June 16, 2016; Reuters
Several months ago, we asked the media not to shy away from covering the stories of the Yazidis in Syria, a Kurdish-speaking religious minority group which have been systemically brutalized by ISIS (also called ISIL, or the Islamic State). On Thursday, the UN released a report officially acknowledging that the acts of ISIS against the community of 400,000 are tantamount to committing genocide.
According to the report:
ISIS has sought to destroy the Yazidis through killings; sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and forcible transfer causing serious bodily and mental harm; the infliction of conditions of life that bring about a slow death; the imposition of measures to prevent Yazidi children from being born, including forced conversion of adults, the separation of Yazidi men and women, and mental trauma; and the transfer of Yazidi children from their own families and placing them with ISIS fighters, thereby cutting them off from beliefs and practices of their own religious community, and erasing their identity as Yazidis. The public statements and conduct of ISIS and its fighters clearly demonstrate that ISIS intended to destroy the Yazidis of Sinjar, composing the majority of the world’s Yazidi population, in whole or in part.
The report was compiled based on 45 interviews with survivors, as well as religious leaders, activists, lawyers, journalists, and medical professionals, depicting their firsthand experiences at the hands of ISIS militants, who have terrorized the group since 2014. This information was corroborated by documentary sources, such as photos and satellite images. Based on those accounts, the UN investigators found the situation does meet the 1948 Convention definition of a mass genocide.
The report goes into as much depth as information allows to explain the treatment certain groups of people have experienced: men and boys aged twelve and over, women and girls aged nine and older, young children left with their mothers, and more. According to the report, men and older boys who refused to convert to Islam were executed. Those who did convert were used as laborers or forced to fight as ISIS militants. As NPQ has reported previously, women and young girls were often sold between militants as sex slaves, sanctioned under ISIS ideology. One interviewee said, “We were driven into Raqqah city at night and held in a building there. I was there for three weeks before I was sold. Throughout that time, ISIS fighters were coming to buy women and girls. All of us were Yazidi. I think I was sold about 15 times in all. It is hard to remember all those who bought me.”
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“The finding of genocide must trigger much more assertive action at the political level, including at the (U.N.) Security Council,” said Paulo Pinheiro, the chairman of the commission of inquiry, during a news briefing. “Almost two years since the attack on Mount Sinjar, nothing has been done to save those people.” (In August 2014, a humanitarian crisis was unfolding as thousands of Yazidis were taken hostage and left stranded for months on Mount Sinjar in Iraq following combat situation between ISIS and the United States. Hundreds were killed during ISIS’ siege, including infants. Those who survived ISIS died of starvation without food or water.)
Last March, the UN released a report first indicating that it believed ISIS was committing what may amount to war crimes against among religious and ethnic groups. According to the report and UN investigators, ISIS has not tried to hide its intentions in eradicating the Yazidi people. Indeed, according to the report, no other religious group in the area has been subjected to the same brutality as the Yazidi. That also provides key evidence in how the international community plans to move forward to help the religious minority.
“ISIS made no secret of its intent to destroy the Yazidis of Sinjar, and that is one of the elements that allowed us to conclude their actions amount to genocide,” said UN investigator and former UN war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte. “Of course, we regard that as a road map for prosecution, for future prosecution. I hope that the Security Council will do it because it is time now to start to obtain justice for the victims.”
Theoretically, deciding to prosecute ISIS for war crimes should be fairly simple, as the five members of the Security Council—the U.S., Britain France, China and Russia—have all pledged to fight ISIS.
ISIS is still currently occupying parts of Iraq and Syria it considers its territory. The report estimates at least 3,200 Yazidi women and girls remain captive, but it could not estimate the number of boys that remain. In its recommendations, the report the situation requires some urgency, suggesting referring the matter to the International Criminal Court. It also makes recommendations to parties fighting ISIS, such as considering rescue plans for Yazidi captives and putting protocols in place to give treatment to Yazids that are rescued from captivity. To the greater international community, the report urges others to recognize the actions as the crime of genocide.—Shafaq Hasan