and to ensure that they can access the humanitarian aid and care that they need," Hussein added. "This includes children who, by living in ISIL-controlled areas, may have been indoctrinated and may be exploited to carry out attacks. It is vital to remember that they are not ISIL fighters but children."
Iraqi security forces on Monday launched the long-awaited offensive to re-capture Mosul -- Iraq's second-largest city -- from the Islamic State. The Iraqi effort is aided by the Kurdish Peshmerga and a U.S.-led international coalition.