The Impact of the Rise of ISIS on Human Rights Implementation
September 16,2015   By:

The Impact of the Rise of ISIS on Human Rights Implementation


Dr. Lionel VAIRON


Since 1945 and the creation of the United Nations, the greatest international challenges in terms of security threat came from constituted States. The Cold war between the West and the USSR brought the world on the verge of a nuclear war, which would have affected the whole planet. Most conflicts were the result of this proxy war between Washington and Moscow, and when they were operated through guerillas or other kinds of movements, they were always localized and the ambition was to replace a regime by another. Then appeared the Islamist terrorism with Al Qaeda, which was still positioned within what we can consider as the ordinary framework of international conflicts, as Al Qaeda was clearly claiming its struggle for the rights of Palestinians, against the hegemony of the US and Israel etc. The terrorists were still basing their fight on religious or ideological principles, they were what we can call believers…

With the auto-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the configuration of the conflict has totally changed and this new phenomenon will certainly have a huge impact on the international community and on the generally admitted basic principles, particularly in terms of Human Rights. ISIS has been originally an offshoot of Al Qaeda, but it quickly took its independence from its original mentors to become a transnational extremely violent movement clearly refusing all previously more or less accepted international rules. Naturally, these rules have been constantly violated since 1945 by all members of the international community in various periods, but these violations were always covered by either denial or ideological justification. What the world is now confronted to is a loose organization composed of a multinational group of criminals, thugs, dissocialized people who joined ISIS in order to take revenge on the societies they have grown up into and experiment power, violence, sexual satisfaction, etc. without the limits imposed by national societies. But a few leaders of the organization have a real long-term strategy of restoring the Abbasside Caliphate and fight the secular groups, such the Baathists in Iraq and the Shias, both considered as the first enemies of Islam. This violence is new because it is claimed openly thanks to new technologies, social networks and so on. ISIS is deliberately broadcasting its most horrible crimes in order to show its strength and determination, and to frighten its enemies.

This situation creates several major challenges for the international community and requires both reflection and action. However these challenges have already started to affect the very conception of Human Rights established, at least partially, after WW2, bringing in light the weaknesses of the principles and the weakness of the international system represented formally by the United Nations.

ISIS threatens the implementation of human rights principles in three ways:

First in Muslim countries:

- It implements a policy of systematic extreme violence against various kinds of populations, which can be clearly called a genocide process if we consider the international conventions. Mass killings of military prisoners in Iraq and Syria, brutal killing of journalists, killing of members of religious minorities’ communities in Iraq and Syria, but also in Libya, enslaving of these same minorities and sexual slavery of women and so on;

- For the first time, the international community faces not a so-called rogue-state, which still belong to the international community and abide by a minimum international laws, but by a non-state and non-territorial group, transborders, which do not recognize any of the generally accepted, even if regularly violated, rules which govern this international community. Of course criminal movements did appear from time to time in the last decades, and still exist, but they were generally based at a national level, relatively weak and without much appeal for the rest of the world. On the contrary, ISIS is based on the idea of the Caliphate, which means without borders, it has become powerful thanks to its financial resources, and it has attracted – and is still attracting – thousands of fighters who torture, kill or rape without any hesitation because it is all mainly about revenge and not about religion;

- The response of local regimes, like Syrian one, have been consistently taking the same approach and waging a war without consideration for human rights or the fate of civilian populations. The Arab regimes, whether in the Middle East or in Africa, are facing a major threat of destabilization through the emergence of jihadist groups of various size which are pledging allegiance to ISIS and develop terrorist activities in different countries. This situation is creating a negative environment for human rights promotion, when governments are only talking – rightfully or not – about security and antiterrorism.

- It is necessary to emphasize the fact that Muslims themselves are the first victims of this criminal policy: first of all Shias, and then the Sunnis engaged in the fight against ISIS. Yezidis are persecuted because they are considered as Devil Worshippers and therefore must be exterminated, then finally only come the Christians who are also persecuted as well but asked to accept the status of Dhimmi they used to have in the Ottoman Empire, which is citizens protected but with restrictions on their freedom;

- A debate has started in the Arab world, and particularly in the Gulf States, about the reason why these refugees, being mostly Arab and Muslims, chose to take refuge in Europe and not in neighboring countries, why the rich countries of the Gulf are not welcoming these refugees who belong to the Umma… This discussion is also going to seriously affect the image of Gulf countries and could even create domestic conflicts, even instability.

The second impact of ISIS’ rise concerns first of all Europe because of its geographical proximity with the Middle East and the importance of its Muslim population. Europe is presently confronting a major challenge due to the most important refugee crisis it has to deal with since the end of WWII. It could be more than one million refugees who would flow into Europe before the end of this year. This situation is causing major challenges inside Europe itself:

- First, it is considered by a growing number of Europeans as a deadly threat to their culture and religion, particularly in Eastern Europe. Most of these refugees are Muslims and they are joining now an already very large European Muslim community (more than 45 million including around 20 million in the EU). The fear of Europe’s Islamization has already become an efficient argument for European populists and extremists politicians and political parties. The democratic parties will be facing growing challenges to defend their position about a European policy opened to welcoming more refugees, particularly with the strong resistance of several Eastern European countries, Hungary being the leader of this resistance.

