Public Radio International is reporting that the United Nations Human Rights Committee is investigating claims by ISIS that it has killed 1,700 captured prisoners of war.
ISIS stands for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. This group is also known as ISIL, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
ISIS is an al-Qaida affiliated Jihadist militant group in Iraq and Syria, which desires to establish a caliphate—an Islamic state.
Both the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Human Rights Watch are investigating ISIS’ claims to see whether the execution took place or whether a picture published by ISIS was staged for propaganda purposes.
In the sectarian conflict that is taking place in Iraq, the rights of individuals are being violated. This is the reason why these organizations are involved in the investigation.
The biblical concept of human rights is based on the nature of human beings as created in the image and likeness of God.
The concept of human beings as special individuals is found in the Genesis 1 creation story.
Human beings were created to live in relationship with God, but this is not a relationship of equals.
Human beings must live and act within certain limits in order to maintain their relationship with God.
They find their full humanity only as they live in relationship with the creator, and they have a mission in the world as God’s representatives.
But the relationship between God and human beings was broken because of sin, disobedience to God’s will.
In order to bring humanity back to himself, God brought Israel out of Egypt, made them a special people, gave them a mission in the world, and set them apart from the other nations by establishing a covenant with Israel.
God also gave Israel a set of laws to help Israel live a holy life in the world.
One important aspect of these laws was the concern for the rights of individuals in Israel, both the natives and the foreigners.
For example, several laws deal with the humane treatment of slaves. The treatment of slaves in Israel was based on the fact that Israel had been enslaved in Egypt (see Deuteronomy 15:15).
Another example was Israel’s treatment of the aliens (immigrants) in their society.
The people were to care for aliens and foreigners who lived in Israel because they had been foreigners in Egypt (see Exodus 23:9).
In the same way, Israel should take care of the poor because at one time they were also poor (see Leviticus 25:35-38).
Thus, the rights of individuals in Israel are based on what God has done for Israel.
What God has done for Israel should be the moving force behind what an Israelite does for the less fortunate in their society.
The true basis for human rights in the Old Testament is the nature and the character of God.
Those who despise God also despise their neighbor: “Those who mock the poor insult their maker” (Proverbs 17:5).
The qualities God requires of every human being are the same qualities God displays in his relationship with people.
The biblical concept of human rights is better defined as human responsibility.
How people treat one another should be based on the awareness of what God has done for them.
Each person has an unconditional obligation to treat another human being with dignity because that person bears God’s image.
The reason the jihadists killed hundreds of people is because they do not recognize the image of God in those whose lives they took.
Only when an individual lives in right relationship with God will they learn how to respect the life and the rights of others.
By killing those people, the jihadists infringed on the rights given to them by their creator.
The Old Testament has much to teach about human rights. Since the rights of individuals are based on God’s character as the creator, those who deny an individual his or her rights are rejecting God and rebelling against God’s will for creation.
Claude Mariottini is professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles and book reviews. His writings can be found on his website, where a version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DrMariottini.