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September 01, 2017

Iraq Finally Holds ISIS Responsible for Crimes Against Humanity

ISIS gained control of Mosul and other parts of western Iraq in 2014, bringing terror, war, and genocide. Many Yazidis in Iraq, after surviving the initial horrors of ISIS control, were kidnapped and forced to work or used as sexual slaves.

Now that ISIS has mostly been driven out of Iraq, the Iraqi government is taking steps to hold its members accountable for their crimes against civilians, and the country’s history and culture. In the face of growing international pressure, the government has called on the U.N. Security Council to aid them in investigating and prosecuting members of ISIS for crimes against humanity. International support could enable Iraq to have the tools to quickly and efficiently preserve the massive amounts of evidence of ISIS crimes, before anymore is lost or further compromised.

In 2015, the United Nations released a report showing that ISIS committed widespread abuses, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Iraq and called on the U.N. Security Council to take action. The report specifically highlighted the horrible abuses the Yazidi religious minority population suffered, naming it genocide.

The United Kingdom prepared a draft resolution to create an International Independent Investigatory Mechanism (IIIM) to gather evidence and to prepare to prosecute perpetrators in Iraqi or international courts. This resolution has gained support from other members of the Security Council, including Russia and China, but the Council declined to take action until the Iraqi government gave its consent. The Iraqi government initially resisted efforts to internationalize the investigation and prosecution of ISIS crimes, seeing it as a threat to its sovereignty. Inviting assistance opens the door to begin multilateral efforts to preserve critical evidence as a step towards accountability.

Iraqi activists Ameena Saeed Hasan and her husband Khaleel Aldakhi have been publicly calling for action to prosecute ISIS members for human rights crimes for years. While in the U.S. last year with Human Rights First, the couple urged the U.S. government to press the Iraqi government to consent to international involvement in the investigation and prosecution of ISIS for its crimes against the Yazidis and other minority communities.

Ameena and Khaleel are a Yazidi couple living in the Kurdish region of Iraq. After ISIS kidnapped a family friend, they started a network to rescue young Yazidi women and girls. However, they estimate that there are over 3,000 people still enslaved by ISIS.

Ameena and Khaleel have continued to urge the U.S. government to leverage relationships and power in the United Nations to draw attention to the issue and move forward on multilateral efforts to hold ISIS accountable. They have traveled to the U.S. on several occasions to advocate for involving the U.N. Security Council in the investigation, speaking with congressional representatives, members of the administration, and U.N. officials.

Powerful voices have joined Ameena and Khaleel’s strong call for action, including human rights lawyer Amal Clooney’s public urging of the Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider Al-Abadi, to ask the U.N. Security Council to set up an investigation of ISIS’s crimes in Iraq. Nadia Murad, a Yazidi former ISIS captive, has traveled the world seeking support for an international mechanism to hold ISIS accountable.

These persistent efforts have finally moved the Iraqi government to permit action on behalf of the Yazidis and others to ensure that the victims of these horrific crimes and their families have a path to justice. The U.K. draft resolution on the formation of the IIIM is expected to be presented to the U.N. Security Council soon. The Iraqi government’s request for assistance is a step forward, but meaningful progress towards accountability for these horrific crimes requires the U.S. government and other members of the Security Council to work together to employ an effective and adequately resourced mechanism capable of dealing with the many challenges that lie ahead. 

Activists like Ameena and Khaleel will continue their efforts to ensure that the ordeal of the Yazidis and other minorities will not be forgotten.