If truth is the first casualty of war, then an early victim is our capacity for outrage.
It is remarkable how little anger or even shock has accompanied or been evoked by last week's damning report, produced jointly by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The report covers atrocities in Iraq over just two months from July 6th to the 10th of September. Among the 'horrendous' abuses the report highlights, as they call for a full enquiry by the International Criminal Court, are crimes against innocent children who should be at school but who have become instead pawns in a brutal war.
The report exposes in graphic detail what the investigators call the "forced recruitment of children," as soldiers and "abductions, rape and other forms of sexual and physical violence perpetrated against women and children."
The report documents how the Islamic State or ISIS and associated armed groups are actively recruiting children as young as 12 or 13 as soldiers. Indeed, pictures posted on social media show children who a few weeks ago would have been at elementary school now undergoing ISIS organized military training in Mosul. And the authors report statements by witnesses in Mosul and Tal Afar who have seen armed children wearing attire similar to ISIS fighters and underage children aged 13, 14 and 15 forming the majority of ISIS patrols inside both cities.
Children were also found manning checkpoints on the road from Qayara (Ninewa) to al-Sharqat. The number of children seen at these checkpoints had drastically increased throughout the last weeks of August. Some boys from Ninewa Plains and Makhmour who have recently managed to escape have reported on how they were used as human shields, forced to form the front line to protect adult ISIL fighters during fighting. They also said they had been forced to donate blood for treating injured ISIS fighters.
Sadly abductions and rapes of schoolgirls are common. One adolescent Yazidi girl who had been abducted from her village by ISIS reported that she was raped repeatedly by a succession of fighters before she was sold in a market. She said she was just one of hundreds of women and girls first held in Si Basha Khidri and then transferred almost certainly to be trafficked
On August 2nd, the Yazidi village of Maturat, southern Sinjar, witnessed abductions of women who were taken by ISIS fighters to Badoush Prison in Mosul. On August 3rd, ISIS herded between 450 and 500 women and girls to the citadel of Tal Afar in Nineva where, two days later, 150 unmarried girls and women, predominantly from the Yazidi and Christian communities, were reportedly transported to Syria to be given to ISIL fighters as a reward or sold as sex slaves ('malak yamiin'). Victims also reported being transferred to Badouch Prison, or transferred to Syria. In addition there are reports of teenage children (both males and females) from Sinjar, Tal Afar, the Ninewa Plains and Shirkhan being sexually assaulted by ISIS fighters.
The report states that on a daily basis ISIS was taking groups of children away to unknown locations and it recounts how girls and boys as well as women who refused to convert were being allotted to ISIS fighters or were being trafficked as slaves ('malak yamiin') in markets in Mosul and to Raqqa in Syria.
One harrowing account is how ISIL left up to 65 children from the Turkmen and Yazidi communities in an orphanage in Mosul City. The children, aged from 5 months to 17 years, were already traumatized from witnessing at first hand the murder of their parents. But it also appears certain that some of the older children were physically and sexually assaulted. Later ISIS fighters returned to the orphanage and made the children pose with ISIS flags so they could take photos of them as trophies of war .
Throughout this summer of madness, as the UN report graphically shows ,the rules of war which forbid the use and abuse of children in armed conflict have been systematically ignored.
Now it is for all concerned with children's rights to rise up and insist that the torture, rape and militarization of children be placed at the center of our demands for an International Criminal Court investigation that will aim for the prosecution of the guilty.
Children should be at school, their schools sanctuaries outside conflict zones, and their rights to their childhood protected And the world must speak out more loudly against the use of child soldiers and the molestation of girls as weapons of war.
© Gordon Brown, 2014