SEATTLE — In 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council released a report stipulating that ISIS human rights abuses may amount to the level of genocide and crimes against humanity. A year earlier, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights deplored the “appalling, widespread, and systematic violations of human rights” committed by ISIS. While the United Nations only reported on a period of nine months, international organizations assume that these war crimes are still occurring across Iraq and Syria.
The United Nations report found that acts of violence perpetrated by ISIS were primarily committed against religious and ethnic groups, including Christians and Yadizis. The Yadizis are an ancient Kurdish religious minority who have been forced to flee into the Iraqi countryside to hide from ISIS members. According to the United Nations report, Yadizi witnesses “detailed how they were forced to convert to Islam or face death”. As of January 2015, it was estimated that 3,000 Yadizis were (and remain) held captive, with deaths also estimated to be in the thousands.
This widespread murder and killings of Yadizi people satisfy the definition of crimes against humanity, as outlined in the 1945 London Charter. Specifically, ‘crimes against humanity’ are defined as the “persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious or gender grounds”.
In addition to the widespread killings, torture and kidnapping of religious groups, ISIS has also been found guilty of systemic violence against women and young girls. Human Rights Watch interviewed a number of women who had escaped ISIS-controlled areas and found that girls were kept in sexual slavery. The majority of girls were either Sunni Muslim or Yadizi, with the Yadizi women being forced to convert to the Islam faith.
In captivity, women are bought and sold on a slave market and brutally raped and beaten by ISIS men. For Sunni Muslim women, their freedoms to travel, speak and dress are severely restricted. In addition, women are forbidden to attend school and are prohibited from accessing healthcare, as, under ISIS policies, women are unable to be examined by male doctors.
Although international organizations have debated whether or not ISIS human rights abuses can constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, it is undeniable that the atrocities are severe human rights abuses. U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, argued that these violations of human rights are ultimately due to ineffective state institutions, “where avenues for free and peaceful expression of opinion are blocked.”
– Isabella Farr