GENEVA — The United Nations Human Rights Council decided Monday to send a fact-finding team to Iraq to investigate possible war crimes by Islamic extremists after hearing senior human rights officials detail mass killings and other atrocities committed “on an unimaginable scale.”
In the face of new depravities in Iraq, the Geneva-based council adopted, without a vote, a resolution sponsored by more than 100 states calling for the urgent dispatch of a fact-finding mission and required it to report back in March.
Of the council’s 47 members, only South Africa withheld support, saying the resolution was ambiguous and lacked balance.
The United Nations already has a 42-person team monitoring human rights in Iraq, working from Baghdad and other cities. But officials said the human rights council will now send an 11-person team that will operate separately, focusing on abuses arising from the behavior of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Sunni extremist group that has seized parts of northern Iraq and has boasted about its brutalities against nonbelievers.
More than a million people have fled the ISIS onslaught in recent weeks, Flavia Pansieri, the deputy high commissioner for human rights, told the council. She reported summary mass executions, forced conversions, abductions, slavery, sexual abuse, torture and the besieging of entire communities.
“The reports we have received reveal acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale,” Ms. Pansieri told diplomats as she opened the emergency session.
ISIS fighters killed at least 650 non-Sunni inmates of a Mosul prison, forcing them into ditches and shooting them, Ms. Pansieri said. Afterward, she said, “the bodies were then examined and any men that appeared to be alive were shot in the head.”
Detailing other atrocities, Ms. Pansieri said that 1,500 young conscripts were missing after ISIS captured their base, and videos confirmed by witnesses showed hundreds of handcuffed men systematically shot. ISIS forces also killed at least 1,000 members of the Yazidi minority and kidnapped or enslaved 2,750 others, she said.
Ms. Pansieri told the council that ISIS had ordered strict rules for women living in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and other areas in its control. “Women are not allowed to walk in the street without the presence of a male guardian, and there are more and more reports of women being beaten” for infractions, she said.
ISIS and its allies were taking boys as young as 13 on patrol “carrying weapons sometimes bigger than themselves” and using children as checkpoint sentries, informants and sometimes as suicide bombers, Leila Zerrougui, the top United Nations advocate for children who are afflicted by war, told the council. Ms. Zerrougui also spoke of reports about sexual violence and abductions of young girls from minority groups for forced marriages that the United Nations had yet to verify.
Iraqi security forces also committed abuses that may amount to war crimes, Ms. Pansieri said, reporting killings of detainees and citing an attack by Shiite militia fighters on a Sunni mosque killing at least 73 men and boys and wounding 38 others.
The council resolution, however, called for an investigation only of ISIS violations. Iraq’s minister of human rights, Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani, speaking to reporters after the session, said instances of abuses by Iraqi forces would be investigated by Iraq’s government, not the fact-finding mission.
Still, defeating ISIS “begins with a united Iraqi government committed to justice for all of Iraq’s communities,” Keith Harper, the American ambassador to the council, said, calling, like many other states, including Iran, for strong international support to the new government formed by the prime minister-designate, Haider al-Abadi.
Russia already demonstrated support for Iraq by delivering advanced attack fighter aircraft, its ambassador, Alexey Borodavkin, said. In a criticism of American and Arab support for antigovernment armed groups in Syria, he asserted that “all this could have been avoided” if states had cooperated with President Bashar al-Assad’s armed forces in Syria.
Nick Cumming-Bruce reported from Geneva, and Somini Sengupta from the United Nations.