Faced with desperate living conditions in camps in Kurdistan, several Yazidi families were among thousands of migrants who traveled to the extremely cold Polish border last month. The Belarusian government gave them hope for an easy crossing to Europe, which used them mercilessly to pressure EU states to remove sanctions imposed on Belarus, after hijacking forcibly a Ryanair plane to arrest a journalist last year.
Instead of finding refuge in Europe, the Yazidi families were violently pushed back from the border by Polish troops and then expelled from Belarus. They have now returned, broken and in debt, to the camps in Kurdistan (in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey).
The homeland of the Yazidi community, where they cultivated and practiced their ancient faith, was traditionally Sinjar Province in northern Iraq. This changed for many families in 2014, when the religious minority was targeted and brutalized by ISIS.
The Islamic militant group has killed around 5,000 Yazidis and abducted and sexually enslaved around 7,000 Yazidis, mostly women and children. The Yazidis were forced to convert to Islam, many of their religious and cultural sites were destroyed and 450,000 people fled their homes to escape violence.
Today, around 300,000 Yazidis continue to live in camps in Kurdistan, where they endure scorching summers and torrential rains in winter while living in tents. Those who returned to their Yazidi homeland in Sinjar found rubble and little government support.
Several Yazidis spoke to TDs and Irish senators earlier this year about the lack of progress made in the seven years since the brutally orchestrated genocide against them and the conditions facing the community.
Nasreen Rasho, a Yazidi survivor of ISIS captivity, spoke remotely from Iraq with the Oireachtas foreign relations committee in June. The young Yazidi woman described how IS survivors were denied the opportunity to continue their education. Many were captured by the Islamist group in their teens, some as young as nine.
Sinjar, the main town in Sinjar province, remains covered in rubble due to destruction caused by ISIS and their fighting with Iraqi forces in 2015. Much of the support to the damaged town has so far involved small-scale and ad hoc projects, such as the Irish National Teachers’ Union’s support for primary education.
In his house in Sinjar, Hiyem Dakhil described inhow many Yazidi survivors find themselves without psychological support for their trauma and without any avenue to secure the education that was interrupted by their IS captivity, or economic opportunities to rebuild their lives.
“We need more education to be taken seriously and be part of the decision-making process, especially on matters that directly affect us,” Rasho told TDs and Senators in June. Natia Navrouzov, director of legal advocacy at Yazidi NGO Yazda, told the Oireachtas committee that English and Arabic lessons, computer lessons and advocacy training were all needed for survivors to lobby effectively. for their needs. Yazda requested € 368,000 for educational support from the Irish government during its meeting with the Foreign Relations Committee.
During the meeting, Sinn Féin TD John Brady noted that “Ireland is one of the few countries that has not helped alleviate the hardships and plight of the Yazidi people”. Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan, chairman of the committee, said he would seek support for the initiatives discussed at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade after the meeting. However, the ministry could not confirm to theif such a request was made or if any of the initiatives would be supported.
Many Yazidis believe that IS will never be held responsible for the atrocities they have committed. While the terrorist group was largely defeated in 2017 by a coalition of US and Iraqi forces, few Yazidi women have had the chance to confront IS militants in courts that subjected them to sexual slavery and killed many male family members.
So far, Iraqi courts have mainly tried former ISIS activists on terrorism charges in Baghdad, rather than charges involving the specific crimes committed against the Yazidis. Little effort has been made to involve ISIS victims in the legal process, while many suspects have been sentenced to death on the basis of weak evidence in trials which have been criticized by rights organizations humans.
“Not just in Iraq but all over the world, it is easier to try suspects for terrorism rather than war crimes or crimes against humanity, which require a huge amount of evidence compared to proving membership in a organization, “said Kip Hale, a male human rights lawyer who has investigated ISIS atrocities in Iraq.
Failure to try suspected IS militants for war crimes and crimes against humanity means states are missing out on an opportunity to expose ISIS’s criminality and how it runs counter to Islam, says Hale.
Yazda asked the Oireachtas’ foreign relations committee for Ireland’s support in the UN Security Council to establish an international tribunal to prosecute IS crimes. The NGO said Yazidi survivors believe any tribunal should have “strong international involvement because of local mistrust of Iraqi institutions.”
Iraq is not a party to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the only permanent court in the world established to deal with war crimes and crimes against humanity. As a result, crimes committed by ISIS in Iraqi jurisdictions (including genocide) cannot be referred to the ICC. Instead, any international tribunal to prosecute ISIS crimes in Iraq must be specially constituted with the consent of the Iraqi government. It is an expensive and politically charged exercise.
So far, the UN has only received support for a body to investigate the massacres and atrocities perpetrated by ISIS, known as UNITAD. Ultimately, the decision to prosecute ISIS militants (and on what charges) rests with the Iraqi state.
“The Yazidis have one of the most serious cases of genocide I have ever seen,” Hale says. However, he is pessimistic about the chances of creating an international tribunal.
“Unfortunately, the Yazidis have been caught in the crossfire of a diplomatic battle over the use of the term genocide,” said the human rights lawyer.
“They are also further sidelined by the fact that every aggrieved group now wants what happened to them labeled ‘genocide’, so that distorts and mitigates the crime and a precise understanding of it,” he said. -he declares.
A spokesperson for the ministry told thethat “the legal definition of genocide is very precise and must be carried out by a competent international or national tribunal having jurisdiction to try such cases, after an investigation meeting appropriate due process standards. Until a competent authority rules, states, including Ireland, will not be able to use the precise legal term “genocide”. – until the ICC (in part because of the “hypocritical refusal” of the United States to accede to the jurisdiction of the ICC); and given Iraq’s clear preference for accusing IS militants of terrorism rather than war crimes, it is increasingly unlikely that apart from a few ad hoc prosecutions in Europe, he there is a full prosecution of those responsible for the Yazidi genocide.
Ultimately, a clear case of genocide seems likely to go unpunished, as thousands of Yazidi victims find themselves without meaningful support to restore their shattered lives.