Today — Aug. 3, 2018 — marks the fourth anniversary of the genocide perpetrated by the so-called Islamic State (IS) against the Yazidi minority in Iraq and Syria . On this important occasion, Yazda, a global Yazidi rights organization, announces the release of its second comprehensive report on Yazidi mass graves, entitled “Working Against the Clock: Documenting Mass Graves of Yazidis Killed by the Islamic State”. The report documents 21 new mass graves in addition to the 19 kill sites previously identified by Yazda. The report also calls on the Iraqi Central Government, Kurdistan Regional Government and international bodies to take urgent measures to protect and assist devastated Yazidi communities in both Iraq and Syria and bring those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes to justice.
In the summer of 2014, IS launched a systematic attack against civilians in Syria and northern Iraq. On August 3, that campaign reached Sinjar, which was home to the majority of the world’s Yazidis, an ethno-religious minority with centuries of heritage throughout the Middle East. The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic noted in its report on the crimes committed against the Yazidis that “[t]he date of 3 August 2014 would become a dividing line, demarcating when one life ended, and – for those who survived – when another, infinitely more cruel, existence began."
In the weeks that followed, IS captured an estimated 6,800 Yazidis (mostly women and children) and subjected thousands of them to prolonged sexual and physical abuse. It is estimated that over 3,000 Yazidis were killed as a result of executions or forced displacement. IS also forced Yazidis to convert to Islam, and separated younger boys from their families, sending them to be brainwashed to become child soldiers. The Genocide also targeted Yazidi cultural heritage, with some of the most important religious and cultural sites being destroyed by IS. By laying booby traps in the homes of Yazidis, IS has prevented Yazidis from returning to their homeland even long after the so-called “Caliphate” has been largely defeated in Iraq.
The United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, Canada, the United States of America, France, Armenia, Australia, Scotland and the United Kingdom, have all recognized that the crimes committed by IS against the Yazidis amount to genocide. However, even now, four years after the genocide began, Yazda is unaware of any comprehensive efforts to investigate the mass graves and exhume the victims’ bodies, which is also a first step in allowing their families to dignify them with proper burial ceremonies with respect to their rituals. In the absence of forensic expertise to conduct these exhumations and investigations, Yazda has done what it can to document the mass graves of Yazidis and raise awareness of their existence and location, without compromising future investigations.
International human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney, Counsel for Yazda, observed today that “Four years ago today ISIS started its campaign to wipe out a group of people known as Yazidis from this earth. They failed; but not before they killed over 3000 Yazidis and enslaved almost 7000 women and children, with thousands still in captivity today. Although many powerful states have recognized that this was genocide, they have with few exceptions refused to either put the perpetrators on trial or give the victims safe refuge. The victims want and deserve justice. I am grateful that the UN Security Council has heeded our call to set up an investigation of ISIS’ crimes in Iraq and hope that the work of the UN team, led by Karim Khan QC, will soon lead to the prosecution of ISIS members for genocide in fair and transparent trials around the world.”
Nadia Murad, survivor of IS and UNODC Goodwill Ambassador, stated that “Four years ago, I was one of thousands of Yazidi women kidnapped by ISIS and sold into slavery. Although since then we have received sympathy and solidarity from all over the world, the Yazidis need more to be able to move on and start rebuilding their lives. What we need is concrete action by states, including expertise in criminal investigations and prosecutions and contributions of funds”.
In its second report on mass graves, Yazda calls upon the Iraqi Central Government, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and international actors to:
1. Resolve without delay the issue of dual local administration in Sinjar in coordination with the Yazidi community;
2. Restore and maintain security in Sinjar by increasing the size of local security forces;
3. Ensure smooth access to Sinjar by non-governmental organizations, humanitarian organizations, and other actors seeking to provide aid, medicine, livelihood support, or reconstruction efforts in Sinjar, by also re-opening roads between Duhok and Sinjar;
4. Accelerate reconstruction efforts in Sinjar, by including Yazidi representatives (and importantly, Yazidi women) in decision-making processes;
5. Urgently ensure the provision of basic services to Sinjar, including electricity, water, healthcare, and education;
6. Take necessary steps to hold accountable those responsible for the crimes committed against Yazidis, including locals who joined IS in committing these crimes, while pursuing a discourse that openly acknowledges the nature of the Yazidi Genocide;
7. Enact legislation defining war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide;
8. Protect, preserve and exhume mass graves in Sinjar to allow families of victims to bury their loved ones properly, and achieve closure;
9. Cooperate on investigations of crimes against Yazidis;
10. Once retributive justice is served, design reconciliation programs in consultation with the Yazidi community and thoroughly implement these in Sinjar to ensure peaceful cohabitation between different groups.
NOTE to Editors: The Yazidis are an ethnic and religious minority with a 6,000 year-old culture, based mainly in northern parts of Syria and Iraq, with migrant communities in Europe and North America. Yazda is a non-profit organization, established to support the Yazidi internationally and in their homeland in northern Iraq and northeastern Syria. Yazda’s mission is to support the Yazidi community in the aftermath of the August 2014 genocide, while 400,000 people remain displaced in Sinjar, the Nineveh Plains, and Syria. International human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney, Yazda's legal counsel, represents a number of Yazidi women who are survivors of IS, including Nadia Murad, United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.