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No end to 'Islamic State' murders of Yazidis

Andreas Gorzewski / kms
June 17, 2016

"Islamic State" has been enslaving and murdering Yazidis in Iraq for two years. Advocates of the religious and ethnic minority say there's still no end in sight.

Thousands of Yazidi women fleeing on foot from Mosul, Iraq
Image: picture-alliance/AA/E. Yorulmaz

Nadia Murad, who is an Iraqi Yazidi, experienced the brutal force of "Islamic State" (IS) with her own body. For three months, she was a sex slave held captive by the terrorist group while thousands of Yazidis were massacred or died trying to escape.

Ever since her release, she has been fighting to have these atrocities classified as genocide, for which she has already held a speech before the UN Security Council.

Just a few days ago, IS fighters gave her new ammunition. The group's henchmen burned 19 Yazidis alive in public for trying to defend themselves from being raped, according to eyewitnesses. A report by the UN Commission has accused the extremist organization of genocide, providing Murad back-up for her mission.

The well-known human rights lawyer Amal Clooney is also getting involved. The wife of Hollywood star George Clooney wants IS leaders to face the International Criminal Court.

The UN Commission's report, which was presented in Geneva, denounces the continuous war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Islamic State. IS wants to annihilate Yazidis, according to experts who have interviewed survivors, religious representatives, lawyers and doctors. The authors of the report have listed indiscriminate killings, human trafficking, forced conversions, torture and other atrocities.

Jesdidin Jeside Frau Flucht vor IS Irak
These Yazidi women escaped from IS captivity in 2015. Thousands are still at the mercy of the extremist groupImage: Getty Images/AFP/S.Hamid

The tragedy of the religious and ethnic minority with Kurdish roots had come to a head in August 2014. At the time, IS fighters made inroads into the Sinjar Mountains in Iraq's northwest, where roughly 600,000 Yazidis lived. Kurdish peshmerga units, which were supposed to protect the religious minority, fled from IS, which was better armed. Thousands of Yazidis were massacred or died trying to escape in the days that followed.

No rights

IS harbors a particularly great hatred toward Yazidis. According to the extremist Sunni group, the religious minority does not have a holy book and, therefore, no right to be protected the way that some groups, such as Christians, do in theory. When Yazidis fall into the hands of IS, their only choice is to convert to Islam or die, according to Ahmed Burjus, the deputy director of Yazda UK.

According to Burjus, the women are kept alive in order to serve as sex slaves. "There are more than 3,000 Yazidi women and girls under the power of IS," he says. Time and again, some are able to flee or are sold.

Burjus remembers the fate of the kidnapped children. "More than 1,000 Yazidi children are now in IS training camps where they are being brainwashed to become the next generation of terrorists."

But even those who have fled the immediate danger of violence and captivity have little reason to hope, says Sahap Dag, the Secretary General of the Central Council of Yazidis in Germany. Dag, who visited the region in April, describes the situation in the old settlement area as catastrophic.

It's impossible for them to return, he says. "Houses and streets are destroyed. Many are scared of hidden landmines."

The trust is gone

Most Iraqi Yazidis now live in areas controlled by the Kurdish regional government. But despite the fact that they, too, are Kurds, the relationship with the government is tarnished.

"The trust is no longer there," Dag says.

Flüchtlingslager Sharya Irak Dohuk
Many Yazidis have found refuge at Shreya camp in northern IraqImage: picture-alliance/dpa/S.Järkel

He says the Kurdish leadership in Irbil is not doing anything about the fact that 400,000 Yazidis are having to live in ever-more difficult conditions in tent camps. Dag also tells of three women that escaped from IS captivity with their children. After spending three months in a dungeon, they received no help. Instead, the 12 of them must share a tent of roughly 10 square meters (129 square feet) in a refugee camp in northern Iraq.

Forgotten by the world

Their situation is not unique. There is barely any work or educational opportunities for Yazidi refugees. The help offered to many of these traumatized people is also considered insufficient. According to Dag, the international community is no longer taking care of them.

"The Yazidis have been forgotten," he says.

According to Ahmed Burjus of Yazda, UK, Yazidis can't expect anything from neighboring countries in the Middle East or the Iraqi government in Baghdad either. Sharia is an important basis for the Islamic justice systems of those countries. But because the Yazidis do not have any right to protection under Islamic law, they would often be seen by Muslims as heathens and excluded as a result.

Despite the tragedy, Dag hopes that Yazidis will remain in their home region.

"We don't want them to leave their land," he says. "But if things continue this way, I don't see any prospects for Yazidis or for Christians to stay there."

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