Last Thursday the European Parliament declared in Strasbourg that the Islamic State are perpetrating genocide against Yazidis, Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East. The Parliament Assembly Council of Europe passed the genocide resolution, a council that works closely with the European Union on human rights issues. According to the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, genocide is defined as actions aimed with the determination to “destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethnic, racial or religious group”. The significance of this declaration cannot be overstated, as it demands for members of the UN Security Council to raise the issue to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The major task for the ICC is then to establish and officially investigate whether there is a genocide taking place. The declaration also puts pressure on other leading world powers to introduce a similar resolution. The US State Department have long been anticipated to issue a declaration recognizing ISIS as perpetrators of genocide, they will, however, only classify Yazidis as “victims”. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (ISCIRF) has encouraged the State Department to include Christian, Turkmen, Shi’a and Shabak communities in Syria and Iraq as victims of the extermination.
A statement from the bipartisan commission argued for “other world leaders to condemn the genocidal actions and crimes against humanity of ISIL that have been directed at these groups”.
During 2014 the Yazidi community experienced horrendous atrocities at the hands of ISIS fighters, with an estimated 5000 killed. During the attacks, thousands of inhabitants were forced to flee, and up to 7,000 women and children were abducted and used as sex slaves. Thousands of Yazidis were forced to escape to neighbouring countries and cities, urging the international community to respond. In August 2015, on the one-year anniversary of the northern Iraq Sinjar massacre, survivors called for the recognition of genocide.
Today the world’s Yazidi population reaches up to 700,000 people, majority residing in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, but also as minorities in Syria, Turkey, Iran, Armenia and Georgia. According to Yazidi Ali Atalan, a member of the Turkish parliament, the number of Yazidis could today have been 40 million, without the multiple genocides they have faced throughout history. The ancient religion that Yazidis follow is derived from Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam, extracting certain elements from each. They believe God created the world, who delegated it to seven angels. The leader of which is called Melek Tawous, an angel who was thrown into hell and later reconciled to God. According to Islam Melek Tawous is however regarded as a devil, ISIS fighters therefore recognise the Yazidis as ‘devil worshippers’ as the Muslim account of Satan is a fallen angel banished from heaven. Many believe that these religious prejudices are the main reasons for the atrocities they have been faced with over 1000 years.
The European resolution also recognized the ISIS abduction of Assyrian Christians in Syria, and by coercing Christians in the Syrian city of Al-Qaryatain to live under its radical stand of Islam. According to ISIS doctrine, Christians are identified as disbelievers and infidels. During 2014 ISIS seized many Iraqi Christian towns, burning churches and Christian shops. Unlike Yazidis who deserves extermination, Christian inhabitants are forced to choose between converting to Islam or to pay a tax, in order to prevent death. The European Parliament’s passing of the resolution was therefore welcomed by many. It was also the first time they ever acknowledged an ongoing event as genocide. According to the resolution those committing the atrocities will be brought to justice based on the violations against international humanitarian law and genocide. The ramification of this sort of recognition do not just include obligations to intervene, but it also gives the genocide victims human dignity and by acknowledging that these actions are taking place. While the declaration is an important step both morally and politically, it’s yet not clear to what practical effects this resolution will result in.
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