Since January, conflict and human rights abuses in Iraq have displaced around 1.8 million Iraqis, according to the UN. With a major offensive launched by the group known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in June, local civilians have faced violence, abductions, mass executions and persecution of ethnic and religious minorities. Serious abuses by government security forces and supporting militias have also been reported. Iraq now has one of the largest internally displaced populations in the world.
There is urgent need for basic humanitarian assistance. Food, shelter, medicine, safe water and sanitation are critical for the masses of displaced people as well as for the communities hosting them. As host communities and displaced peoples’ resources deplete, and with the winter approaching in November, these needs will become even more acute.
Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of people across the country are unable to access assistance due to ongoing fighting and the actions of armed groups to prevent free movement of people and humanitarian aid.
Oxfam is currently working with three partner organizations in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) providing safe drinking water and carrying out public health and hygiene education activities. We are in the process of significantly scaling up our in order to extend support to other affected districts.
Women and children at risk
Women and children caught in the middle or fleeing the conflict are often the most at risk and are particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender based violence. Furthermore, with the impact of the ongoing crisis on health facilities and service provision, assistance to survivors is difficult.
In this regard, Oxfam Canada applauds the recent pledge of the Canadian Government to provide $10 million for services and treatment of refugees who have been victims of sexual abuse. Already recognized internationally for its work in fighting gender based violence, the Canadian Government is now leading the way to ensure that sexual violence prevention and survivor centered responses are high priorities for all humanitarian actors operating in Iraq.
Oxfam has not taken a position for or against airstrikes against ISIL. Any military intervention in Iraq or elsewhere must be conducted within the parameters of international law. All military activities by all combatants, including airstrikes, must prioritize the safety and security of civilians, and observe international humanitarian law. This includes allowing unhindered passage for people fleeing the violence to safely access humanitarian assistance, regardless of religion, gender, community or ethnic affiliation.
Oxfam also underlines the importance of ensuring that humanitarian assistance is delivered impartially to those in need and should not be designed, construed or portrayed as supporting political or military objectives.
A political solution
The crisis in Iraq is very complex and has its own dynamics and root causes.
Oxfam’s experience of working in Iraq and in conflicts across the region and around the world, has underlined the fact that neither humanitarian aid nor military strikes are effective long term solutions.
Such solutions will only be secured by an inclusive political process which upholds equality and human rights, and aims to deliver a future in which all citizens have an equitable stake and representative voice.
Key to the peace process in such circumstances is ensuring that there are no transfers of arms and ammunition where there is a substantial risk that they will be used to commit serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Oxfam welcomes the UN Security Council arms embargo on ISIL, given its record of systematically violating human rights and international humanitarian law. In this regard, Oxfam notes with disappointment that the Government of Canada is the only one of 26 NATO member countries that has not yet signed the global Arms Trade Treaty.