By Lin Taylor
LONDON, May 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Legal experts said on Thursday there was growing evidence to prove atrocities by Islamic State against Iraq's Yazidi minority, including sexual slavery and mass killings, legally constitute genocide, which could help bring militants to justice if they ever go on trial.
In a report published in Human Rights Law Review, researchers found a "consistent and coordinated pattern" of crimes being committed against Yazidis and concluded that Islamic State clearly displayed "genocidal intent" against the minority group.
The researchers said it was important to collect and preserve such evidence since members of the Islamist militant group could go on trial for genocide in the future.
International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney last June said she aimed to prosecute the Islamist group through the International Criminal Court for their crimes against the Yazidi community.
In August 2014, Islamic State militants, also known as ISIL or ISIS, began an assault on the Yazidi religious community's heartland in Sinjar, northern Iraq, home to around 400,000 Yazidis.
Thousands of captured men were killed in what a United Nations commission called a genocide against the Yazidis, a religious sect whose beliefs combine elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions. Islamic State considers them devil-worshippers.
"Genocide is at the apex of international crimes and has been described as the 'crime of crimes'," said co-author Aldo Zammit Borda, who is a law lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University in Britain.
"It is therefore hugely significant to be able to show that ISIL's treatment of the Yazidis could be characterised as genocide," he said, having analysed reports by U.N. agencies, aid groups, media, and the militants themselves.
U.N. investigators estimate more than 5,000 Yazidis have been rounded up and slaughtered and some 7,000 women and girls forced into sex slavery.
Iraqi forces are now fighting to retake the city of Mosul, the militants' last major stronghold in Iraq, where many Yazidis were held.
(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, global land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, women's rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)