The forgotten Yazidi victims of an ISIS genocide
One grave contained the bodies of approximately 78 women between the ages of 40-80
On August 3, 2014, ISIS began launching a campaign of genocide against Yazidis in northwestern Iraq, barbarically massacring at least 5,000 men and enslaving at least just as many women and young girls. In the two years since ISIS began its attempts to cleanse the Yazidi people from their homeland, hundreds of thousands of Yazidis remain displaced, disappeared and enslaved.
Their crisis did not end when the United States conducted airstrikes on ISIS positions to help tens of thousands of Yazidis flee from where they were trapped in the Sinjar Mountains. Despite that less attention is now being given to their plight, the militant group’s efforts to exterminate the Yazidis continue and the international community must intensify efforts to hold ISIS accountable for perpetrating the crime of genocide.
The massacres of Yazidis were systematic in the initial days of ISIS’ plan to cleanse Sinjar of their presence. Meanwhile, their enslavement of girls and women – that is, those who ISIS determined were young enough to not kill - was methodical. According to a comprehensive report by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), one of the worst massacres occurred on August 15 in the village of Kocho, where ISIS killed approximately 400 men after separating them from their families and gathering them inside of a school gym. According to that same report, before the hundreds of men were driven to their death and massacred, at least some believed they were in fact going to be freed.
‘Covered in blood’
The extent of the horror ISIS inflicted on that village alone is difficult to grasp; in an interview conducted by the USHMM in the same report, one man from the village said he was missing at least 52 family members while someone else indicated they were missing 105. In another report by Amnesty International, a survivor of a massacre targeting men from the village of Qiniyeh tells how dozens of people were marched to a large hole in the earth outside of their village, where their bodies then fell after being shot.
One grave contained the bodies of approximately 78 women between the ages of 40-80; it can be assessed they were killed because they were too old to be sold as sex slavesBrooklyn Middleton
The girls and women separated from their fathers and brothers were then enslaved, sold and brutally sexually assaulted. During an interview with Human Rights Watch (HRW) a 12-year-old girl named Wafa from Kocho describes her own abduction, recalling how one ISIS fighter told her that she was like his own child and he would protect her; he then raped her multiple times. “One day I woke up and my legs were covered in blood,” she said. When Kurdish forces seized Sinjar from the militant group in November 2015, the evidence of ISIS’s crimes began to be further unearthed as mass graves were repeatedly discovered. One such grave contained the bodies of approximately 78 women between the ages of 40-80; it can be assessed they were killed because they were too old to be sold as sex slaves.
The reports of atrocities inflicted on Yazidis – particularly the heinous sexual abuse women and girls have endured at ISIS fighters' hands – are endless and should be used to build a case against the militant group at the International Criminal Court (ICC). A new UN report made precisely this recommendation in June after documenting and assessing what it referred to as a genocide that very much remains ongoing. The same report indicated at least 3,200 Yazidi women and children still enslaved by ISIS; the majority of who are now in Syria.
In addition to urging actors to adopt plans to rescue enslaved Yazidis, the UN report also recommended developing a fact-finding commission that would comprehensively document the crimes against Yazidis and, “which would expose and delegitimize ISIS crimes in the region through broadcast and dissemination of the testimony.” Each recommendation outlined in the report should be heeded but the impact such a commission could have would prove invaluable; plans for this initiative must come to fruition. The UN - backed fully by the international community - and all actors involved in Iraq and Syria, must work to establish a comprehensive approach to ending the crimes against Yazidis, documenting the abuse they’ve endured and holding the perpetrators of this genocide completely responsible.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad's continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.
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