GENEVA (12 August 2014) – A group of United Nations human rights experts today expressed their grave concern at the imminent danger of massacre faced by the Yazidi population forced to flee Sinjar in northern Iraq and other minority communities currently exposed to attacks by members of the ‘Islamic State’ (IS, (formerly known as ISIS).
The experts on the rights of minorities, internal displacement, summary executions, freedom of religion, violence against women and discrimination against women called for immediate action to protect the human rights of Yazidis and other affected communities, including the fundamental right to life.
“All possible measures must be taken urgently to avoid a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours – civilians need to be protected on the ground and escorted out of situations of extreme peril,” urged the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák.
Ms. Izsák cautioned that “the responsibility to protect populations at risk of atrocity crimes falls both on the Iraqi Government and the international community.”
“We are witnessing a tragedy of huge proportions unfolding in which thousands of people are at immediate risk of death by violence or by hunger and thirst,” warned the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani. “Humanitarian aid must be delivered quickly and no efforts should be spared to protect all groups forcefully displaced by this conflict,” he added. The UN has received verified reports that ‘IS’ is systematically hunting down members of minority groups who remain trapped in areas under their control and giving them the ultimatum, “convert or die,” stated Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. “We cannot stand by in the face of such atrocities. International actors must do all in their power to support those on the ground with the capacity to protect lives.”
The situation has continued deteriorating rapidly and at present thousands of members of the Yazidi community are trapped on Mount Sinjar, threatened with death by the IS and without access to food and water.
“Freedom of religion and belief is being denied in the most gross and systematic way possible – through the attempted extermination of religious minorities.” The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, Heiner Bielefeldt,” said.
“We have reports of women being executed and unverified reports that strongly suggest that hundreds of women and children have been kidnapped – many of the teenagers have been sexually assaulted, and women have been assigned or sold to ‘IS’ fighters as ‘malak yamiin’ or slaves,” said the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo.
“Such violations are crimes against humanity that must be stopped and punished,” Ms. Manjoo underscored.
Despite hundreds being helped to relative safety by Kurdish and Iraqi forces, around 40,000 Yazidis reportedly remain hiding in a mountainous region of Sinjar, in the northwest of Iraq, where they took refuge escaping from the Islamic State which has threatened them with death.
Forty Yazidi displaced children died last week due to dehydration, according to UNICEF. Over the past weeks an estimated 250,000 members of religious minorities have been forced to flee their homes escaping from the advance of ‘IS’ and associated armed groups, accused of gross human rights violations which could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.