The Yazidi Genocide and the Failure of International Judicial Mechanism

Genocide is not war, it is more dangerous than war – Raphael Lemkin

Yazidis are a religious group, the majority of whom are situated in Iraq. They are ethnically Kurdish. Yazidis have faced oppression since times immemorial and have been subjected to 74 genocides dating back to the Ottoman Empire to the Saddam Hussein regime and now have been prey to the ISIS atrocities against them. Due to the genocide of Yazidis by ISIS, they have been victims of mass killings, sexual slavery, trafficking, rape and several other crimes against humanity.


Approximately 4,00,000 Yazidis lived in Mount Sinjar, Northern Iraq, which forms part of Iraqi-Kurdistan.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or commonly called Daesh in the region) due to the civil war in Syria and atrocities by Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, took advantage of these disturbances in the country to extend its boundaries to Syria, making Raqqa its Capital.

Kurdish forces of Peshmerga in Iraq and YPG/ YPJ in Syria fight ISIS on the front line making the Kurdish forces their biggest enemies and obstacles.

Mosul was seized by ISIS in June 2014 due to which Mount Sinjar lay between ISIS-controlled territories with only the Peshmerga forces for their defence.

In the eyes of ISIS, Yazidis are not the people of the book which makes them infidels or “Kuffar” and are considered “Devil Worshippers”. This was the sole reason for ISIS to commit the Yazidi Genocide on 3rd August 2014,  where they had come “they had come to destroy”.


On 3rd August 2014, ISIS spread in the nearby areas blocking any way out for Yazidis. The Peshmerga forces had withdrawn from their checkpoints, which was not communicated to the people of Sinjar and hence they were unaware. This not only made Sinjar defenceless but also led ISIS in without any resistance. The only defence Yazidis had were a few armed Yazidi men. When the news broke about ISIS’s entry into the region, the people of Sinjar started to flee but did not have much time due to them being oblivious to the entry of ISIS.

With the kind of attack by ISIS it can be concluded that the attack was well planned because as soon as they entered Sinjar they set up various checkpoints and used walkie talkies and patrolled in the region to capture Yazidis.

Yazidis who tried to escape from the upper plateau of Sinjar were captured by ISIS.

Their aim was to capture Yazidis and then commit atrocities against them.

When the report broke, America sent help in the form of water, food and medicines through helicopters and also the Syrian-Kurdish forces opened a corrioder to help them escape to a safe place in Syria but the efforts were futile.


When ISIS captured the Yazidis, they separated men and women according to age groups.

There were mass killings of Yazidi men, some of which were done in front of their family members. Male children who had not hit puberty were allowed to stay with their mothers, males who had hit puberty and but were not adults were forced to convert to Islam and then were sent to Syria for training.

Girls from the age of 9 to 60 years of age were sold in the Slave market for as little as $20 to ISIS fighters. They were sold on the basis of being unmarried, married, married but without children. Yazidi women were selected based on their beauty, which led to them scratching them selves and using dirt on their face to look less appealing in order to avoid being sold.They were subjected to rape and anyone who tired to escape were punished by gang rape. Selling Yazidi women to only ISIS members was only permitted as this prevented them to go back to their families. If their family members wanted them they had to buy them from ISIS for $20,000 to $40,000.

They also have been reported to take birth control forcefully.

Also Yazidi women were not allowed to wear headscarves or abayas, which was strategic in spotting them among other women in the region if they tried to escape. It was mandatory for other women in the ISIS-controlled regions to wear abayas.

Women over the age of 60 years were killed and yazidi men were killed in a mass killing. There have been mass graves whose inspections revealed that the bodies had missing vital organs such as kidneys and livers indicating towards organ selling.


Hundred thousands of Yazidis have not only been displaced but have been subjected to inhumane acts by ISIS. Women who have managed to escape have been accepted back into the Yazidi faith but women who have borne children from the rape, the children born out of this are not accepted back.

ISIS has lost their area and power in the region due to the kurdish forces defeating them but still 2900 Yazidi women are still held captive by ISIS.


According to Article II of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III of this convention states-

The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;

(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

(d) Attempt to commit genocide;

(e) Complicity in genocide.

Iraq and Syria are parties to this convention.

From these definitions, it can be seen that, ISIS had not conducted mass killings when they first entered Sinjar but their aim was to capture Yazidis and then destroy them by way of rapes, dehumanizing treatment, sexual slavery, killings with the intention to destroy a particular group of people.

The question now arises is whether Iraq and Syria have taken steps to prevent or discharged its oligations when this genocide was committed.

When the report broke of ISIS having entered Sinjar, the Iraqi government informed the USA and asked for military support. Later, Russia also helped in bombing ISIS regions. However have Syria and Iraq taken enough steps?

No steps have yet been taken by both the governments to free the Yazidis from ISIS captivity.

Only the International Criminal Court has the jurisdiction to try this case as Syria and Iraq are not parties to the Rome statute.

In order for the court to try this case, a referral is required by the UN Security council of the situations in Syria and Iraq.

After the veto power was exercised by China and Russia, the draft  resolution that would have referred to the ICC the situation in Syria failed in May 2014.

States of Syria and Iraq have also failed to enact domestic laws for war crimes, crimes against humanity.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Nadia Murad, a Yazidi Human rights activist who escaped ISIS after three months of captivity has urged the international law communities to take action and protect Yazidis from the various inhumane crimes against them. The UN has not taken any step related to this situation other than recognising that Genocide has been committed against the Yazidis. Nadia Murad’s lawyer and International Human Rights lawyer, Amal Alamuddin Clooney has taken ISIS to court.

There is a long way for this community who has time and again been a victim of genocides with the international community being a mere spectator.

This article is authored by Pratima Sharma, student of B.Com LL.B at Amity Law School.

Also Read – Gender Neutrality of Laws: The Future of Social Justice in India

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