US Secretary of State John Kerry just declared the ongoing atrocities committed by the Islamic State against groups including the Yazidis to be a genocide. This is only the second time a US administration has declared an ongoing conflict a genocide.
The Islamic State (known as ISIS or Daesh in Arabic), has killed, kidnapped and enslaved thousands and thousands of people. The terrorist group regularly targets entire ethnic groups for extermination, while taking children to fight and women as sex slaves.
The small ethnic group, the Yazidis, have been particularly targeted and devastated by ISIS actions. The large majority of this group--600,000--live within Iraq. About 400,000 lived within the Sinjar province when it was overrun by ISIS in 2014. According to Yazda, a global Yazidi organization, In the days and weeks after the arrival of ISIS, the terrorist group killed over 3,000 Yazidis, while many more died of dehydration and exposure while isolated by ISSI fighters. At least 5,000 Yazidis were abducted by ISIS to serve as sex slaves.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s recognition of the genocide of the Yazidis is an important moment. It marks a new chapter in full, international recognition and response to the barbaric acts of ISIS.
Kerry made his statement to the global media today at the US State Department.
In the video, Secretary Kerry uses the local name for ISIS, Da’esh. The key part of the statement is below:
The US Secretary of State went on to state that the ISIS (Da’esh) actions were crimes against humanity, and included groups such as Sunnis and Kurds as the victims.
Murad Ismael, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Yazda, said he was “happy at the actions of Secretary Kerry.” He added that the designation of genocide was “fair and it is very important now. It will aid in furthering accountability on ISIS.”
Secretary Kerry’s comments are only the second time the US government has declared an ongoing crisis a genocide. Legal scholars debate the impact of this assessment. The first time the label of genocide was used in a similar instance was when then Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur.
Both times, State Department lawyers have determined that labelling an event a genocide does not compel the United States to intervene. This is despite the US having signed the 1948 UN Convention against Genocide.
Secretary Kerry seemed to understand that his statement was largely symbolic when he added that he hopes groups like the Yazidi take some comfort that “the United States recognizes and confirms the despicable nature of the crimes committed against them."
Murad Ismael has long called for recognition of the crimes. He is hopeful that this statement will compel “other countries to take this step. The next step must be the UN Security Council working on a process to confirm that ISIS was a genocide.”
If the UN Security Council made that determination it could pave the way for more aggressive international responses including pathways towards legal redress in International Courts.
In the near term, recognition of the losses suffered by the Yazidi is important. Secretary Kerry advised, “The best response to genocide is the reaffirmation of the fundamental right to survive of every group targeted for destruction. What Da'esh wants to erase, we must preserve.”
These ideals must be followed up with actions that truly protect and promote at risk-groups like the Yazidis.