Four Years after Genocide, the Yezidis are still suffering and living in displacement

JCC Press Release

On the 4th Anniversary of the Yezidis Genocide

3 August 2018

Erbil Kurdistan Region-Iraq

Yezidi communities; the most affected people who suffered all types of crimes by ISIS. After ISIS took control of Ninawa and other cities in Iraq.  On the 3rd of August 2014, ISIS launched a well-coordinated and planned offensive on Sinjar district and in the most brutal attack carried out by the ISIS terrorist group to date. ISIS systematically targeted the Yezidi population for their distinct religious identity.

Among the most heinous atrocities committed by the group were mass execution of civilians, abduction and enslavement of women and girls and in-discriminate killing of the Yezidi men. As a result, the Yezidi population has suffered the gravest atrocities committed by the group, have lost all their sources of subsistence and been displaced across the Kurdistan Region. The destruction measured in human and material loss is of such a magnitude that millions of dollars will be needed for recovery, healing, reconstruction and development over many years to come, the consequences include:

·         The displacement of 360,000 individuals, in which nearly 100,000 of them left abroad due to the ISIS war until now.

·         ISIS killed 1293 Yezidi civilians during the attack on the Sinjar.

·         The ISIS attacks resulted in 2745 children became orphans, 1759 children without father, 407 without mother, 359 from the parents and 220 children still have their parents held by ISIS.

·         ISIS enslaved 6417 Yezidis, of which 3548 of them are women, and 2869 are men.

·         While there are still 3117 Yezidis (1452 female and 1665 male) remaining under ISIS enslavement and their whereabouts unknown.

·         Additionally, there are 63 mass graves as well as dozens of individual graves found in the Yezidi populated areas in Sinjar district.  And 68 Yezidi shrines and holy places were destroyed by ISIS terrorists.

KRG’s Efforts to aid the Yezidis since the Outbreak of the Crisis:

1.      Providing emergency assistance to the displaced people and opening all doors to welcome the Yezidis in Kurdistan.

2.      Providing shelter to the displaced people through construction of camps and shelters in the host communities.

3.      Opening a lifesaving corridor to the Yezidis who stranded on the Sinjar Mountain.

4.      Inception of a special office to rescue the enslaved Yezidis by ISIS and the office has rescued and helped 3300 Yezidis (150 women, 337 men and 1813 children; 946 girls and 867) from ISIS.

5.      Establishment of a special judicial office in Duhok to investigate, collect evidences and record, document the cases and trace the missing persons and the mass graves.

6.      Establishment of a high-level committee to gain international recognition of the massacre of the Yezidis as a genocide.

7.      Peshmerga forces paid 600 ultimate sacrifices to liberate the Sinjar district from the ISIS.

8.      Advocating and conveying the plight of the Yezidi people at the regional and international levels to secure more financial, technical and legal support.

9.      Providing legal, medical, psychological support to the children, girls, and women etc.

10.  Providing full rights to benefit from the public services including health, education, protection, employment and work and social protection services etc.

11.  Preparing the Rapid Damage Assessment and Development of the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Strategic Plan through the KRG’s Joint Crisis Coordination Centre (JCC).

12.  KRG’s efforts succeeded in recognizing the atrocities committed against Yezidis as Genocide at the Kurdistan Parliament and Sinjar to be recognized as a destructed city at the Council of Representatives in Iraq.

However, after four years of the genocide, the Yezidis are still living in displacement and are suffering from the consequences of the atrocities committed by ISIS. The Yezidis are hosted in Kurdistan Region and majority are living with the host communities.  

Latest Update about the Yezidis:

Although Sinjar district was liberated more than three years ago, the population has remained in displacement. The city is severely damaged, and the infrastructure is either completely destroyed or heavily impaired. The following principal priorities must be achieved holistically and in parallel;


First, clearing the city of rubbles, mines and IEDs;

Second, re-establishment of security through disarmament of the militia and other armed groups and their re-integration into the formal security forces and into the communities;

Third, re-establishment of rule of law;

Fourth, securing required resource for the renovation and restoration of basic public services and rehabilitation of public buildings;

Fifth, technical and financial support to enable safe, dignified and voluntary return of the IDPs to their homes;

Sixth, providing financial grants to the returnees to rebuild their homes;

Seventh, providing psychological and psychosocial support to the survivors of violence;

Eight, comprehensive programs to support social, economic and political inclusion with a primary focus on creating livelihood and income generating opportunities for the farmers and the entire population;

Ninth, tailored reconciliation and social cohesion programs to ensure peaceful coexistence and social cohesion among the communities.

