The Struggle Continues: The Yazidi In Post-IS Iraq

The suffering of the Yazidi ethnic and religious minority continues in Iraq, as survivors of the Islamic State persecution seek recognition, reparations, and closure. The Yazidis, who follow their ancient pre-Iranian religion and inhabit the northwestern Sinjar region of Iraq, were the victims of unimaginable brutality at the hands of the Islamic State (IS). The campaign against them began in August 2014 and resulted in the massacre of 5,000 men, whilst at least 7,000 women and girls were sold into sexual slavery. However, the true scale of the horror may never be known. Last spring, a “landmark” investigation by the United Nations (UN) evaluated the atrocities committed against the Yazidi people and decided that they constituted “clear and convincing evidence” of genocide. The IS sought to mercilessly wipe the minority from existence.

On 9 July 2017, when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi declared victory over ISIS in Mosul, Yazidis could finally dream their nightmare was over and that justice would be served. However, their pleas fell on deaf ears, as Iraqi officials failed to acknowledge the evils committed against them. In the courtrooms, IS militants who admitted to being involved in the capture and enslavement of Yazidi women were not charged for their crimes but were said to only have breached anti-terrorism laws. Human rights activists like Yazidi Nobel Prize laureate Nadia Murad, who escaped the IS and discussed the abuse she suffered at the 2015 UN Security Council, made it their mission to ensure these perversions of justice would not be swept under the carpet. As a result, the story of the Yazidis continued struggle gained momentum and caught the attention of media outlets and NGOs across the globe.

Four years later, hope has emerged once more for the Yazidis. On 1 March, Iraq’s parliament passed the Yazidi Survivors Law, which pledges reparations in the form of a monthly salary and housing to women and girls who were subject to sexual violence. Child survivors who were abducted before the age of 18 would also receive reparations. UN human rights expert Cecilia Jimenez-Damary commended the decision and labelled it “a major step towards promoting justice for crimes committed by ISIL.” Equally, on the seventh anniversary of the genocide last month, spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the law, urging its “swift and full implementation.” He also emphasized that “recognizing the pain and courage of the Yazidis, recovery, and rehabilitation remain a priority.”

However, many experts have reservations about the legislation. Whilst enthusiastic that action was being taken by Iraqi officials, Ms. Jimenez-Damary expressed deep concern about the omission of children born out of rape from the law. Others are disconcerted by the lack of attention given to the 3,000 missing women, whose families remain in a torturous limbo, unaware of whether their mothers, sisters, or daughters are dead or alive.

As encapsulated by Yesim Arikut Treece of the Free Yazidi Foundation, it is these uncertainties that continue to plague the Yazidis, preventing them from having closure and prolonging their suffering. “[T]hey cannot start the grieving process, it is like a wound that festers.” But the greatest uncertainty of all is whether the Iraqi government will deliver on the beguiling promise of reparations. As such, it is the responsibility of the international community to ensure that these measures are implemented and more action is taken to help the Yazidis by engaging in consistent dialogue with the Iraqi government.

Misunderstood and marginalized throughout history, persecution is not a novel phenomenon for the Yazidi community. They have been targeted as an ethnic and religious minority in Iraq since the time of the Ottomans in 1640. Therefore, a shared truth about these atrocities must be established to enable recovery for the survivors, which would, in turn, lay the foundations for a more peaceful Iraq and prevent history from repeating itself.

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