Libertatem Magazine

Human Rights and International Peace: A Critique of Atrocities Committed by ISIS in the Middle East and Rise of Militancy in Ukraine

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Maintenance of peace and security are the highest concerns of the international law. Disruption of peace and security attract unpleasant situations like violation of human rights, regional instability and political tension. The recent emergence of certain armed non-state actors, major among them being the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and separatist groups in Ukraine have trigged a baffling turmoil in the region of their control and world over. The ISIS has been consistently expanding its territorial and fighting forces across the Middle East and North African region. It is accused of committing serious crimes against humanity by the United Nations, experts and the international media. Mass beheadings, public executions, genocide and sex slavery have been hugely reported from the ISIS controlled regions.

On the other hand, the siege and strikes of separatist groups in Ukraine has led to deadly air and armed strikes on cities of strategic importance. Deaths, injuries, persecution have become common phenomena in eastern and southern Ukraine. The Ukrainian government forces and separatist rebels are at violent loggerheads in spite of peaceful deal struck in February, 2015. The ISIS’s resounding and the Ukrainian crisis have affected the peace and security of the region and globe at large. It has also exposed the unruly approach of developed nations of the world to curb and control such violence. Certain developed countries like America, Israel, et al have in turn taken opportunities to serve their political ends by intervening in the crisis. Worst, they have mostly ended up violating international norms like sovereignty and self-defense principles, to name some.

Old problems like the existence of worldwide colonial system, ideological and military struggle between the east and west and rigid demarcation between the north and south are almost bygone international issues in the contemporary times. Today, many glaring problems are set to overwhelm the world like, drug businesses, trafficking of nuclear material, spread of new diseases, laundering illicit wealth, ethnic conflicts, disintegration of nations, clash of civilizations and the list goes on. The full fledged-rise of terrorism at international sphere is another violent and aghast activity that is expanding and consolidating itself in most parts of the world, particularly in Asia and Africa. The recent acts of terrorism and rebellion in Middle East and Ukraine respectively depict the violence committed by non-state actors thereby posing a grave challenge to peace and human security across the globe.

The violence practiced and perpetuated by non-state actors in the Middle East and Ukraine has brought some crucial aspects- international, regional, political, legal to the fore. Specifically focusing on the legal aspects, it primarily becomes very important to distinguish between the state and non-state actors. It must be understood and appreciated that the “state” has high regard in the realm of international law compared to the “non-state” actors. International law as defined by Anthony Aust in the book the Handbook of International Law, is the byproduct of the states and their interaction. In fact international law was earlier known as the Law of Nations, as Brierly puts it.

The legal status of armed non-state actors in international arena takes this discussion to another paradigm. Currently, the best examples of armed non-state actors on the international sphere are the ISIS and the pro-Russian separatist group in Ukraine. There are rounds of academic discussions on whether ISIS has the qualification of being classified as a “State” under the international law.  No such argumentation has emerged with respect to Ukrainian territories under siege of the separatist groups. At this juncture itself, not venturing into its brutal activities here, it can be legally concluded that ISIS is not self-sufficient in fulfilling the requirements of Montevideo Convention, 1933 to qualify as a “state”. ISIS has vague status on its territorial competence and population and has no status at all of a government and in practicing diplomacy with other states as ISIS is not a government in sense of political entity. It also does not have any legitimate origin to govern the population because it arose in retaliation to the power of Western democratic countries and Shia regimes in the Middle East. It is equally true that the ISIS lacks capacity to enter into diplomatic relationships with other countries, outstandingly in the times when democratic nations of the world are directly or indirectly engaging to up-root it.

Well, the debate on statehood of ISIS does not end here. ISIS has become a notorious actor that has not had peaceful existence since its inception. It has committed serious brutalities and massacres against humanity and tranquility in the Middle East region. This state of fact and ground reality out rightly rejects the idea of recognizing or acknowledging it as a “state”, especially by the peaceful nations of the world. It must be understood that “state” is an abstraction. Its existence depends on the psychology of its citizens, as argued by Jack L. Goldsmith & Eric A. Posner. It is a matter of consideration and debate whether the people, who are facing the ISIS onslaughts on humanity and continuously living under its fear, would be genuinely willing to accept it as state. Moreover, no terror outfit or militancy group is eligible to seek or gain legitimacy or statehood because they are the worst violators of international norms and principles of jus cogens.

Recalling the worst violators of international norms, it shall not be out of place to briefly discuss the rise and expansion of Islamic State in the Middle East and adjoining regions. Born out of the Iraqi war of 2003 as Al-Qaeda of Iraq, the ISIS has majorly conquered the regions of Syria, Iraq and recently Libya and Yemen. Its deadly grip has been expanding across the Middle East till the Northern African region; and now it is only the Mediterranean Sea which separates it from mainland of Europe. It is continuously using these territories under its control to make them the destination of refuge and for launching attacks on the neighboring lands, with its principal motto being, to take control over the Asian and African countries which are destabilized due to wars and to engage in “all out battle with the West”, as pointed by Jay Akbar in The Terrifying Rise of ISIS: Map which shows how the terror groups tentacles now reach from Algeria to Afghanistan.

