By Nick Cumming-Bruce (New York Times)
GENEVA — Islamic State forces have committed genocide and other war crimes in a continuing effort to exterminate the Yazidi religious minority in Syria and Iraq, United Nations investigators said on Thursday, urging stronger international action to halt the killing and to prosecute the terrorist group.
The investigators detailed mass killings of Yazidi men and boys who refused to convert to Islam, saying they were shot in the head or their throats were slit, often in front of their families, littering roadsides with corpses. Dozens of mass graves have been uncovered in areas recaptured from Islamic State and are being investigated.
The investigators have produced 11 reports documenting wide-ranging crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by many parties to the five-year-old civil war in Syria, but in a report released on Thursday, they invoked the crime of genocide. They based their findings on actions taken by the Islamic State since August 2014 against 400,000 members of the Yazidi community, followers of a centuries-old religion drawing on many faiths.
“ISIS has subjected every Yazidi woman, child or man that it has captured to the most horrific atrocities,” he told reporters in Geneva, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “ISIS permanently sought to erase the Yazidis through killing, sexual slavery, enslavement, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and forcible transfer causing serious bodily and mental harm.”
Those acts, he said, clearly demonstrated its intent to destroy the Yazidi community in whole or in part.
More than 3,200 Yazidi women were still being held by Islamic State fighters, mostly in Syria, the panel found.
“The crime of genocide must trigger much more assertive action at the political level, including at the Security Council,” Mr. Pinheiro said, calling for the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, or to another international tribunal.
“Nothing has been done to save these people, and we hope for stronger action by the international community,” Mr. Pinheiro said, highlighting the obligation for countries under the 1948 genocide convention to take action to prevent it.
The report compiled by the panel — based on interviews with survivors, religious leaders, smugglers and medical personnel, among others — had identified individuals responsible for acts of genocide and provided “a road map for prosecution,” said Carla Del Ponte, a Swiss lawyer on the commission and a former prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
The commission on Syria has repeatedly recommended referral of the crimes to the International Criminal Court, but no action has followed from the Security Council, where Russia, a permanent member and the closest ally of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, wields a veto.
The commission had collected names and details of perpetrators and had shared information with some national authorities, said Vitit Muntarbhorn, a Thai legal scholar on the commission, who called the report “a wonderful gift” to the five permanent members of the Security Council “so that they can consider acting together.”
Secretary of State John Kerry said in March that the United States had determined that Islamic State had committed genocide against Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Muslims, but Andrew Clapham, an international law professor at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, said the rigorous analysis presented by the commission of inquiry would carry more legal weight.
The Yazidis came to broad public attention after Islamic State fighters captured Mount Sinjar, in northern Iraq, in 2014 and engaged in systematic slaughter. Kurdish and Yazidi fighters retook Sinjar last fall.
Mass killings were only part of the Islamic State’s systematic campaign to eliminate the Yazidi community, the panel found, citing documents that revealed careful planning for treatment of the community after it was overrun and a “massive organizational effort” to coordinate the actions of fighters across Iraq.
“ISIS made no secret of its intent to destroy the Yazidis of Sinjar, and that is one of the elements that allowed us to conclude their actions amount to genocide,” Ms. Del Ponte said.
In addition to the killings, Islamic State fighters systematically separated Yazidi men and women and carried out rape, sexual mutilation and sterilization to prevent the birth of Yazidi babies, and they transferred captured Yazidi children to the fighters’ families and training camps, cutting them off from Yazidi beliefs and practices and “erasing their identities as Yazidis.”
The panel reported in harrowing detail the acute trauma experienced by women and girls as young as 9 who were sold off as spoils of war to become sex slaves of Islamic State fighters, routinely raped and punished with extreme violence if they resisted or tried to escape. Islamic State fighters often targeted younger Yazidi children as a means of punishing their mothers, the report said. It cited an account of a fighter who killed several children after their mother’s effort to escape failed: The mother was then beaten and raped because she cried over their deaths.
“No other religious group present in ISIS-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq has been subjected to the destruction that the Yazidis have suffered,” the report said.