Yazidi carnage was genocide, but where are the ISIS prosecutions?

Head of UN’s ISIS investigation unit in Iraq describes enough evidence to put militants behind bars

Pictures of Yazidis killed in 2014 by ISIS militants are displayed at a shrine in northern Iraq. AP
Pictures of Yazidis killed in 2014 by ISIS militants are displayed at a shrine in northern Iraq. AP

The head of a UN investigation into ISIS crimes in Iraq has determined the group clearly committed genocide against Yazidis in 2014 and urged courts to prosecute those responsible for atrocities.

Karim Khan, a British lawyer, said the UN investigation team in Iraq gathered evidence of extermination, murder, rape, torture, enslavement and other war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“There is clear and convincing evidence that the crimes against the Yazidi people clearly constituted genocide,” said Mr Khan, who will next month become top prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

“We have identified specific perpetrators who clearly have responsibility for the crime of genocide against the Yazidi community.”

The investigation unit, known as Unitad, obtained laptops and mobile phone records of former militiamen and used artificial intelligence to gather thousands of ISIS administrative documents to build prosecution case files, Mr Khan said.

It has so far identified 1,444 possible perpetrators of attacks on Yazidis.

“The intent of Daesh to destroy the Yazidi physically and biologically was manifest in the ultimatum that was repeated in so many different villages in Iraq: to convert or to die,” Mr Khan told the UN Security Council on Monday.

“Thousands of men and women and children were killed pursuant to this ultimatum. Some were taken to sites where they were mowed down with machineguns. Those who were breathing a few gasps were shot.”

He described progress on prosecutions in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq and cases against foreign fighters returning to Europe, but said more action was needed to secure justice for victims.

Iraqi forces largely melted away as ISIS swept across the country in 2014, killing thousands of members of the Yazidi minority community in Sinjar and forcing more than 7,000 women and girls into sexual slavery.

A US-led military coalition pushed the militants back and Iraq declared victory over the group in December 2017.

Iraqi officials have since prosecuted tens of thousands of detained former fighters but Yazidi activists say trials are often flawed.

Yazidis adhere to several ancient Middle East faith traditions, but ISIS members considered them to be devil worshippers.

An independent UN commission of inquiry in 2016 described the ISIS carnage as genocide, the internationally agreed on crime of killing large numbers of members of a national or ethnic group with the aim of wiping it out.

Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi woman who was enslaved and raped by ISIS, and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney lobbied the Security Council, which created Unitad in 2017.

They also pushed for ISIS criminals to face trials at the ICC or another war crimes tribunal.

"Evidence has been found but we are still searching for the political will to prosecute," Ms Murad, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, told the council on Monday.

“It is time for the international community to do more than listen. It is time to act.”

Updated: May 11, 2021 03:43 AM

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