Remembering Genocide: Five Years On

August 3, 2019 marks five years since ISIS militants attacked the Yazidi community on Sinjar Mountain and across Iraq’s Nineveh Plain. Thousands were killed in those attacks, nearly 7,000 women and girls were taken hostage, and more than 500,000 were displaced. 

Now five years on, the situation remains dire. As a January 2019 RFI report described, these minority communities are “hanging by a thread.” The future looks perilous.

The Yazidi community is still longing for justice, as Nadia Murad, Yazidi activist and recipient of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, wrote in the Washington Post.  

More than 300,000 Yazidis are still displaced, most in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Some 3,000 women and children are still missing. The mass graves have only started to be exhumed. Dozens of graves are still to be investigated, the bodies and any evidence they might hold to show the identity of the victims and the perpetrators are fading into the dust. And while UNITAD, the UN-established investigative body, is making progress in its evidence collection process, the mechanism for trying those responsible for genocide has not yet been established. 

When in 2016 the United States and others recognized the genocide committed against Yazidis, Christians, and other religious minorities, it represented a flicker of hope for those communities, but only if followed by concrete actions. 

Yet now, more than three years later, the security situation remains fraught. While ISIS may be largely defeated militarily, the many Iran-backed Shi’a militias have not kept the region safe for minorities, and their presence is exacerbating tensions with Sunni communities and providing fertile ground for a reemergence of ISIS supporters. 

Neither have the political tensions been resolved. This state of continued turmoil is felt acutely by the Yazidi community. Sinjar remains a disputed territory. Corruption remains rampant. Not only have these conditions hurt the security situation, but they have limited the reconstruction of infrastructure and basic services that will be necessary to support the return of any significant numbers of displaced Yazidis back to Sinjar and its surrounding areas. 

So today, we pause to remember and to mourn the atrocities that began five years earlier. But we also must press forward the work for real solutions. 

As Iraq’s Ambassador to the United States, Fareed Yasseen, said on the 4th anniversary of the Yazidi Genocide, even recalling the legacy of brutality Iraqis suffered under Saddam Hussain, “Nothing is worse, nothing,” than what the Yazidi community faced in 2014. 

Yet even with the passage of five years, that community has not even begun to rebuild in any meaningful way. 

Security and good governance are necessary for all Iraqis. A unified Iraq must be built on the cornerstone of religious freedom that recognizes that Iraqis of all religious communities must be free both to practice their beliefs without fear of attack and to participate fully in the political, economic, and civil spheres of the country. 

These are the necessary building blocks for a society capable of ensuring that none of its religious communities —Yazidi, Christian, Sunni, Shi’a, or any others — will again face genocide.