By Idris Okuducu and Ali Mukarrem Garip
KIRKUK, Iraq (AA) – The relatives of civilians currently trapped inside the city of Fallujah in Iraq's Anbar province have voiced concerns about possible human rights violations and sectarian discrimination by the Hashd al-Shaabi, an umbrella group of Shia militias.
Fallujah residents who began living in camps in the nearby city of Kirkuk after fleeing their homes in 2011 when the Daesh terrorist group captured Fallujah are now deeply concerned about their relatives still stuck in Fallujah.
"Our worst fears were realized after the Hashd al-Shaabi militia joined [army-led] operations to retake Fallujah," Jessam Hammoud, a resident of Kirkuk's Nida camp, said.
"Our relatives still in the city say there are Iranians among the militiamen," he added.
"Fallujah residents who managed to escape Daesh have suffered torture at the hands of the Hashd al-Shaabi, which is grabbing everything that belongs to local residents," he asserted.
According to Hammoud, civilians still stuck in the city face a deteriorating humanitarian situation, including serious shortages of potable water and food.
Sabah Ahmed, another Nida camp resident, alleged that the Hashd al-Shaabi was torturing local people in Fallujah who the group accused of cooperating with Daesh.
"The [Hashd al-Shaabi] militia… has been mistreating people fleeing Fallujah," Raji Barakat, a member of Anbar provincial council, said.
"Daesh militants must be distinguished from civilians," he added.
On Tuesday, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged the Iraqi government to ensure that all people fleeing the Daesh-held city were treated in accordance with international human rights laws and conventions.
"There are extremely distressing, credible reports that some people who survive the terrifying experience of escaping from Daesh then face severe physical abuse once they reach the other side," al-Hussein told reporters.
"Eyewitnesses have described how armed groups operating in support of the Iraqi security forces are intercepting people fleeing the conflict, separating the men and teenage boys from the women and children, and detaining the males for ‘security screening’, which in some cases degenerates into physical violations and other forms of abuse, apparently in order to elicit forced confessions," he said.
"There are even allegations that some individuals have been summarily executed by these armed groups," added Hussein.
He stressed that all people fleeing the violence around Fallujah should be considered civilians until there was clear evidence to the contrary.
The Iraqi government, he asserted, "must show its commitment to protecting civilians by fully investigating reports that people who have suffered two and a half years of living hell under Daesh, and have faced enormous difficulties and dangers getting out of Fallujah alive, are now facing double jeopardy in the form of serious human rights violations after they have escaped".
Al-Hussein added: "Those allegedly responsible for these violations must be brought to justice."