Genocide Recognition

Why recognition matters

Since August 2014, ISIS members of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have perpetrated brutal crimes against the Yazidi community of Sinjar, including mass executions, sexual enslavement, forced displacement and the recruitment of child soldiers. Today, an estimated 85% of the Yazidi population of Iraq is displaced and over 3,000 women and children remain in ISIS captivity.

The United Nations and the European Union, as well as many states around the world, have recognized that the crimes committed by ISIS against the Yazidis constitute genocide. Yazda and Nadia Murad have worked tirelessly to ensure this recognition, which has several consequences.

First, it acknowledges the gravity of the offences perpetrated against the Yazidis. Genocide is considered by many to be ‘the crime of crimes’, the worst thing that can be done by a human being to others. It is what Hitler did to millions of Jews, what the Serbs did to Bosnian Muslims in the former Yugoslavia, what the Hutus did to the Tutsis in Rwanda. And what ISIS is now doing to the Yazidis.

Second, States are under an international legal obligation to prevent and punish acts of genocide. The international community failed to prevent the genocide started against the Yazidis in 2014, it now has a duty to punish those responsible for it. Recognition of the Yazidi genocide should therefore be a step towards holding ISIS accountable for their heinous crimes in a suitable judicial forum.

The Constitutive Elements of Genocide

The accepted definition of genocide is set out in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was ratified by virtually all countries in the world including both Iraq and Syria. This definition is reflected in the statutes of international courts and tribunals, including the ICTY, the ICTR and the ICC.

Genocide requires the existence of various constitutive elements:

  1. Protected group: Genocide must be committed against a “national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. The Yazidis, as an ethno-religious minority, clearly fall within this category.
  1. Physical element: Genocide may be committed by (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to them; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and/or (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria found that ISIS perpetrated all five of genocidal acts set out above against the Yazidis.
  1. Mental element: The crime of genocide requires that the perpetrator have a special intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a protected group. The genocidal acts must be committed against a person because of their membership in that group and as an incremental step in the overall objective of destroying the group. ISIS has openly stated that its aim to destroy the Yazidi minority. In an article published in its English language magazine Dabiq, for instance, ISIS declared that “upon conquering the region of Sinjar… the Islamic State faced a population of Yazidis, a pagan minority existent for ages in the regions of Iraq and Sham [Syria]. Their continual existence to this day is a matter that Muslims should question as they will be asked about it on Judgment Day “.

International Recognition of the Yazidi Genocide

The following states and entities have recognized that ISIS is committing genocide against the Yazidis:

1- Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 27 January 2016 – Adopted a resolution noting “that many of these recent terrorist attacks are claimed by, and may be attributed to, individuals who act in the name of the terrorist entity which calls itself “Islamic State” (Daesh) and who have perpetrated acts of genocide and other serious crimes punishable under international law. States should act on the presumption that Daesh commits genocide and should be aware that this entails action under the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”

2- Kurdistan Regional Government Foreign Minister Falah Mustafa in November 2014: “We are committed to taking all the necessary steps to end, prosecute and punish the acts of genocide and crimes against humanity committed by the ISIS terrorists. The principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) obliges individual states and the international community to take effective measures to punish and prevent acts of genocide and crimes against humanity, if necessary also by military intervention or support of the local forces combating ISIS.”

3- European Parliament on 4 February 2016 – Passed a resolution which “Expresse[d] its view that the persecution, atrocities and international crimes amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity; stresses that the so-called ‘ISIS/Daesh’ is committing genocide against Christians and Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities, who do not agree with the so-called ‘ISIS/Daesh’ interpretation of Islam  and that this therefore entails action under the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; underlines the fact that those who intentionally, for ethnic or religious reasons, conspire in, plan, incite, commit or attempt to commit, are complicit in or support atrocities should be brought to justice and prosecuted for violations of international law, notably war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”

4- US House of Representatives on 14 March 2016 – Voted 393 to 0 declaring that “the atrocities perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) against Christians, Yezidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide” and “governments, including the United States, and international organizations, including the United Nations and the Office of the Secretary-General, should call ISIL atrocities by their rightful names: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide;”

5- US Secretary of State John Kerry on 17 March 2016 – “My purpose in appearing before you today is to assert that, in my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions – in what it says, what it believes, and what it does. Daesh is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.”

6- UK House of Commons 20 April 2016 – The House voted 278-0 and declared that “this House believes that Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria are suffering genocide at the hands of Daesh; and calls on the Government to make an immediate referral to the UN Security Council with a view to conferring jurisdiction upon the International Criminal Court so that perpetrators can be brought to justice.”

7- United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic on 15 June 2016 – Issued a report on ISIS crimes committed against the Yazidis in which it concluded that “ISIS has committed the crime of genocide as well as multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Yazidis, thousands of whom are held captive in the Syrian Arab Republic where they are subjected to almost unimaginable horrors.”

8- Canadian House of Commons on 16 June 2016 – Then Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion declared in the House of Commons Chamber that “[g]iven this evidence, our government believes that genocide against the Yezidis is currently ongoing.” See House of Commons, Debates, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 16 June 2016, p. 1420 (Hon. Stéphane Dion (Minister of Foreign Affairs)).

9- French Senate on 6 December 2016 – The French Senate unanimously adopted a resolution recognizing that the acts committed by ISIS against Yazidis constitute genocide, urging the French Government to recognize the genocide as well.

10- French National Assembly 8 December 2016 – Members of the National Assembly (which, together with the Senate, constitutes the French Parliament) voted unanimously to pass a resolution recognizing the IS massacre against the Yazidis as genocide and urging the Government of France to officially recognize the genocide of Yazidis by ISIS and refer it to the International Criminal Court through the UN Security Council.

11- Scottish Parliament 23 March 2017 – The Scottish Parliament recognized and condemned “the genocide perpetrated against the Yazidi people by Daesh” and noted the calls on the UK Government to “request that the UN Security Council refer the genocide committed against the Yazidi people to the International Criminal Court”.

Loading...