How justice can be served for Iraq’s Yazidi victims of Daesh genocide

Mourners gather around as a coffin is buried a coffin during a mass funeral for Yazidi victims of the Daesh group in the northern Iraqi village of Kojo in Sinjar district, on February 6, 2021. (Photo by Zaid Al-Obeidi / AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2021

How justice can be served for Iraq’s Yazidi victims of Daesh genocide

  • At least 104 Yazidis received some dignity in death when their remains were buried on Feb. 9 near Mount Sinjar
  • Popular societal misconceptions about the community created one of the preconditions for Daesh’s genocide attempt

MISSOURI, USA: The mass burial earlier this month of 104 Yazidi victims of Daesh massacres in Iraq’s Nineveh province was yet another somber occasion for a religious community scarred forever by its encounter with attempted extermination.

As the remains of the men, identified and exhumed from mass graves, were laid to rest on Feb. 9 in the village of Kocho near Mount Sinjar, video footage and photos of the event reminded the world of the horrific crimes the Yazidis of Iraq were subjected to less than seven years ago.

The UN has long determined that Daesh carried out genocide against the small community. The big question is, what are its chances of getting justice, if at all?




Justice and restitution will require more than prosecuting perpetrators of crimes against the Yazidis. (AFP)

At least the 104 murdered Yazidis received some dignity in death. In Baghdad, a ceremony was held for them at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and then their remains were brought to their homeland in northern Iraq.

Tens of thousands of other Yazidis who perished at the hands of the self-declared Islamic State remain unaccounted for. Their bodies most likely lie in various other unmarked mass graves created by the Daesh terrorists who rampaged across the region between 2014 and 2017. The victims’ families still await word of their loved ones’ fate.

According to the BBC, “there were believed to be an estimated 550,000 Yazidis living in Iraq before IS invaded on 3 August 2014. Some 360,000 Yazidis escaped and found refuge elsewhere.”

Of the many Yazidis that Daesh turned into slaves during their awful reign in the area, Amnesty International states that some 2,000 rescued children today are still not getting the care and rehabilitation they need. Yazidi villages and towns ravaged by Daesh still lie in ruins, with their former residents unable to return yet and instead languishing in displaced persons camps across northern Iraq.




Mourners gather around graves during a mass funeral for Yazidi victims of the Daesh group in the northern Iraqi village of Kojo in Sinjar district, on February 6, 2021.(Photo by Zaid Al-Obeidi / AFP)

Justice and restitution for the Yazidis will require more than just prosecuting Daesh collaborators, rebuilding their communities and compensating the survivors, however. Iraqi and Kurdish society’s treatment of Yazidis was problematic well before Daesh burst on the scene.

Iraqi society historically marginalized and ridiculed Yazidis for their faith, calling them “unbelievers” and “devil worshippers.” In reality, the Yazidi religion combines elements of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Popular misconceptions about and demonization of the Yazidi community created one of the preconditions for Daesh’s genocide attempt.

Genocide scholars such as Helen Fein identify four principal preconditions that generally precede genocidal episodes: The first and perhaps most important of these are that the victims be excluded from the main group. Such exclusion can go beyond the denial of citizenship or group membership.

When members of the group come to be viewed as sub-human (“devil worshippers” or “apostates”), the usual moral injunctions against murder fall away. Iraqi and Kurdistani leaders must therefore work harder to instill popular understanding of the Yazidis and their religion as a legitimate and important component of Iraq’s culture and heritage.

The Yazidis and their place within Iraq need to be celebrated and respected rather than tolerated.

FASTFACTS

Yazidis revere both Bible and Quran, but much of their own tradition is oral.

It is not possible to convert to Yazidism, only to be born into it.

An estimated 550,000 Yazidis lived in Iraq before Daesh’s invasion of Aug. 201.

