THE HAGUE — The Yazidi people of Iraq have an ancient heritage and follow a faith believed to pre-date Islam or Christianity. But that heritage and their continued existence is threatened by ISIS, which has targeted the Yazidis for genocide.
Representatives of the Yazidi minority brought their accusations of genocide before the International Criminal Court in the Hague last week. The report, presented by Free Yezidi Foundation and the U.S.-based nonprofit Yazda, with the support of the Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq, offers evidence of systematic attacks against the Yazidi. It also claims that thousands of foreign fighters from Europe are fighting on behalf of ISIS, even helping to drive some of the group’s worst atrocities.
Of the approximately 600,000 believed to follow their faith, some 400,000 have fled Iraq’s Sinjar and Nineveh Plains districts, their traditional homeland, and now live in refugee camps controlled by the Kurds. Iraqi and U.S. forces have sometimes supported their flight with airstrikes against ISIS.
According to the report, over 700 Yazidi men have faced summary execution at the hands of ISIS, while thousands of women have been raped or enslaved, while the children of the Yazidi have faced mass abductions and forced conversion to Salafist Islam — all actions that fall under the traditional legal definition of genocide.
The Yazidis’ case was assigned to Fatou Bensouda, a prosecutor for the ICC. Bensouda previously refused to intervene on behalf of the ICC because neither Iraq nor Syria are members of the court, meaning it would not have jurisdiction over the matter.
However, the new report challenges that previous decision by arguing that thousands of fighters from foreign countries are fighting on behalf of ISIS, including from ICC member states like Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Twenty of these foreign fighters are cited by name.
Murad Ismael, co-founder of Yazda, told Vice News that these foreign fighters have been key actors in some of the extremist group’s worst crimes against humanity:
“’Foreign fighters have been heavily involved in the sex trade of Yazidi women and girls. And that means that the ICC and the rest of the international community should not ignore the ways they are subjecting the Yazidis to very inhuman and barbaric acts,’ Ismael said from The Hague. ‘This report provides new information and context for the role of foreign fighters, who hold high ranking positions within IS, and shows that the court should hold them accountable for their crimes.’”
While their struggle may be worsening under ISIS, it’s not the first time this group has faced persecution. According to CNN, traditional Yazidi teachings suggest the group has faced 73 historic genocides and massacres, and the attacks have continued into modern times:
“On several occasions, Muslim conquerors overran the Lalish Temple, the holiest site in the Yazidi faith, turning it temporarily into a Muslim school. More recently, a series of horrific suicide truck bombings targeted a group of Yazidi villages in Iraq’s nearby Sinjar province, killing more than 300 people in 2008.”
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