New research shows evidence of genocide by ISIL

Published: 4 May 2017 at 15:31

A Yazidi man - By Bestoun94

Details of atrocities committed against Yazidis are published in Human Rights Law Review

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Atrocities carried out against the Yazidis by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) could legally constitute genocide, according to new research to be published in the June edition of the Human Rights Law Review.

A research team of Dr Aldo Zammit Borda and Dr Alexander Murray of Anglia Ruskin University and Ms Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of the Iraqi Parliament, studied reports from UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, the media, and ISIL’s own publications, and discovered evidence indicating a clear pattern of conduct aimed at the destruction of the Yazidi population and their religion.

The plight of the Yazidis was brought to the world’s attention In August 2014 when ISIL trapped as many as 50,000 people on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, close to the Syria border. It is believed thousands died through hunger and dehydration before coalition aid drops and an air campaign against ISIL fighters allowed them to escape.

In March 2016, both the United States House of Representatives and Secretary of State John Kerry designated the alleged crimes committed by ISIL against the Yazidis, as well as other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria, as ‘genocide’. This new research provides strong evidence to support a future prosecution for genocide against ISIL.

Genocide, as set out in Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy in whole, or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group:

  • killing members of the group
  • causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
  • deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  • imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  • forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The evidence indicates that ISIL has pursued a campaign of killing targeting minority groups including the Yazidi. One report detailed how ISIL fighters have ‘summarily executed’ Yazidi men after they had been segregated from the women and children. In a number of cases, Yazidi men were presented by ISIL with the choice of conversion to Islam or death. However, in some cases, having converted, the Yazidi men were then killed. Other reports make reference to mass killings performed by ISIL after which any survivors were buried alive. The UN has estimated that up until October 2014, ISIL had killed approximately 5,000 Yazidis.

The evidence indicates that ISIL used torture to cause bodily and mental harm to their victims. According to a UN report, a number of bodies have been discovered that bore signs that the individuals concerned had been tortured prior to their deaths. Another major cause of both physical and mental harm stemmed from the level of sexual violence inflicted upon Yazidi women and girls. In addition to the trauma associated with rape, reports referred to the administration of beatings by ISIL fighters against Yazidi women held as sex slaves.

There is considerable evidence that ISIL has deliberately inflicted conditions of life calculated to destroy the Yazidis including trapping tens of thousands of Yazidis on Mount Sinjar without food or water in August 2014; slavery, rape and sexual violence against Yazidi girls; and undertaking forced religious conversions under pain of death, which was described and ‘justified’ in issues 3 and 4 of Dabiq, the ISIL propaganda magazine.

The final two crimes found in Article 2 of the UNCG are linked in the sense they aimed to destroy the future of a group through either the imposition of measures to prevent births or the forcible transfer of children away from the group.  Examples highlighted in the report include forced abortions carried out by an ISIL doctor and children as young as six being separated from their mothers and sent to different locations in Iraq and Syria, where they received religious and military training.

In order for the above acts to constitute genocide they require dolus specialis, or specific intent, in that they were committed in order to destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. The ISIL leadership has made clear its intentions against the Yazidis by issuing a fatwa, or religious ruling, that “Yazidis should be killed wherever found”. ISIL’s deliberate genocidal policy is corroborated by numerous statements and ‘justifications’ published in Dabiq.

In committing these atrocities, ISIL also appeared to discriminate specifically against the Yazidis, compared to members of other minority groups, such as Christians, whom it viewed as ‘People of the Book’. In issue 4 of Dabiq, ISIL articulated a religious ‘justification’ for discriminating between the Yazidis, on the one hand, and Jews and Christians, on the other. According to that ‘justification,’ whereas the ‘People of the Book’ could be given the option of paying jizyah (tax), in the case of Yazidis, ‘there was no room for jizyah payment.’

One of the report’s authors Dr Aldo Zammit Borda, Senior Lecturer in Law at Anglia Ruskin University, said:

“Genocide is at the apex of international crimes and has been described as the ‘crime of crimes’. It is therefore hugely significant to be able to show that ISIL’s treatment of the Yazidis could be characterised as genocide, both from the perspective of the victims and for the legal-historical record. 

“In view of the limitations of our sources and, in particular, the lack of access to information on individual perpetrators, we have not been able to reach a view on whether individuals had the specific intent necessary to commit the crime of genocide. However, we have uncovered a pattern of conduct which may be seen as indicative of the existence of a genocidal plan on the part of ISIL, as a body, against the Yazidis.

“Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide applies equally to state and non-state actors, such as ISIL. In the foreseeable future it is possible that some form of prosecution in a court or tribunal will take place against ISIL members, and it is a case of now collecting and preserving evidence for when these prosecutions for the crime of genocide do take place. Only then will ISIL’s atrocities against the Yazidis be called by their rightful name.”

Picture of Yazidi man by Bestoun94