Crises or opportunities from political vacuums constitute the second precondition for genocides. This happened in Iraq when the federal government and its army failed the Iraqi people. Baghdad’s failures in governance allowed popular discontent to swell, particularly among Iraq’s Sunni Arab population, and paved the way for the emergence of Daesh.

When the Iraqi army, whose leadership was packed with incompetent political appointees of the Nouri al-Maliki regime, fled in the face of inferior Daesh forces, the resulting crisis allowed the radicals to run amok.

Daesh rule over much of central and northern Iraq from 2014 to 2017 in turn fulfilled the third precondition for genocide, which comes in the form of a dictatorial state. Free of the checks and balances of democratic politics, the group’s leadership was accountable to no one and could massacre whomever it wished.




An Iraqi Yazidi woman attends a candle-lit vigil on August 3, 2020, marking the sixth anniversary of the Daesh group's attack on the Yazidi community in the northwestern Sinjar district. (Photo by Safin Hamed / AFP)​​​​

The fourth and final precondition for genocide comes in the form of bystanders — particularly powerful states in the international community — who remain unwilling to intervene. Luckily this turned out to be the missing precondition for Daesh’s genocidal dreams in Iraq and Syria.

The US, Iran, various European countries, the government in Baghdad, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and others all intervened to stop Daesh.

Rescue efforts in the late summer of 2014 to save fleeing Yazidis on Mount Shingal captured the world’s imagination, and the total elimination of an already small community was thankfully averted.

By 2017 Mosul was liberated from Daesh control, with the last remaining territories held by Daesh in Iraq following suit soon after.

Moving forward and granting Yazidis some measure of justice for what was done to them will require several things. Obviously as many of the perpetrators of the crimes against Yazidis as possible must be brought to justice. This is not impossible, but it does require political will and resources.

Yazidi towns and villages need faster and more sustained reconstruction. Even then, effecting a return of the Yazidi population will remain difficult within an ambiguous political context. The PKK, Shiite militias, Iraqi government forces and KRG forces all linger in Yazidi areas such as Shingal, with frequent Turkish air strikes occurring as well.




Iraqi Yazidis attend a candle-lit vigil in the Sharya area on August 3, 2020, marking the sixth anniversary of the Daesh group's attack on the Yazidi community in the northwestern Sinjar district. (Photo by Safin Hamed / AFP)

Whatever the interests of the local population, all these actors wish to maintain influence and control over the future of the Yazidi region. The quickest way out of such a mess would be to accede to the demands of various Yazidi groups themselves.

They want increased levels of autonomy in their homeland, which would allow them to determine their own fate and provide for their own security in cooperation with both Baghdad and the nearby KRG. The Iraqi Constitution of 2005 allows for, and even envisions, the emergence of multiple regions beyond Iraq’s single region of Kurdistan.

This should seriously be contemplated for both the Yazidis and Christians of Shingal and the Nineveh plains. Sunni Arabs in that area would become a minority of such a region, but could easily enjoy vastly superior guarantees and protections than those that Yazidis and Christians recently had within Iraq.




Yazidi women grieve during the funeral of Baba Sheikh Khurto Hajji Ismail, supreme spiritual leader of the Yazidi religious minority, in the Iraqi town of Sheikhan, 50 km northeast of Mosul, on October 2, 2020. (Photo by Safin Hamed / AFP)

On a more general level, Iraq must adopt measures to make its constitutional guarantees to the Yazidis and other minorities more than just words on paper.

Article 2 of the Iraqi Constitution states, in Part One, that “Islam is the official religion of the State and is a foundation source of legislation.” But it goes on to say, in Part Two, that “This Constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights to freedom of religious belief and practice of all individuals such as Christians, Yazidis, and Mandean Sabeans.”

Awareness campaigns and legal initiatives to prevent discrimination against Yazidis and others could make the promises from this section of the constitution more of a reality. Just as Iraq in general has gone a long way towards recognizing Iraqi Kurds as a legitimate and important component of Iraq, so too could Yazidis be recognized.

