Today marks a major step forward in the fight for justice for the Yazidi people.
Three years after the Islamic State stormed their home in Iraq, killing many and taking others as slaves and, particularly, as sex slaves, the United Nations finally made progress toward seeking justice thanks to actions from Global Citizens and leadership by the United Kingdom.
One Yazidi activist and survivor, Shireen Ibrahim, bravely told her story to the 60,000-strong crowd assembled in New York’s Central Park for the Global Citizen Festival on Saturday.
“My people, the Yazidis, suffered genocide at the hands of ISIS,” she said. “ISIS killed our men and children, raped our girls, sold women off as property, and made us watch it all happen. We were separated from our friends and family and put in isolation. There was no escape.”
“I was captured by the ISIS militants, constantly sold and resold as a slave, worth only $1,” Ibrahim continued. “However, unlike thousands of other Yazidis, I was lucky enough to have escaped. But ISIS still holds many Yazidis in captivity.”
Despite their terrible war crimes, no ISIS perpetrator has been prosecuted.
But now, after an 18-month campaign by Global Citizen, the UK has announced a giant step forward in the global effort to bring justice against the ISIS fighters who unleashed terror on the Yazidi community.
UK Permanent Representative to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, announced that the UK led the UN Security Council to a unanimous vote this week on the decision to set up a UN Investigation Team to pursue justice for the Yazidis. The UN resolution on ISIS accountability was described as a “long overdue first step” by the UN Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights.
“I'm proud to say that just this week the UK has led the UN Security Council finally to do something. By 15 votes to 0, we decided to set up a UN Investigation Team that will help Iraq collect, preserve, and store evidence of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by Daesh,” Rycroft said in a statement.
UN Assistant Secretary-General of Human Rights Andrew Gilmour responded to 80,000 actions by Global Citizens and committed that the UN teams on the ground would gather evidence to secure justice for the Yazidis.
“Like tens of thousands of committed Global Citizens, the UN Human Rights Office has been calling loudly for justice. Tonight I commit that my colleagues on the ground will monitor and report on human rights abuses for the purpose of evidence-gathering." Gilmour said.
“It’s because of the bravery of women and girls like Shireen that the world has learnt the true horrors of groups like Daesh or ISIS,” Rycroft, told the crowd.
The Yazidi people have experienced unimaginable trauma over the past three years, since they faced genocide at the hands of ISIS in 2014.
They have been sold as slaves, and they have been forced to look on as their friends and family were murdered by the terror group members.
More than 1,600 women and girls are still held as sex slaves and are unaccounted for, while over 1,700 men and boys are still missing, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“We have heard their stories of kidnapping, torture, modern slavery. But we’ve heard something else too,” Rycroft said. “Stories of survival, defiance, incredible courage in the face of unspeakable cruelty. We cannot bring back the dead, or erase the memories. But what we can do is bring the terrorists responsible to justice.”
He thanked the 130,000 global citizens who have taken action, calling for justice for Yazidi women like Shireen, and said that the UK government has heard their call loud and clear.
“Our message to the terrorists is this: you will never win and there is simply no escape from justice,” he finished. “I’m proud that the UK could play our part in making this happen. We did it for Shireen and other survivors like her.”
Britain will provide some $1.3 million to help establish the UN’s investigation team, according to a statement from British Minister of State for the Middle East, Alistair Burt.
The evidence gathered is mainly for use by Iraqi authorities, according to reports, but international courts will also be able to use the evidence in selected cases.
“Like tens of thousands of outraged and committed Global Citizens, the UN Human Rights Office has been calling loudly for the investigation and justice,” he said. “Justice for the Yazidis and all the other groups that have suffered. Justice for Daesh and all the other perpetrators of horrors. Let us build on this global alliance between us to ensure that we indeed get that justice.”
But Ibrahim insisted that we cannot afford to get complacent in this struggle, that we cannot forget the continued suffering of her people.
“We cannot stop fighting for their freedom and justice,” she said. “They tried to take my honour and dignity, yet here I stand, in front of all of you. We are Yazidis, and we will always be Yazidis. We must stand together, strong and united, and not let the atrocities of ISIS define us.”