ISIS Yazidi Genocide Finding Prompts Calls for Urgent UN Action

By Patrick Goodenough | June 17, 2016 | 12:35am EDT
Yazidis displaced by ISIS violence, in August 2014. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, File)

( – U.N. investigators declared Thursday that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) is carrying out genocide against the Yazidi minority, prompting rights advocates to urge the world body’s organs to act urgently in response to that finding.

Investigators in Geneva issued a report, based on interviews with survivors, religious leaders and others, and “extensive documentary material,” which concluded that ISIS’ campaign against Yazidis meets the definition of genocide as laid out in the 1948 Genocide Convention.

It also amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity, they said.

Among the findings of the panel known as the U.N. commission of inquiry on Syria:

--Thousands of women and girls, some as young as nine, have been sold in slave markets – sometimes multiple times – and treated as chattel and sex slaves

--Those caught trying to escape are punished with severe beatings and sometimes gang rapes

--Yazidi boys aged seven and up are taken to ISIS camps in Syria for indoctrination and military training

--ISIS has sought to erase the community’s identity by forcing men to choose between converting to Islam and death

--ISIS’ radical Sunni fighters view Yazidis as infidels and pagans, and the group has stated that Yazidi women can be enslaved “as spoils of war.”

Yazidis are ethnic Kurds whose religious beliefs predate Islam and Christianity, with links to Zoroastrianism. The community has been historically based around Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, which ISIS terrorists captured in the summer of 2014.

ISIS later transferred Yazidi captives to Syria.

“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 commission member Carla Del Ponte, a Swiss lawyer and former war crimes prosecutor.

The panel’s chairman, Brazilian lawyer Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, expressed frustration at the lack of political action in response to the atrocities.

“The finding of genocide must trigger much more assertive action at the political level, including at the Security Council,” he told reporters.

“Almost two years since the attack on Mount Sinjar, nothing has been done to save those people,” he said. “And we urge stronger action by the international community.”

“There are no rescue operations carried out specifically for Yazidi women and children being held by ISIS in Syria,” Pinheiro added.

U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization, said the U.N. Human Rights Council must respond to the commission’s finding – and should do so during its current three-week session, which runs through July 1.

“Because this finding was made only by independent experts and is non-binding, what needs to happen now is for the plenary of the 47-nation council to adopt a resolution before the end of the current June session that officially ratifies the determination of genocide,” said the group’s executive director, Hillel Neuer. “This is vital.”

Neuer pointed out that the mass killing and sexual slavery of the Yazidis has been known about for almost two years.

“To make a difference and help the victims, the council’s resolution should urgently submit its finding to the U.N. Security Council for protective action, and to all of the state parties of the U.N.’s 1948 Genocide Convention, under which each signatory country has undertaken to prevent and punish genocide,” he said.

“Unless these minimal steps are taken, the experts’ finding risks being just more words on paper, without protecting a single Yazidi man, woman, or child.”

U.N. Watch has long been urging HRC action in response to abuses against Yazidis, Christians and other minorities.

In testimony before the council during a session last March, U.N. Watch delegate Samuel Talalay challenged its inaction.

If indeed genocide is happening, why does this U.N. Human Rights Council session have no resolutions, urgent debates, or commissions of inquiry?” he asked.

(The same session adopted no fewer than five resolutions critical of Israel, as well as one each relating to situations in Syria, Iran, South Sudan, Burma and North Korea.)

The Human Rights Council meets in Geneva. (UN Photo)

Heresy, blasphemy, apostasy

Meanwhile the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) is also urging the HRC to act during its current session in response to ISIS’ genocide against Christians and other minorities in areas under its control.

In a letter to the council, ECLJ director Gregor Puppinck wrote that ISIS abuses, “primarily against religious minorities,” include beheadings, stoning, burning alive, kidnapping, rapes and sexual slavery, forced conversion, and executions for heresy, blasphemy and apostasy.  

He noted that parties to the Genocide Convention have committed themselves the “prevent and punish” those responsible for the crime.

Also, the convention states that “the competent organs of the United Nations” have a responsibility “to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide.”

Puppinck said the HRC’s current session provides an opportunity for it to “squarely address” the crisis, and to identify the atrocities being committed as genocide.

He urged the council to declare that ISIS and its followers are committing genocide against religious and ethnic minorities – “and to than act accordingly.”

The ECLJ is an international affiliate of the Virginia Beach-based American Centre for Law and Justice (ACLJ).

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