In this quest for some measure of justice, the international community should also offer whatever assistance it can. As they continue to exhume their dead from various mass graves, the Yazidi community deserves at least this much.

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David Romano is Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University


UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home

Updated 56 min 44 sec ago

UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home

  • UNICEF made its plea a day after three children died in a fire at Al-Hol camp
  • Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of alleged militants in jails and tens of thousands of their family members in camps in northeast Syria

BEIRUT: The UN children’s agency called Sunday for all minors held in displacement camps or jails in northeast Syria to be allowed home.
UNICEF made its plea a day after three children died in a fire at the overcrowded camp of Al-Hol, for people displaced in the fight against Daesh.
After years of leading the US-backed fight against Daesh, Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of alleged militants in jails and tens of thousands of their family members in camps in northeast Syria.
They hail from Syria, neighboring Iraq and dozens of other foreign countries.
Many are children.
“In the northeast of Syria, there are more than 22,000 foreign children from at least 60 nationalities who languish in camps and prisons, in addition to many thousands of Syrian children,” UNICEF regional director Ted Chaiban said in a statement, without giving a number of children held in jails.
He urged authorities in the northeast of Syria and UN member states to “do everything possible to bring children currently in the northeast of Syria back home.”
They should do this “through integrating Syrian children in their local communities and the repatriation of foreign children,” he added.
The Kurdish authorities have started sending thousands of displaced Syrians home from the camps.
But repeated calls for Western countries to repatriate their nationals have largely fallen on deaf ears, with just a handful of children and even fewer women being brought home.
Three children and a woman died on Saturday after a stove exploded in the Al-Hol camp, starting a fire, a Kurdish official said.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said at least 26 were injured.
Al-Hol is home to more than 62,000 people, displaced family members and relatives of alleged IS fighters, more than half of them children, it says.
A spate of killings, including decapitations, has rocked the camp since the start of the year, and humanitarian actors have repeatedly deplored living conditions there.
On February 1, the Save the Children charity also urged Iraq and Western countries to repatriate children from northeast Syria faster.
Daesh overran large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014.
Kurdish-led forces backed air strikes by a US-led coalition expelled Daesh from their last patch of territory in Syria in March 2019, in a battle that displaced tens of thousands.


Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules

Updated 28 February 2021

Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules

  • A local news website said the pair had gone to a dinner at an Amman restaurant attended by nine people
  • The sackings come amid Jordanians’ increasing unease about the handling of the pandemic

AMMAN: Two Jordanian ministers resigned on Sunday for violating coronavirus-containment regulations, days after one of them had vowed “zero tolerance” against COVID-19 rule breakers.

Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh asked Interior and Justice Ministers Samir Mubaidin and Bassam Talhouni to step down for violating the defense order put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

A government source told Arab News that al-Khasawneh's directives, which were immediately endorsed by King Abdullah, came after the two ministers were at an event that brought together more than six people.

A local news website said the pair had gone to a dinner at an Amman restaurant attended by nine people, in violation of a defense order that allows a maximum of six.

Mubaidin chaired a meeting with senior security officers last Thursday where he had stressed the need to abide by defense orders, notably following the curfew, wearing masks and physical distancing. 

He vowed “zero tolerance” against violators, adding that these measures were aimed at protecting public health.

A royal decree was issued on Sunday accepting the resignation of Talhouni and Mubaidin. 

Another decree assigned the deputy prime minister and minister of local administration, Tawfiq Kreishan, to take on the Ministry of Interior, and for the minister of state for legal affairs, Ahmad Ziadat, to take on the Ministry of Justice, as of Sunday.

Jordan has toughened its health regulations, reinstating a curfew on Fridays and extending lockdown hours, with the country witnessing a surge in coronavirus cases. It has recorded around 387,000 COVID-19 infections and 4,675 deaths.

