The anniversary of the Yazidi genocide is a grim reminder of Daesh’s crimes against humanity
DUBAI: On August 3, Yazidis around the world will come together to mourn their brothers, sisters, parents and other loved ones who were massacred by Daesh eight years ago.
It was on that fateful day in 2014 that Daesh hordes invaded the historic homeland of the Yazidis, Sinjar, Iraq. The terrorist group murdered 1,268 people on the first day; and in the weeks that followed, 6,417 Yazidis were abducted, including 3,548 women and underage girls who were thrown into sexual slavery and forced labor.
The whole community fled, seeking safety in the mountains of Sinjar. More than 65% of Yazidis have been displaced.
“I am able to report that, based on independent and impartial investigations, in line with international standards and UN best practices, there is clear and compelling evidence that the crimes against the Yazidi people clearly constitute a genocide,” said the UN’s Karim Khan. Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Daesh, told the Security Council in 2017.
A few months after the start of the 2014 genocide, Sinjar and US-based Yazidis created an organization, Yazda, as an emergency response unit to help save their community from extinction. It became clear after some women were released and escaped that Daesh was deliberately targeting and sexually enslaving Yazidis because of their religious identity.
Dabiq, the online magazine used by Daesh for Islamic radicalization and recruitment purposes, published fatwas calling on the militants to enslave Yazidis as they were considered “devil worshippers”.
Yazda recorded testimonies from survivors who said they were told by activists that their community “would never welcome them after what was done to them”.
To date, 3,545 Yazidis have returned to their families; 1,205 of them are women who risked their lives to escape captivity.
Survivors were physically, sexually, mentally and spiritually devastated, with Yazda providing full access to psychosocial and protective services, while documenting testimonies.
Some spoke of forced abortions, others shared how they mutilated themselves to have a miscarriage after learning that the activists insisted on keeping the children. Some women even decided to terminate their pregnancies and did their best to raise their children through rehabilitation programs.
Today, many of those survivors are internally displaced people trapped in a miserable life in camps. They complain that the facilities are in a miserable state with no access to essential services such as food, water, electricity and safe accommodation.
There are no recreational spaces to help encourage community building activities, and women and children are also unable to complete their education.
Against all odds, Yazidi women continue to fight for themselves.
A platform created within Yazda, the Yazidi Survivors Network, gave women in the community the space to advocate because they felt it was vital for their voice to be present when making decisions.
“I want to be able to speak for myself and not let others speak for me,” said a survivor and YSN member.
Another said: “We want to be involved in every decision that affects us as survivors. We want to be our own voice in all the projects that concern us because only we know what we have been through and what we need to achieve the peace and security we desire, as well as to recover from our suffering.
Justice, however, can be achieved in different ways for survivors.
Yazidis have called for Daesh militants to be brought to justice and prosecuted for crimes against humanity, including genocide. But while many petitions have been filed and are receiving funds to cover costs, what they lack is the amount of legal advocacy needed to engage in the cases that have piled up.
Besides legal proceedings, safe return to Sinjar is another form of justice that Yazidis have been hoping for since their exile, where they can find missing family members and give proper burial to those they have lost.
Another aspect of justice is worldwide recognition of their genocide. To date, there has been no follow-up from the international community to help the Yazidi community. Most surprisingly, no country in the Middle East apart from Iraq has formally recognized the genocide.
Even in Iraq, where genocide is legally recognized under Article 7 of the law, recognition has not been fully realized. At a commemorative event, YSN member Nasrin Hassan Rasho said, “I demand that the Iraqi state adopt a national plan for transitional justice that explicitly and clearly includes legal recognition of the Yazidi genocide and that of other minorities.
Many female survivors have expressed concern about being treated like second-class citizens in Iraq and the Kurdistan region. Despite their history of shared violence under the brutality of Daesh, there has been no effort at reconciliation or effort to resolve discrimination.
On a personal level for survivors, the lack of inclusion affects their productivity, independence and self-esteem, which in turn hampers their psychological rehabilitation and treatment.
Suzan Safar, a Yezidi genocide survivor and founder of the Dak Organization for the Development of Yazidi Women, said: “This marginalization, recklessness and neglect of the Sinjar cause practiced by the government makes us feel and gives us the impression that unfortunately we are not first-class citizens, but second-class.
“This is how we feel from the actions we are witnessing from the Iraqi government.”
In his presentation to the Security Council in 2017, UNITAD leader Khan acknowledged that genocide had taken place, which in itself is a big step forward in the pursuit of justice.
Underscoring the importance of this development, YSN members said, “This recognition of the genocide by UNITAD is very important for all Yazidis. For us, the qualification of crimes as genocide is very important because it is the only way to prevent other genocides against Yazidis and other minorities from happening again in the future.