About four years ago, in August 2014, ISIS began slaughtering the Yezidis in Iraq and committed a genocide against this ancient community, massacring over 5,000, abducting 7,450 women and girls who were then sold into sexual slavery and driving over 500,000 out of their ancestral homes. Although the Yezidi genocide has received widespread international recognition due to the indisputable evidence that has been presented including the existence of mass graves, witness testimonies and ISIS publications online inciting against Yezidis and documenting massacres of them, four years on, the Yezidis have not yet received justice for the horrific atrocities that were committed against them. The question remains, why is this the case and when will there be justice for the Yezidi people?
In Iraq and Syria, where the crimes of the Yezidi genocide were perpetrated, it is unlikely that the Yezidi victims will get justice. In Syria, rebels allied with Turkey have destroyed Yezidi holy sites and forcefully converted Yezidis in Afrin to Islam. There are also reports of Yezidis being forced to wear the hijab in these areas. So far, Turkey’s allies have been able to act against the Yezidis in Afrin with impunity, without any interference from the outside world.
Unfortunately, the Syrian regime is part of the problem rather than the solution when it comes to putting an end to radical Islamism within Syria. They are an ally of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who systematically oppresses women and minorities both within their own country and in countries that fall under their influence due to the creation of a radical Shia Crescent from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Furthermore, according to local sources within Syria, while the Kurdish authorities that liberated areas from the yoke of ISIS are attempting to promote women’s rights in those areas today, the Syrian regime has not followed suite in the areas that they control, doing virtually nothing to advance the status of women and minorities within the country. If anything, the plight of women and minorities under Assad’s control is one step above the plight of women and minorities under the control of ISIS and other radical Islamist groups. This works to worsen the plight of Yezidis in Syria.
Unfortunately, Yezidis in Iraq have not really fared much better. According to Human Rights Watch, in Iraq, trials of ISIS terrorists have been fundamentally flawed with numerous due process violations. Although the Iraqi government does offer financial compensation for every Yezidi victim released from ISIS captivity and recently converted a Kocho school, which was the site of many atrocities against the Yezidis, into a museum commemorating the Yezidi genocide, Yezidi leader Sheikh Mirza Ismail reiterated that Yezidis living on Mount Shingal still are not given the opportunity to return to their homes and to rebuild their lives.
“Yezidis in Mount Shingal still have no basic human services such as hospitals, schools, jobs, clean drinking water, food and most importantly, safety and security,” he proclaimed. “The displaced Yezidis in KRG cannot go back to Shingal because most of their homes were destroyed by ISIS. Most of the Yezidi villages on the southern side of the mountain are still booby-trapped with explosives. The present plight of the Yezidi people in the Middle East is worse than you can imagine especially in Iraq and Syria while the Yezidis in Iran and Turkey have been mostly annihilated by the regimes in both countries.”
The lack of security experienced recently by the Yezidis in Mount Shingal was highlighted when a Turkish airstrike killed several people soon after a ceremony commemorating the Yezidi genocide in Kocho. According to Ismail, “The Turkish airstrikes destroyed three cars and killed several Yezidis including Mam Zaki, whom the Turkish government accused of being a PKK member. Zaki was a Yezidi from Turkey and came to Shingal in order to fight against ISIS. OK, let us say that Zaki was PKK. How about the other Yezidis? There are thousands of armed PKK militias in Qamishli, Hassakeh and other areas in Syria. Why are the Turkish airstrikes only against the Yezidi regions in Shingal and Afrin? No, Turkey is not after the PKK. The regime of Erdogan the dictator is following in the Ottoman’s footsteps in order to destroy the indigenous Yezidis.”
Unfortunately, the international community has not been able to help the Yezidis either. In instances where the authorities in the home country cannot rely upon the local government to address massive human rights abuses in a fair manner, usually the victims have the option of turning to the International Criminal Court at The Hague. But unfortunately for the Yezidis, neither Syria nor Iraq are parties to the Rome Statute, which according to international law means that their case cannot be brought in front of the International Criminal Court at The Hague unless the UN Security Council Mandates that it should be done. Unfortunately for the Yezidis, neither Russia nor China are likely to permit the UN Security Council to mandate that the Yezidi genocide case be brought before the International Criminal Court at The Hague. This brings the Yezidis back to square one when seeking justice for the genocide that they survived.
“The Yezidi people have faced 74 genocides by Muslims because the Yezidis do not want to change the faith that was given to us by God,” Ismail proclaimed. “How can the Yezidis receive justice when the makers of international law do not have respect for the international law that they wrote? The benefits of international law and human rights do not apply to all peoples in the world. Those two types of important benefits apply to some nations to get what they deserve and those two types of benefits are also abused by its own creators in order to destroy some nations such as the Yezidis, Zoroastrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, etc. If the UN and five permanent Security Council members wanted to free 3,000 Yezidi women, who are still enslaved in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Muslim countries, they could press those countries and order them to hand over the Yezidi women and children. Hundreds of young Yezidi women and children were transferred to Turkey alone from Syria by ISIS while ISIS is losing control in Syria.”
Given the obstacles Yezidis face in getting the international community to assist them, some Yezidi victims have turned to German courts in order to obtain justice. However, this is a poor substitute for the Hague. There cannot be comprehensive justice for all victims of the Yezidi genocide without action being taken by the UN Security Council on this matter. But unfortunately, power politics is preventing the implementation of justice for victims of the Yezidi genocide. Given this horrific reality, while the Yezidi people are constantly striving to obtain justice, when they will actually be able to obtain justice despite these obstacles remains an open question mark.
Rachel Avraham is the President of the Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi Center for Human Rights in Middle East (under formation). She is also a political analyst at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research and Public Relations and is a contributing writer at the Haym Salomon Center. Avraham is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”