The practice of public beheadings and beatings as forms of human punishment are likely to be viewed by many as ancient, inhumane practices. However, currently in Syria terrorist organization ISIS (Islamic State of Syria and Iraq), utilizes these forms of punishments as a means to instill fear upon civilians and further substantiate their authority. Indiscretions that we in the U.S. would consider mere violations and misdemeanors subject to penalty fines, are dealt with by ISIS through more extreme methods. According to a recent UN report, “ISIS militants drag people into public squares to hand down their cruel version of justice — amputating the hands of accused thieves, flogging men found smoking or drinking, beating women with sticks if they showed their faces on the street.” What’s more alarming, is that public executions are also a popular form of punishment exercised by ISIS. Any individual considered by ISIS as someone who threatens or significantly contradicts the organization’s beliefs, will be publically executed to set an example for others.
The goal of ISIS is to overthrow the Iraqi and Syrian governments and establish a Sunni Islamic state governed by extreme Islamic law. ISIS initially gained support in areas of northern Iraq and Syria, by providing desolate people with aids such as food and fuel. It then used violence, particularly executions, to maintain power over civilians. “Children have been present at the executions, which take the form of beheading or shooting in the head at close range… Bodies are placed on public display, often on crucifixes, for up to three days, serving as a warning to local residents.” Similar to terrorist organization al-Qaeda, ISIS also abhors the U.S. involvement in the Middle East. Recently, members of ISIS have leaked two videos that show the beheadings of American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff. In Stoloff’s video he claims that “he is paying the price for U.S. military intervention.”
Today, these actions have drawn such significant global attention that its stands as the largest threat on peace for humanity. On the international level, these practices are recognized as crimes against humanity and violations of international law under the Rome Statute and various international treaties, including the Geneva Conventions. As such, these violations are subject to international intervention and prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Members of the United Nations including Iraq’s human rights minister, Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani, have condemned ISIS actions and are seeking to establish a multinational counterterrorism strategy. Last night, President Obama addressed the nation on the issue and said that “the U.S. is going on offense, launching a steady, relentless effort to take out the extremist group that has seized vast swaths of Iraq and has a large safe haven in Syria.”
I agree that in order to dissolve the growing threat of ISIS there must be multinational approach. I also believe that ISIS has the potential of becoming a greater threat than al-Qaeda. However, ISIS has been a rising threat for the past three years. Why has the U.S. and the U.N. waited so long to undertake an assertive approach to intervene? Should the U.S. only intervene when its own interests or citizens are in imminent danger? Is it not always the responsibility of the international community to stop such crimes against humanity?