- With the rise of these nationalist, xenophobic and islamophobic feelings, the demand for restrictions on human rights in EU, like the right to medical treatment for all, the right to travel freely inside the EU, the right to practice its own religion peacefully – which means building more mosques – are also growing fast and could lead to antidemocratic measures, as it started for instance in Hungary with the building of a barbed-wire fence on its border with Serbia. European principles of human rights could be severely affected in the next few years by this situation, presently out of control even in Germany, and create more tensions between Muslims and other citizens, opening the way to the infamous clash of civilization and to the possible rise to power of extremist parties…

- Another important issue is the fate of the returnees, the citizens of the EU who have fight with ISIS, killed and raped, and come back to their country. It concerns thousands of people and raises the question of civil rights in the EU. Some politicians are campaigning for a deprivation of citizenship to prevent these people to become a domestic threat. But this faces the problem of human rights, the EU legislation, national legal systems very protective of human rights and so on. Decisions on this very difficult issue are being avoided or postponed by most EU governments, but they will have at some point to be taken, depriving a certain number of individuals of their human rights to protect the majority of the population…

Finally, the third impact of ISIS rise concerns the international community as such regarding the protection of human rights, which is one of the major mission of the United Nations. Once again, after Cambodia or Rwanda, a genocide is being committed under the nose of all world leaders, and once again no one is moving seriously. The so-called international community seems paralysed. The United States and some European countries are easing their conscience by regular bombings on ISIS targets, but this is a cosmetic policy and everyone knows it. Washington even inflated the success of its bombings by providing obviously false figures of the casualties among ISIS troops. The truth is that, by waging illegal and illegitimate wars like in Iraq or in Libya, Western countries, and particularly the United States, have lost all moral credibility that would cover a real intervention in this region – again. Which doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t have taken place either. The threat represented by ISIS is a deadly one for everyone, Muslim countries, Europeans and Americans, but also China and Russia. Since three years, the international community has once again be torn as whether to decide a new military intervention because the initial target was the Syrian regime and the strategy to weaken Iran during negotiations about its nuclear programme. Then the threat at the regional level became the rise of ISIS but none of the international actors of this tragedy would take the risk to engage in a total fight against ISIS which would have as a result to keep Bashar El Assad in power in Damascus…

These procrastinations confirmed once for all the incapacity of the international community, and its offshoot the United Nations, to protect human rights at the international level, even in the worse possible situation, and even when facing an enemy which cannot hide behind  international treaties or the principle of sovereignty. However, there is not even a debate about "moral imperialism", "cultural values" and so on. ISIS crimes and strategy are condemned verbally by all, including the Muslim most famous and influential scholars, and even by Al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri who shares the objective of fighting the United States but disagree, of course, on the Caliphate which is for him illegitimate. ISIS has isolated from the Muslim world and controls its territories nowadays essentially by force and fear. This is a reason why one could hope that this

In such conditions, a "humanitarian intervention" could have be absolutely legitimate and should have gathered the efforts of all major countries. Once again, ISIS criminal policy raises the question of how to prevent massive human rights violations when they are obvious, and even in this case largely documented by the criminals themselves. How can the members of the UN Security Council pretend to tell the rules of the international community when they don’t show any will to stop the progress of a criminal organizations threatening the stability of States and the life of civilian populations?

To summarize this presentation, the situation in the Muslim world and the rise of a radical form of violence, illegitimately claimed to be an expression of the true Islam, are now jeopardizing the very principles of human rights and human rights protection that have been painfully elaborated since the Second World War. Hundreds of thousands of civilian populations have been taken hostage by the terrorist organization self-called ISIS and they are expecting that at some point, the international community will free them from this brutal oppression. In history, ISIS should be a short-lived phenomenon, like other totalitarian and criminal systems with very few exceptions, mainly because the organization, after receiving support at the beginning of its history due to the mistakes of Iraqi and Syrian regimes, is now largely rejected by the local populations who suffer a situation worse than what they were used to in Iraq or Syria. ISIS’s system of control relies on an organization composed of people coming from tens of different countries, with completely different backgrounds, often being former criminals in their country, who live completely separated from the locals, whose only communication languages are either classic Arabic, at best, or English, and have no roots in the region. As it was proven with all guerilla wars, in Vietnam for the United States or in Algeria for France, such movements can survive only when they have a strong popular linkage, which is obviously not the case. ISIS’s domination is for the time being guaranteed by violence and fear but this should not last eternally. However, before this organization disappears in the dustbin of history, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people will have died, and the human rights principles of the international community will have been severely affected.


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