The United Nations said Tuesday that hundreds of Iraqi Sunni Arabs are stuck in no-man's land between Kurdish and Islamic State positions near Sinjar, Iraq. Speaking in Geneva, Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the U.N. was "increasingly concerned" about the group of 559 people, who have lacked access to food and drinking water since Feb. 4.
Two children and two women have died due to cold weather, Colville said, and officials believe the displaced party has endured shelling by IS forces on at least three occasions. Iraqi Kurdish forces known as Peshmerga recaptured Sinjar from IS militants last November with help from U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.
In December 2014, the Peshmerga managed to break an IS siege in the Sinjar Mountains, where tens of thousands of Yazidi Kurds became encircled after fleeing the rapid advance of IS forces that had spilled over from Syria the prior June. The United States led an international air campaign to deliver aid to the besieged Yazidis, thousands of whom were killed or sold as sex slaves after IS seized Sinjar in August 2014.
The same month, U.S. warplanes began conducting airstrikes against IS positions. However, human rights groups accuse the Kurds of displacing Sunni Arabs and demolishing their homes in northern Iraq.
"Kurdish forces for months barred Arabs displaced by fighting from returning to their homes in portions of Nineveh and Erbil provinces, while permitting Kurds to return to those areas and even to move into homes of Arabs who fled," Human Rights Watch said in a report last year.
Amnesty International released a similar report in January saying officials with the Kurdistan Regional Government "have tended to justify the displacement of Arab communities on grounds of security, [and] it appears to be used to punish them for their perceived sympathies with so-called Islamic State."
The report added the Kurds were attempting to "consolidate territorial gains and establish control over 'disputed areas' of the country, which the KRG authorities have long claimed should be part of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq." Colville urged the KRG "to act as quickly as possible to ensure the safety, protection and access to basic humanitarian assistance" for the group near Sinjar.
"If the Kurdish authorities have security concerns about this particular group," Colville said, "they should vet people on an individual basis in a safe location, in full transparency and in accordance with the law."