In analyzing the political environment (in context of its territorial expansion), ISIS is seen as a new cycle of militancy that emerged after the end of earlier cycle that began with the air attacks on Pentagon and World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001 and ended with the death of Bin Laden in May 2011. The ISIS is rapidly expanding on the map of Middle East countries with the conquest of capital of Nineveh province of Iraq, capture of Mosul (which is Iraq’s second largest city) and Tikrit, which is barely 150 km away from Baghdad. It has also taken over several cities in Syria including the Syrian-Turkey border town of Kobane where it is continuously battling with the Syrian- Kurd defense. The ISIS is strategically taking control of those regions of Middle East which are the centre of power, diplomacy, cross border destinations and hub of commerce.

In case of terror disrupting the social and human life, the acts of violence carried by ISIS in Middle East have been widely successful. From beheading to summary executions to amputation to crucifixion, the terror group has become the most dreaded and feared organization in the Middle East. The ISIS has disrupted peace and abrogated human security. Many videos, stories and acts of unfathomable brutality unfurled by the Washington Post show that ISIS openly indulges in bloodshed in the Iraqi provinces. They reveal the brutal beheadings of police men and civilians by the ISIS militants. The ISIS is also seen warning the Iraqi boys and policemen that anyone who insists on apostasy would face death by their hands. The residents in area of gross militancy admit that they have seen rows of decapitated citizens and policemen on streets.

The United Nations (UN) investigators have found that ISIS is rampantly committing genocide against the Yazidi minority in Iraq and Syria. The Human Rights office has published a horrifying report revealing killings, torture, genocide, suggesting that the ISIS is guilty of war crimes, crime against humanity and genocide. More than 100 witnesses examined in this regard call for a trial of ISIS men before the International Criminal Court for these crimes. ISIS has systematically targeted the ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq by holding their forced conversions to Islam and in many cases executing men above 14 years age. It is reported that ISIS has killed more than 1,700 army cadets with jihadis inhumanly tossing and playing with their heads in public.

Further, there is another streak of crime committed by the ISIS i.e. sexual offences including organized rapes, sexual assaults, sexual slavery, forced prostitution and abduction of young women. Hundreds of young women have been captured by extremists wherein the prettiest virgins are sold in slave market of Syrian city of Raqqa. They are kept till men get tired, later trading those as many as twenty times in the slave markets. An UN official recently reported that the ISIS men burnt a woman alive after she refused to perform extreme sexual act. Aid workers reported that they also found a nine year old pregnant girl who underwent sexual violence by more than ten men in the northern Iraq.

Thus, it is clear that the ISIS atrocities have added more plights to Iraqi and Syrian societies which were already reeling under the aftermaths of war and Arab revolution respectively. The guilty and perpetrators of crime against humanity and genocide must be taken for task under the international criminal justice system. The UN must initiate investigation against the criminals and so also other nations affected by the ISIS impact must set their criminal laws in motion to punish the guilty. In case the other affected nations are not capable to do the same, the UN and other nations (with an intention of genuine cause and setting aside their political aims) must step in to aid them.

The Ukrainian War

Just like the ISIS turmoil in Middle East, the separatist militancy in Ukraine has taken a toll on the regional peace and security. Ukraine has been mired by years of corruption, destabilized economy and lack of growth after the break-up of Soviet Union. This drew Ukraine to take economic helps from European Union (EU) and Russia. Every Ukrainian government has had its own approach towards EU and Russia which often sparked tension in the country that is inhabited by Russian speaking population in its Eastern and Southern region. Ukraine is currently torn between the East and West; it has the ambition of joining Europe but at the same time there is a staunch opposition to this from the Russians and pro-Russian groups (also known as separatists) residing there. Further tensions between Ukraine, U.S.A. and other European countries on one hand and Russia on the other hand have also escalated with Russia annexing Crimea in 2014.

There is a constant violent lockjaw between the Ukrainian government and rebel groups (pro- Russians) since end of 2013 in spite of international mediation and Points of Peace proposed in February 2015. Many civilians have lost their lives in the rebel-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk under rocket and shell attacks. After taking hold over these strategic towns of Donetsk and Luhansk, the rebels are carrying excessive attacks on the region of Debaltseve that joins these cities and happens to be the rail and road hub of Ukraine. On the other hand, many people have been killed and severely injured in artillery attacks on the Ukrainian port of Mariupol. Rebels are persistently firing rockets aiming at the civilian areas and regions under the control of government and military even far beyond the conflict zone.


