Testimonies gathered from civilians who fled the recent offensive by armed groups in the Sinjar district of north-western Iraq have revealed appalling accounts of killing, abduction and sexual violence perpetrated against women and children, according to UNICEF.

"The type and scope of violations against children, women and minority communities in Iraq in the past weeks is one of the worst seen in this century, and is completely unacceptable by any standards or codes of conduct that govern conflict," said Dr. Marzio Babille, UNICEF Iraq Representative.

Child protection specialist teams sent by the agency have so far documented 123 separate cases of rights violations carried out by armed groups when they attacked Yazidi and other minority groups living in areas of Ninewa province close to the border with Syria. So far, 80 of these cases have been verified during investigations carried out by UNICEF under its work within the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) on grave violations of children's rights in situations of armed conflict (see below*).

"Almost every individual we have spoken to has given a horrific account of violations they or members of their family or community have witnessed or experienced," said Ibrahim Sesay, UNICEF child protection specialist.

One sixteen-year old Yazidi girl told interviewers how she was rounded up with other women and girls selected to provide sexual services under a forced temporary marriage. The girl said she managed to escape but that others were taken away.

"The agony these girls and women are now suffering as a result of such ordeals requires an urgent scaling up in the provision of specialist mental health care, and medical support as part of the broader response to this unfolding tragedy," said Sesay.

UNICEF has so far provided psycho-social care and support to more than 3,000 distressed refugee children now sheltering in the Kurdish region of Dohuk.

--ENDS--

Notes to editors:

*In 2005, the Security Council requested in Resolution 1612 the UN Secretary-General to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism (MRM), managed by country-based task forces co-led by UNICEF and the highest UN representative in the country, to provide timely and reliable information on six grave children's rights violations:1. Killing or maiming of children2. Recruitment or use of children by armed forces or armed groups 3. Attacks on schools or hospitals4. Rape or other sexual violence against children 5. Abduction of children6. Denial of humanitarian access to childrenThe Security Council requests the UN Secretary-General to list in his annual reports on children and armed conflict the names of armed forces or armed groups that recruit or use children, kill or maim children, and rape or commit other sexual violence against children and urged parties involved in armed conflict to develop and implement time-bound action plans to halt these grave violations against children (Security Council Resolutions 1612 (2005) and 1882 (2009)).

For further information, please contact the UNICEF UK Media Office, 0207 375 6030 media@unicef.org.uk

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