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Over 3,100 Yazidi women and children still missing four years after genocide by ISIS in Iraq

Kurdistan Regional Government Representative Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman speaks on the fourth anniversary of the Yazidi Genocide at a panel discussion at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., on August 3, 2018. (Laura Kelly)


Over 3,000 Yazidi's are still missing after being kidnapped by ISIS in 2014, sold into slavery and sexually abused, the representative for the Kurdistan Regional Government said in Washington D.C. on Friday.

At an event marking four years since the Yazidi Genocide, Representative Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman provided the most up to date statistics on a community still recovering from the trauma of being targeted and attacked by the Islamic State in the summer of 2014.

“As of July 2018, the [Kurdistan Regional Prime Minister’s] Office and Kurdistan security services has helped 3,350 Yazidi's escape ISIS. Regrettably, with great sorrow, 3,102 remain in captivity,” she said.

The challenges to rehabilitating Iraq are many, she said, but most importantly are ensuring the stability and security of minority communities in the country and allowing them to remain in their historical homeland. 

“My message to all ethnic and religious components in Iraqi-Kurdistan, my message to our Yazidi and Christian friends here, my message to all of us is to stay in our homeland, stay in your homeland,” she said at the event at the Hudson Institute, a D.C.-based conservative think tank. 

Last week, the U.S. Department of State organized a Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, where the Trump Administration committed over $20 million in efforts to help prepare Iraq for welcoming back people to their communities — this included $17 million to clear mines and IEDs and $5 million for efforts to bring ISIS perpetrators to justice. 

Funds will also be given towards U.N. Security Resolution 2379, which set up an independent commission to investigate and document ISIS crimes. 

Also speaking on Friday, Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Dr. Fareed Yaseen called on the U.S. to help the Iraqi government ensure accountability for those who committed crimes and help maintain the memory of the victims of the war. 

“We would like to do this but we don’t have the means to,” he said. 

“I think we need the help and support of the United States and I don’t think that the United States will be reluctant to give us that help. So I look forward to a fruitful and promising cooperation.”

The U.S. has identified “getting people back into their homes,” as a key priority in addressing stabilization efforts in Iraq.

Although the challenges include clearing areas of mines, improvised explosive devices and for sectarian-militias to “return home,” Rep. Abdul Rahman said. 

“We welcome the pledges of $30 billion of investment in Iraq, that were made at the Kuwait conference earlier this year. But when will those pledges be implemented?” She asked.

Acknowledgment of crimes committed and atrocities suffered has been highlighted as a pillar of reconciliation and important to establishing any lasting peace in Iraq. 

In September, the United Nations voted on Resolution 2379, that establishes an independent investigative committee headed by a Special Adviser to collect evidence in Iraq of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by members of ISIS. 

The September resolution occurred nearly nine months after Iraq declared victory over ISIS. The Special Adviser was announced on May 31, English lawyer Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, eight months after the resolution passed.

The resolution instructs the team to submit a report on their findings within 90 days of when they start their activities. It is unclear if they have started yet. 

Rep. Abdul Rahman called on the U.N. to include the KRG in any investigation process. 

“We have established an evidence gathering center, many of the survivors are in Kurdistan and many of the perpetrators are in our custody. It is that the essential UN does not exclude the KRG from this process,” she said.

Pari Ibrahim, of the Free Yazidi Foundation, also spoke at the event last week, visibly angry and frustrated with the pace of recognition of crimes committed against Yazidi's. 

“We do not get fair treatment, even after the genocide,” she said. “Four years have past, our women and girls are still in captivity. It is true that ISIS is gone, but my people can’t go back to Sinjar because borders are shut down before them, they can’t bury their loved ones, mass graves are still there, not uncovered, IEDs are still in Sinjar. Small steps are being taken by organizations, but really not much is being done for my people.”

Sherri Talabani, who runs the non-profit SEED Foundation Kurdistan, said that conditions that led to the rise of ISIS remain strong and there’s little discouraging groups from acting with impunity.

“We need to be, not just remembering, but also very worried,” she said. “The seeds of this continue — sectarian and religious intolerance, lack of rule of law, lack of pluralism in any sort, disenfranchisement of specific communities… A culture of institutionalized violence and persecution of the other — all of these things remain full and force in Iraq.”  

Douglas Padgett, senior advisor at the Office of International Religious Freedom at the U.S. State Department, and who helped inform the U.S. response to ISIS attacks on Yazidi's in 2014, also read off a laundry list of barriers to peace in Iraq. 

“Again, the conditions, the political conditions, the social conditions, cultural conditions, the lack of reconciliation, the lack of accountability,” he said on the panel discussion. “Criminal accountability alone is an extraordinarily important issue but criminal accountability alone does not give us communities that can live with one another.”

August 3, 2014 was a Sunday, Mr. Padgett remembered, and said that he and his team received an enormous number of phone calls, text messages and emails from Yazidi friends from “all over the world” alerting them to the assault by ISIS on the Yazidi's in northern-Iraq.

The next day, Mr. Padgett met with Yazidi-Americans who briefed the government on the dire situation facing their family and friends trapped on Mount Sinjar. 

A profile in the New Yorker published in February on the effort to intervene said Yazidi-Americans had to print and mark-up maps of northern Iraq to show U.S. officials where their families were safe, where they were in danger and where the terrorists were coming from. 

The U.S. was coordinating air strikes on ISIS positions threatening the Yazidi's, but in the village of Kocho, the terrorists had already surrounded it and blocked the route of escape. Over a week of emails and phone calls between Yazidi's on the ground in Iraq and in the U.S., there was little done by U.S. officials to prevent the catastrophe that would eventually unfold.

“We knew that these areas were being held by ISIS, there was no ability to forecast when an atrocity would happen or where it would happen,” Mr. Padgett said. “Although Kocho was always a place of great concern to all of us.” 

On August 15, ISIS terrorists took 1,500 villagers in Kocho to the local school and separated them, with women and children taken away — women and young girls sold into slavery and sexually abused and the young boys trained as child soldiers, also with accounts of sexual abuse.

The men, however, were lined up by a ditch and shot in the back of the head.

In the New Yorker profile, U.S. officials said they watched the events unfold on satellite imagery. 

“The question of how you prevent something like that in real time is a very good question,” Mr. Padgett said. “It’s not something I’m qualified to answer but it is extraordinarily difficult.”

In 2014, there were an estimated 550,000 Yazidi's in Iraq, according to the Yazidi Office of the KRG. An estimated 100,000 have left the country since then. 

Today, 360,000 Yazidi's remain as “internally displaced people”, living in refugee camps around the country. 

“The road to justice is not yet set,” Ms. Ibrahim, of the Free Yazidi Foundation said. 

“If there’s no justice, Yazidi's will get revenge.”

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