The Ukrainian crisis has a deep geo-political color. Ukraine is surrounded by the European continent and Russia on the either sides. The western countries and Russia need to realize that their political rivalries must not in any way take on the peace and internal sovereignty of Ukraine. The popular will of Ukraine has the legitimacy to decide its well-being that includes aligning for the help or support of any nation. In wake of unabated violence by the pro-Russian groups, Russia must step-in to curb the same to restore peace and avert killing of many innocent civilians in deadly explosive attacks of separatists. Restoring regional peace and safety must be the highest international duty of any nation beyond its domestic policies, ideological inclinations and political agenda.

In the wake of above discussions on the rise of terrorism and militancy in different parts of the globe, it is important to analyze the role of developed nations in tackling these crises. This analysis would be incomplete without understanding the theoretical and practical intricacies involved in the working of International law.

International law has to be understood and appreciated differently from the functionalities of other sets of laws. It has its own peculiar way of working at an international arena and amongst the states, acting rationally as pointed out by Jack L. Goldsmith & Eric Posner, no matter how peculiar and pragmatic the working of international law is, it is a matter of fact that many events, prominent instances which include tense Cold War atmosphere, Gulf War, Intervention of America and European nation in Afghanistan and Iraq to fight terrorism. The international law failed to curb these powerful nations from yielding power and invading the sovereignty of other nations on the pretext of fighting non state actor. The world history has questioned it’s competence to handle the situations like the disruption of peace or threat to humanity. Be it economical, political or strategic aspects of international law, the developed nations have often modulated the soft law norms according to their experiences, convenience and domestic policies.

Whenever there is any compelling issue relating to peace and security like nuclear proliferation, war, insurgency or terrorism, especially since the beginning of 21st century, the developed nations, particularly United States of America, has dawned the role of the best follower and interpreter of international law (or international morality). They preach the world to maintain peace and foster friendly relations; while on the other hand they have often failed to exercise self- restrain in their actions against other sovereign nations.

The USA and Israel have subjugated the traditional view of non-interference with the sovereignty of other nation states by launching air strikes on Syrian soil in order to overtake the ISIS. The USA led coalition has launched more than 5,800 air strikes in Iraq and Syria which has killed many civilians, though on paper it has claimed that only two civilians have lost their lives in these strikes. The Airstrike Report on the other hand shows that in the recently conducted 57 airstrikes on an ISIS base, more than 460 civilians have lost their lives as reported in Indian Express on August, 03, 2015 by Vivian Salama in “US Lead Strikes Killed Hundreds of Civilians”, and following the same course is Canada, where it did not take consent of the Syrian government while attacking the ISIS destinations in Syria. Canada called state sovereignty a stumbling block in the way of its mission to defeat ISIS. Ironically, these powerful nations often conduct air strikes in self defense on any other country for fighting non-state actors without informing the UN or Security Council thereby violating Article 51, UN Charter, 1945.

Many international legal scholars and governments have raised questions on legality of such air attacks over Syrian soil. The Syrian government and its allies in Russia and Tehran have warned America that such attacks on Syria would violate the international law and ethos of UN Charter. Russia also denied supporting any action against Syria without an authoritative UN Resolution. Experiencing the scourge of World War II, the internal political system has been structured around three important principles- equal sovereignty for all states, internal competence of domestic jurisdiction and preservation of existing boundaries. The unilateral might of the world powers has undermined all these principles in many cases after 2001.

In case of Ukrainian turmoil, USA and NATO forces have re-taken the cold war strategy against Russia. In wake of such realties some nations like France and Germany have played a responsible role in bringing truce between the opposing forces in February 2015, however looking into the continuing crisis in Ukraine there is a need for more responsible intervention by neutral nations like India, Brazil and South Africa. The NATO nations are failing to look beyond their political enmity with communist Russia and vice versa. The former continue to hurl criticism on latter through diplomatic channels and international media. The political and social instability in Ukraine is expected to grow more with the current approach to resolve conflicts between the government and separatist rebels.

To sum-up the above discussion it can be concluded that human security and peace are precious essentialities in the contemporary world politics. International law has made some substantial efforts in form of Charters, Conventions and Customs for fostering peace at international and regional levels. However, in the light of present instances it becomes evident that the soft law norms are not much mighty to curb the menace of terrorism and militancy that works to negate them. Terrorism, militancy, insurgency, rebellion have become political realities of the present times as such it becomes incumbent that international law should not overlook these threats. It is the duty of family of nations, international organizations and individuals to abide and follow the international law in sprit to prevent and eradicate global dearth of violence that vitiates peace and human lives.

The powerful nations of the world must assume a responsible duty to practice and sustain peace in the world. The UN Charter and practice of states have given these nations a place of utmost sanctity and repute to help in the implementation of international norms and support the crisis-hit nations to live peacefully. In the backdrop of ISIS and separatist rebellion in Ukraine, the powerful nations and world at large owe a legal and moral responsibility to resolve the crisis and shun from misusing or exceeding their powers. In order to curb the non-state actors these nations should not abrogate the sovereignty and integrity of other nations. While launching attacks on terror outfits they must not invade the civilian regions and government establishments of the home country. International solidarity and accountability from nations must be the first step to secure peace and human happiness.

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