Islamic State suspected of genocide against Yazidis, says UN

Minority Yazidis were among those targeted by the self-proclaimed Islamic State during its expansion in northern Iraq and Syria. A UN panel accused the militants of committing genocide and crimes against humanity.

Asmaa Waguih/Reuters
Yazidi refugees walk with their children at a refugee camp in the outskirts of Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The United Nations said on Thursday that Islamic State militants may have committed genocide against the Yazidi minority in Iraq.

Investigators for the UN Human Rights Office reported that the “manifest pattern” of attacks against the Christian minority community, which is concentrated in northern Iraq, points to the intent of the self-described Islamic State “to destroy the Yazidi as a group.”

The report documents abuses committed by the Sunni extremists including killings, torture, rape and sexual slavery; forced religious conversions; and the conscription of children from a half dozen ethnic groups. It also accuses Iraqi government forces and affiliated militia groups of committing war crimes on the basis of witness testimonies of summary killings and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

But “the genocide part relates particularly to the Yazidis," Hanny Megally, a senior UN human rights official, told reporters in Geneva. Although the report cautiously states that the extremists “may have committed” genocide, Ms. Megally said “all the information points in that direction.”

Through interviews with more than 100 alleged victims and witnesses, the report paints a horrific picture of the self-styled Islamic State’s deadly campaign through northern Iraq.

Yazidi men and boys over the age of 14 were rounded up and summarily executed in ditches on the outskirts of villages. Boys as young as eight were kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam and to train as IS fighters. And women and girls were abducted and sold or given into sexual slavery as spoils of war.

“In some instances,” the report says, “villages were entirely emptied of their Yazidi population.”

Reuters reports that unofficial estimates put the number of Yazidis killed by the extremists in the hundreds. There are estimated to be about 500,000 worldwide, most living in Iraq's Nineveh plains

Suki Nagra, the lead investigator for the report, said about 3,000 Yazidi women, children, and some men remain in IS custody, according to The New York Times.

On the Iraqi side, the investigators accused government security forces and Shiite militias of extrajudicial killings, torture, and abductions.

As a military counteroffensive against IS gained momentum last summer, the report says, militias seemed to “operate with total impunity, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake.” In Diyala Province, Iraqi security forces allegedly shot dead 43 prisoners at a police station and set fire to an army base where 43 Sunnis were held prisoner. 

The UN Human Rights Office is urging the UN Security Council to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court to prosecute perpetrators, including foreign members of IS. The agency is also calling on the Iraqi government to ensure that all accusations are investigated in line with international human rights standards.

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