Yet again, the world is failing genocide victims
Today marks four years since ISIS launched their genocidal campaign against the Yezidi community in Sinjar. Since the initial attack in August 2014, thousands of Yezidi women and men have been killed, the community has been forced from their homeland and dispersed around the world, and the fate of over 3,000 Yezidi women and girls enslaved by ISIS remains unknown.
Four years on, the genocide continues and Yezidis are still waiting for any measure of justice or accountability.
To date, ISIS has worked to systematically destroy the Yezidi community with total impunity. Although the United Nations and state governments around the world have recognized the attacks as genocide, there have been no trials to hold perpetrators accountable. The mantra of “never again” adopted by the international community after the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide proves itself more accurately to be “yet again.”
In Sept. 2017, the U.N. Security Council took a positive, albeit long-delayed, step towards closing this impunity gap through the adoption of Resolution 2379, which created an investigative team to support domestic efforts to hold ISIS accountable. The adoption of this resolution came on the heels of widely criticized trials of ISIS fighters in Iraq, which subverted due process and fair trial standards and served neither the interests of justice nor victims. In addition, all of these prosecutions have been conducted under Iraq’s 2005 counter-terrorism law, which excludes justice for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes and leaves women behind.
This is not just an issue in Iraq or a matter for Iraqi domestic courts. Genocide is a crime so abhorrent that the entire international community bears a legal obligation to prevent, suppress, and punish it. A state does not need to be directly connected to the genocide to incur these legal obligations.
In the case of ISIS however, such a limitation would be irrelevant. ISIS is not just a homegrown militia composed of fighters from Iraq and Syria; over 40,000 ISIS fighters are foreign nationals. Their countries of origin range from Jordan, Tunisia and Libya; to the U. K., France and Sweden; to the U.S., Malaysia, and Australia. As these fighters are captured or return home, these states should take measures to extradite or prosecute them for the full range of crimes committed.
Alarmingly, many of these countries, including those that claim to champion human rights, have expressed little to no interest in ensuring justice for the crimes committed by their nationals. And where they are prosecuted, like in Iraq, the charges are limited to crimes of terrorism.
ISIS has used murder, rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, and torture as tools for recruitment, conversion, forced indoctrination, and the fundamental destruction of community cohesion. And, in light of the gender dynamics at the root of ISIS’s ideology and violence, gender must be at the center of accountability.
These atrocities are distinct crimes on their own as well as constituent acts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. If an ISIS fighter has held human beings as slaves, raped young children, and committed murder, is terrorism the appropriate charge?
The value of accountability for the full range of crimes committed cannot be underestimated. Justice empowers survivors, shines a light on truth, and offers healing and closure, allowing an affected community to move forward. Justice at its best is not merely retribution or punishment, it is a transformation. It can allow the Yezidi community to see security, reconciliation, and peace in their homeland.
Progress on paper should not be dismissed, but it is insufficient. Four years after the genocide began, Yezidis are still waiting to see a single perpetrator held accountable for the crimes committed against their community, including genocide.
We mourn those we lost, we pray for those still suffering in ISIS captivity, and we stand in solidarity with the survivors and the displaced languishing in IDP and refugee camps. Let there be no more visits to mass graves, no more payments to free our sisters, daughters, and mothers.
Four years later, it is past time for justice and accountability.
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