The sackings come amid Jordanians’ increasing unease about the handling of the pandemic.

“The sacking of the two ministers should have been in fact linked to the failure in handling matters related to citizens’ lives, including vaccines, the health situation and food security,” political analyst Amer Sabaileh told Arab News.


Russian helicopter makes emergency landing in Syria

Updated 28 February 2021

Russian helicopter makes emergency landing in Syria

  • Russian Defense Ministry said the helicopter was not fired at

AMMAN/MOSCOW: A Russian Mi-35 helicopter made an emergency landing due to technical problems during a flight over Syria’s northern Hasaka province, state agencies quoted Russia’s Defense Ministry as saying on Sunday.
“The crew was quickly evacuated to the airfield. There is no threat to lives of the pilots,” the RIA news agency cited a Defense Ministry statement as saying.
The helicopter was not fired at, it added.
Syrian state media said earlier there were reports of a Russian helicopter crash in northeast Syria that killed the pilot.
It said the site of the crash was in Hasaka province, near Tal Tamr close to a Russian base.


Vatican envoy to Iraq tests COVID-19 positive ahead of Pope visit

Updated 28 February 2021

Vatican envoy to Iraq tests COVID-19 positive ahead of Pope visit

BAGHDAD: The Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq Mitja Leskovar has tested positive for COVID-19, two officials told AFP Sunday, just days before Pope Francis’ historic visit.
“Yes, he tested positive, but it will have no impact on the visit,” an Iraqi official involved in the papal plans said.
An Italian diplomat also confirmed the infection.
As apostolic nuncio to Baghdad, Leskovar had been traveling across the country in recent weeks to prepare for the pope’s ambitious visit, including visits to Mosul in the north, the shrine city of Najaf and the southern site of Ur.
During foreign trips, popes typically stay at the nuncio’s residence, but Iraqi officials have not revealed where Francis will reside during his trip, citing security reasons.
Iraq is experiencing a resurgence of coronavirus infections, which the health ministry has blamed on a new faster-spreading strain that first emerged in the United Kingdom.
The country of 40 million is registering around 4,000 new cases per day, near the peak that it had reached in September, with total infections nearing 700,000 and deaths at nearly 13,400.
Pope Francis, as well as his Vatican staff and the dozens of international reporters traveling with him, have already been vaccinated.
Iraq itself has yet to begin its vaccination campaign.


Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

  • The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019

CAIRO: Tourism in Egypt will return to pre-pandemic levels by fall 2022, according to a government minister.
Khaled Al-Anani, who is minister of tourism and antiquities, said the sector’s recovery and restoration to pre-pandemic levels would be because of countries’ COVID-19 vaccination programs as well as Egypt’s efforts in developing archaeological sites in the Red Sea and South Sinai areas.
He said that, in the last three months of 2020, Egypt had received between 270,000 and 290,000 tourists on a monthly basis, equivalent to 10,000 tourists a day.
Al-Anani said the Grand Egyptian Museum would be finished during the third quarter of 2021 provided that, within the next few days, the winning international coalition to manage the museum’s operations was announced.
He added that the ministry had contacted 30 companies that organize concerts and Olympics to participate in the opening ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum but, while three had been chosen to organize the event, the pandemic had disrupted these plans.
The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019.
At the start of 2020 it was expected that Egypt would receive over 14 million tourists.
It received 2 million tourists in the first quarter of last year until the pandemic hit and led to a contraction in tourism, according to the minister’s adviser and ministry spokesperson, Soha Bahgat.
“The tourism sector in the whole world has been affected in an unprecedented way due to the pandemic … and Egypt has taken strict precautionary measures to limit the spread of the virus, and at the same time supportive measures for the economy, including supporting the tourism sector,” she said.
Egypt managed to attract about a million tourists from last July to the start of 2021.
Bahgat added that although the number was small, it had led many establishments to resume operations and slowly maintain the tourism sector.