UN human rights panel concludes ISIL is committing genocide against Yazidis

Yazidi refugees, including several children, go about their lives in Nawrouz refugee camp, approximately 40 kilometres from the Syrian border with Iraq. Photo: UNICEF/Razan Rashidi

16 June 2016 – The Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) [also known as ISIL and Da'esh] is committing genocide against Yazidis that amounts to crimes against humanity and war crimes, a United Nations-mandated human rights inquiry reported today.

“Genocide has occurred and is ongoing,” Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, emphasized in releasing the report They Came to Destroy: ISIS Crimes against the Yazidis.

“ISIS has subjected every Yazidi woman, child or man that it has captured to the most horrific of atrocities,” he said in a press statement issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Per the Commission's mandate, the report focuses on violations committed against Yazidis inside Syria, where it found that thousands of women and girls are still being held captive and abused, often as slaves.

The Commission also examined how the terrorist group forcibly transferred Yazidis into Syria after launching its attacks on northern Iraq's Sinjar region on 3 August 2014. The information that was collected documents evidence of intent and criminal liability of ISIS's military commanders, fighters, religious and ideological leaders, wherever they are located, the Commission said.

The findings are based on interviews with survivors, religious leaders, smugglers, activists, lawyers, medical personnel, and journalists, as well as extensive documentary material, which corroborate information gathered by the Commission.

“ISIS has sought to erase 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,” according to the report.

ISIS separated Yazidi men and boys older than 12 years old from the rest of their families, and killed those who refused to convert, in order to destroy their identity as Yazidis. Women and children often witnessed these killings before being forcibly transferred to locations in Iraq, and thereafter to Syria, where the majority of captives remain, the Commission found.

Thousands of women and girls, some as young as 9 years old, have been sold in slave markets, or souk sabaya, in the Syrian governorates of Raqqah, Aleppo, Homs, Hasakah and Dayr Az- Zawr. ISIS and its fighters hold them both in sexual slavery and in slavery, the report says, with Yazidi women and girls being constantly sold, gifted and willed between fighters.

“Survivors who escaped from ISIS captivity in Syria describe how they endured brutal rapes, often on a daily basis, and were punished if they tried to escape with severe beatings, and sometimes gang rapes,” said Commissioner Vitit Muntarbhorn.

The Commission also heard accounts of how some Yazidi women and girls committed suicide to escape the cruel torment.

The report noted that ISIS, which considers the Yazidis to be infidels, has publicly cited the Yazidis' faith as the basis for the attack of 3 August 2014 and its subsequent abuse of them.

The Commission said that ISIS has referred to the Yazidi as a “pagan minority [whose] existence […] Muslims should question”, adding that “their women could be enslaved […] as spoils of war.”

“ISIS has 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 Commissioner Carla del Ponte.

Mr. Pinheiro stressed that there must be no impunity for crimes of this nature, recalling States' obligations under the Genocide Convention to prevent and to punish genocide. The Commission repeated its call for the Security Council to urgently refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, or to establish an ad hoc tribunal to prosecute the violations of international law committed during the non-international armed conflict.

The Commission further noted that, with no path to international criminal justice available, it is likely that the first such prosecution of ISIS crimes against the Yazidis will take place in a domestic jurisdiction. It is essential, that States enact laws against genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the Commission stated.

The Commission also urged international recognition of the genocide, and said that more must be done to assure the protection of the Yazidi religious minority in the Middle East, as well as the funding of care, including psycho-social and financial support, for victims of the genocide.

The Commission, which in addition to Mr. Pinheiro, Ms. del Ponte and Mr. Muntarbhorn also includes Karen Koning AbuZayd, Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, was mandated by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2011 to investigate and record all violations of international law in Syria.


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