Thursday 3 August marks the ninth anniversary of the Yazidi Genocide, when thousands of Yazidis were killed by the Islamic State (ISIS), thousands more women and girls were forced into sexual slavery, and many more members of the embattled religious minority were forcibly displaced. The 2014 violence, recognised by the UN among other bodies as a genocide, continues to cast a long shadow over the Yazidi homeland of Sinjar (Shengal), where followers of the religion continue to face humanitarian crisis, disenfranchisement, and violence.
Nadine Maenza, the President of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Secretariat and former Commissioner for the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, has spent many years advocating for the Yazidi people alongside other embattled minority religious groups in the Middle East. She spoke to Medya News from Erbil, Iraq, following a Baghdad conference organised by 27 Yazidi NGOs and advocacy groups, to share their demands and her perspective on the urgent need for humanitarian and political support for the Yazidi people.
You just attended a conference organized by Yazidi NGOs. What are their key demands?
3.20 Nine years in, there’s a sense that it’s time for them to come together, and have a real concrete demand. And they do – which is to demand 1% of the annual Iraqi budget, or $1.5 billion, for Sinjar reconstruction, and for that to be done next year, by the tenth anniversary of the genocide. This is an easy thing for us to rally round, for the USA and other foreign offices and leaders to be able to go to Iraq and demand this. Because they can’t recover from this genocide living in tents, unable to return home. There’s no essential services, there’s no water. They haven’t rebuilt, there are still security issues – and yet so many would go back, if there were services.
Is there a problem with lack of representation for the Yazidis in Iraqi politics?
7.24 There was an agreement between the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) and Iraqi government, the Sinjar agreement, which hasn’t been implemented. This was done in secrecy behind the back of the Yazidi community, they weren’t included, which is unacceptable…
7.49 No mayor [in Sinjar] has been appointed, and this is such an important point, because the KRG and Iraqi government need to agree, and of course they haven’t. It needs to be somebody that will represent the Yazidi community, and the Muslims and others living in Sinjar. The people in Sinjar need to have a say in their own governance. They haven’t had an election since 2003.
Beyond humanitarian crisis, what issues does the Yazidi homeland of Sinjar face?
8.20 Of course, the Hashd al-Shaabi [Popular Mobilisation Forces], the Iranian-backed militias are such a problem and intimidate and control the area; and of course there’s the YBŞ [Shengal Resistance Units]. Turkey calls them the PKK, they bombed a hospital last year, killing 8, injuring 20, and even took credit for it – but they weren’t PKK members, they were Yazidi genocide survivors. The good news is we’ve recently seen a complaint brought to the UN about that, but of course Turkey continues to conduct airstrikes, forcing civilians to flee back to the camps.
We just heard a new proposal to put foreign ISIS members on trial. Can the US play a role?
15.32 The international community needs to step in and support tribunals, where people are being tried individually, having their day in court. There’s a lot of evidence that UNITAD [UN Investigations Team for Accountability of Daesh/ISIL] has been collecting – they said it’s ‘evidence waiting for a court’. There are fighters identified in the prisons. So there needs to be mechanisms to bring this all together, to find justice for those victims, and also as a deterrent for these crimes in the future. If there is no cost, then the deterrent doesn’t exist, which means it’s more likely to happen again. I think we’re at a good point, where hopefully in the next year we’ll see some movement, and as we come to the 10th anniversary, there will be a movement toward justice.
Why is it important for Yazidis in Sinjar to determine their own future?
20.02 What we’ve seen around the world, in Afghanistan and plenty of places, is that all the weapons in the world won’t make a place safe and secure, as we saw in Afghanistan. You can arm militaries with the best weapons available, and if there’s nothing worth fighting for they’re going to put them down and walk away. By contrast, in North and East Syria, they’ve built something worth fighting for. They’ve built a government that protects their rights and gives them a chance for the future. That’s why they’re still there, and standing for something. In Sinjar, where the Yazidis don’t have a say in their own governance and their own security, they’re just waiting for everyone else to make decisions for them, which is just unacceptable.