The Islamic State’s brutal attempts to eradicate Iraq’s Yazidi minority from territory they control may officially fit the definition of genocide, according to a United Nations official visiting Iraq this week.
The evidence shows “an attempt to commit genocide,” said Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic in a press briefing. Simonovic, the Associated Press reports, based his conclusion on strong evidence of mass killings of Yazidis, particularly in the Sinjar Mountain region. Yazidis have been beheaded, buried alive, and tortured. Also, many women have been placed in brothels for use as sex slaves. The AP adds that about 7,000 Yazidis are believed to have “converted” to Islam to avoid death.
As Lebanon’s Daily Star notes, genocide is very strictly defined in international law as a crime against humanity–perhaps the definitive crime against humanity. United Nations law defines genocide as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group.” The Yazidis, a religious minority made up in large part of ethnic Kurds, would fit this definition, and certainly their persecution appears to be a way to destroy the group.
An attack in northern Iraq earlier this year left hundreds of Yazidis stranded on Mount Sinjar, with American forces bringing humanitarian aid by helicopter to those on the mountain and others attempting to save Yazidis by flying them off the mountain as Islamic State jihadists surrounded the foot of the mountain. Many Yazidis reportedly remain on Mount Sinjar with minimal access to food and water.
Most of the women captured from Yazidi communities have been forced to engage in sexual activity with Islamic State jihadists. Girls in their early teenage years who have escaped from ISIS captivity report that many are kept in squalid conditions, allowed to exit small cells only for use as sex slaves. Rape has often been used both as a method of enacting jihad and committing genocide; when women of a certain ethnic group are forced into sex, many become pregnant with mixed children, prompting a diluting of the targeted community. Many women also die or kill themselves after being abused sexually for an extended period of time.
“There is no life after this. I’m going to kill myself anyway,” one Yazidi sex slave, an unidentified woman who managed to contact relatives, told her family while begging them to convince Kurdish soldiers to bomb the brothel in which she remains a captive, as she wants to be killed with the jihadists imprisoning her. By her count, she was raped 30 times within a few hours.