Six years after ISIS fighters launched an attack on Iraq’s Yazidi minority, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney accused government leaders and the United Nations on Monday of failing to bring the extremists responsible for the genocide to justice.
Ms Murad, whose mother and six brothers were killed by ISIS, told a UN commemoration of the August 3, 2014, massacre in Iraq’s Sinjar region that the Yazidis feel “abandoned” by the international community.
The “status quo is destroying our community” and international inaction is enabling the extremist group to “accomplish their goal of eradicating the Yazidis from Iraq,” warned Ms Murad, who was captured by ISIS and held as a sex slave for months before escaping.
Mrs Clooney, the wife of actor George Clooney and who represents the Yazidis, said that when she addressed the UN Security Council last year she proposed ways to achieve justice for those who died, are missing and still captive, including authorising the International Criminal Court to put ISIS on trial and creating a court by treaty between the UN and Iraq.
“No progress has been made,” she said.
“None of the pathways to a court have been studied, pursued or seriously discussed at the United Nations or by the Security Council,” Mrs Clooney said. “No conference of foreign ministers has been convened. No government proposals or counterproposals have been put forward and analysed. No state has offered to host international trials.”
She recalled warning the Security Council last year that if no action was taken, ISIS fighters held in makeshift prisons in Syria were at risk of escaping – and there would be no justice.
Mrs Clooney said the escapes she feared took place last October when hundreds of ISIS prisoners walked free from those camps.
Yazidis are followers of an ancient faith who are falsely branded devil-worshippers by Sunni extremists, many of whom joined ISIS.
When ISIS swept into northern Iraq in 2014, the militants massacred thousands of Yazidi men and enslaved an estimated 7,000 women and girls. Many managed to escape as US-backed Iraqi forces gradually drove the militants from their self-declared “caliphate” that once spanned a third of both Iraq and Syria in a gruelling three-year campaign.
But in a joint statement, Ms Murad and Mrs Clooney said, “there is no concerted attempt to search for or rescue over 2,800 women and children who remain missing and in captivity in Iraq and Syria”.
They said over 200,000 Yazidis – almost half the community in Iraq – remain displaced in camps without adequate medical treatment and an increased risk of exposure to the Covid-19 virus.
And Ms Murad and Mrs Clooney said over 120,000 Yazidis who have returned to Sinjar desperately need health care, electricity, shelter, clean water, sanitation, education and opportunities to make a living.
Ms Murad told the commemoration that the Yazidis are caught in a dispute between the Iraqi government in Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government in Erbil over who will control Sinjar, which has curtailed services and investment – and she urged them to quickly resolve it.
While Ms Murad and Mrs Clooney said they are grateful that the UN has authorised an international investigation of ISIS atrocities against the Yazidis, Ms Murad stressed that “an investigation is not a trial, and we want our day in court”.
“We must not let another year go by and stay in the status quo,” the Nobel laureate said. “The international community must fulfil its promise to deliver justice for the Yazidi community. … Survivors cannot wait another six years for the world to act.”
Mrs Clooney cited efforts to achieve justice within six years after past atrocities including the Nazi defeat in World War II and the genocides in Rwanda in 1994 and the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995.
More recently, she said, an international team authorised by the UN Human Rights Council is preparing cases against perpetrators of the alleged genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar. In addition, 57 nations are supporting a case brought by Gambia at the International Court of Justice under the Genocide Convention, and the International Criminal Court is investigating crimes in Myanmar, she said.
“Yazidi survivors deserve no less,” Mrs Clooney said, stressing that government leaders, UN diplomats and all those with influence have a responsibility to respond.
“Doing nothing is not only wrong, it is dangerous because these fighters are not going away, and their toxic ideology continues to spread,” she said. “And justice is possible now, just as it has been possible before, if only it is made a priority.”