After decades of war and atrocities committed in Cambodia, Rwanda, and the Balkans, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established by the United Nations in 1998 to prosecute grave abuses — such as genocide— when countries would not or could not act against the perpetrators.
The Yazidi genocide is one of those cases. On Aug. 3, 2014, ISIS fighters descended on the Yazidi community in the Sinjar region of Northern Iraq, and in a matter of days murdered over 3,000 people, and kidnapped over 6,000 women and children to hold them captive as sex slaves. Nearly three years have passed and the Iraqi government has thus far not sought to prosecute these horrendous crimes.
That is, until now: last week the Iraqi government sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling for assistance in collecting evidence to prosecute extremists from the Islamic State group for possible crimes against humanity.
Nadia Murad and Amal Clooney
This letter evoked widespread hope in the many people fighting for justice for the Yazidi people, such as Amal Clooney, representing the Yazidi survivor and UN Goodwill Ambassador Nadia Murad, who released in a statement on Wednesday: “I hope that the Iraqi government’s letter will mark the beginning of the end of impunity for genocide and other crimes that ISIS is committing in Iraq and around the world.”
Yet the ICC’s jurisdiction is limited: it can only investigate crimes that take place outside of countries that ratified its founding if it receives a referral from a member of the United Nations Security Council or by a state party to the Rome Statute of the ICC. Iraq is not one of those members.
Which is why it is vital that the letter sent to the UN, written by the Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, also announced that his government and the United Kingdom, a UN Security Council Member, are working on a draft Security Council resolution which will lay out the terms of the accountability mechanism.
Global Citizen has been campaigning to achieve justice for the Yazidi people since last year — taking over 40,000 actions in 2016 to urge ICC referral. And taking another 60,000 actions in 2017 to urge the UN to establish a Commission of Inquiry to start — as the Iraqi government has requested — to gather required evidence to build a case against ISIS, also referred to as Daesh.
At points along the road we have received responses to our collective call — such as acknowledgements of our demands from UN Security Council member Sweden and Human Rights Council member Belgium last year.
Yet this announcement from the Iraqi government is the most significant progress on the road to justice we have seen so far.
Yazidi women, released by Islamic State group militants, hug as they arrive in Kirkuk, 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, April 8, 2015.
We wait to see what the Security Council resolution currently being drafted by the UK and Iraqi governments will deliver — and share the sentiments of Nadia Murad, a Yazidi survivor and UN goodwill ambassador, who said: “Victims deserve a meaningful accountability mechanism in which they trust and I hope the Security Council resolution will reflect that.”
Thank you Global Citizens for making your voice heard on behalf of the Yazidi people. Although this recent news is a great step forward, the journey is far from over— we urge you to continue to speak up to ensure that justice is finally delivered.