GENEVA — Evidence shows that the Islamic militants who massacred scores of captured Iraqi soldiers ‘‘almost certainly’’ committed war crimes, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said Monday.
Pillay condemned what she called the reported ‘‘cold-blooded executions of hundreds of Iraqi hors de combat soldiers, as well as civilians including religious leaders and people associated with the government’’ in recent days by forces allied with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
‘‘Based on corroborated reports from a number of sources, it appears that hundreds of noncombatant men were summarily executed over the past five days, including surrendered or captured soldiers, military conscripts, police, and others associated with the government,’’ Pillay said.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria claimed over the weekend that it had executed about 1,700 Iraqi soldiers. Pillay said the exact number of deaths cannot yet be verified but ‘‘this apparently systematic series of cold-blooded executions, mostly conducted in various locations in the Tikrit area, almost certainly amounts to war crimes.’’
Earlier in the day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called reports about the slayings ‘‘deeply disturbing’’ and said those responsible must be brought to justice. He warned against sectarian rhetoric in Iraq that could inflame the conflict and the entire region.
The UN chief said he welcomed the statement on the need for unity in Iraq made by Grand Ayatollah Sayed Ali Al-Sistani, who he said ‘‘represents a deeply influential voice of wisdom and reason.’’
The United Nations said Monday that it had relocated 58 staff members from Baghdad and may move additional personnel out of the Iraqi capital in the coming days because of growing security concerns.
‘‘The situation has changed on the ground in the last few days and we are adjusting our posture accordingly,’’ said Farhan Haq, the deputy UN spokesman. He said the United Nations now has about 200 staff members in Baghdad.
The State Department has reinforced security at the US Embassy and sent some personnel out of town.
Much of the embassy staff will stay in place, the department said, without specifying numbers. The embassy, along the Tigris River in Baghdad’s Green Zone, has about 5,000 personnel and is the largest US diplomatic post in the world.
Some US Embassy staff members were being temporarily moved to more stable places at consulates in Basra, in the Shi’ite-dominated south of Iraq; and Irbil, in the Kurdish semiautonomous region in northeastern Iraq; and to Jordan, she said.
American travelers in the country were encouraged to exercise caution and limit travel to certain parts of Iraq.
The Islamic militants who overran cities and towns in Iraq last week have posted graphic photos on a militant website that appear to show masked fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria loading the captives onto flatbed trucks before forcing them to lie face-down in a shallow ditch with their arms tied behind their backs. The final images show the bodies of the captives after being shot.
Iraq’s chief military spokesman, Lieutenant General Qassim al-Moussawi, confirmed the authenticity of the photos on Sunday and said he was aware of cases of mass murder of captured Iraqi soldiers in areas held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Ban said reports of mass summary executions by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria “are deeply disturbing and underscore the urgency of bringing the perpetrators of such crimes to justice.’’ He called on Iraqi leaders to ensure their followers avoid acts of reprisal.
Ban urged the international community to unite in showing solidarity with Iraq as it confronts ‘‘this serious security challenge’’ and urged all to respect international humanitarian and human rights law as they try to counter terrorism and violence in Iraq.
Pillay said that, according to information received by UN human rights employees on the ground, forces affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria also executed the Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mosul on Thursday for refusing to pledge allegiance to the breakaway group.