Tenth, transitional justice to bring ISIS terrorists and criminals to justice. This is required to fight impunity and re-establish rule of law and trust between the population and the government. There are several factors that are important for the success of fair, accountable and reliable transitional justice measures such as:

  • Development of a clear and transparent procedures, mechanisms, criteria and processes for documenting all crimes committed.
  • Context specific measures that ensure sustainable and meaningful justice processes linking transitional justice to restitution of rights as well as re-establishment of order and rule of law.
  • Aid the victims’ recovery and fulfil their right to truth and redress as well as restore the rights of victims and guarantee non-recurrence.
  • Protection of Witnesses’ from reprisals.
  • Removal of structural inequality.
  • Enable women victims to submit their complaints without fear of public shaming or retributions and adjust justice and retribution mechanisms and measures to their particular circumstances and needs.
  • Remove arbitrary measures to prevent revenge, retaliations and reprisals.

Pillar I: Protection & Rights:

Protection and rights cover a spectrum from the elementary safety of life and property to the full enjoyment of social, economic and political rights. Achieving important targets across the protection and rights spectrum requires a unified effort from governmental, non-governmental and international partners in the below-listed areas. Protection and rights require a long-term agenda with clearly defined milestones: 

  • Rule of law and accountability regarding protecting women and girls as a particularly exposed group;
  • Reconciliation and social cohesion to break the common practice of targeting women and girls in the conflict between different communities; 
  • Legal and/or social justice for the direct victims of violence, particularly women and girls suffering kidnapping and sexual violence;
  • Documentation and registration (such as marriage, birth, citizenship documents, etc.) to safeguard women’s legal and civil rights;
  • Mainstreaming of a rights perspective into the other three pillars in order to rectify the pervasive consequences of historical injustice and discrimination that have placed the Yezidi women in a severely disadvantageous position in terms of social, economic and political participation.

Pillar II: Services:

Restoration of basic services, such as water and sanitation, electricity and healthcare, and education, it is virtually the cornerstone for any population to re-establish a dignified life after return. Sinjar was heavily underserved before the invasion and is in a critical condition after the devastation caused by ISIS. Service delivery targets specific to women and girls must be formulated such as child mortality and maternal health indicators, access indicators to water and sanitation facilities and girls school attendance and completion rates. The first step is to make sure that the basic services are available and the second step is to ensure that these services are accessible for women and girls. Measures to boost service delivery need to be accompanied by measures to facilitate access through awareness raising, helpline and referral services.  In addition to this measures to serve women and girls in general, particular services (such as medical care, trauma counselling and psychosocial support measures) should be made available for victims of sexual and gender-based violence, girls and women that have rescued/escaped ISIS captivity and their families and women and girls with special needs. Linking such services to the other three recommended pillars is crucial in order to create a holistic support system for the most vulnerable women and girls and prevent the emergence of yet another layer of isolation and exclusion.

Pillar III: Property and Infrastructure:

The level of destruction reported in the earlier parts of this document calls for a heavy investment in repairing impaired and rebuilding destroyed infrastructure including private property, roads, public buildings, pipelines and heavy machinery and equipment. Incorporating a women’s perspective is necessary to ensure that women’s rights and protection is supported even through restitution of property and repair and rebuilding of infrastructures. Resources certain percentage should be earmarked for technical surveys to capture women’s perspectives and to integrate gender-sensitive targets into the infrastructure projects.

Pillar IV: Opportunities and Inclusion:

There is a consistently low level of women’s participation in organized social, economic and political life. Moreover, the literacy rates for both adult women and girls were low.  Extreme levels of isolation and exclusion are inevitable when women and girls are marginalized. A package of interventions is necessary to remove barriers and capitalize on opportunities. While there are persistent barriers and resistance to women’s participation in social, political and economic life, life in displacement has also brought some encouraging opportunities.  There is an increased level of awareness and interest/tolerance within the Yezidi community for women’s rights and the benefits of their inclusion. It is recommended that a tailored program be crafted to:

  1. Provide accelerated learning opportunities and catch up education for women from Sinjar and neighboring areas (Yezidi and other groups) through technical and vocational training and adult learning schools.
  2. Facilitate access to secondary school and higher education for Yezidi girls;
  3. Sponsor a micro-financing scheme to encourage and financially and technically support business ideas with good potential.
  4. Operate a internship and job-placement program together with the private and public sectors;
  5. Launch and nourish a social campaign for reconciliation and social cohesion led by qualified members of the alumni and activating their families and communities;
  6. Promote the creation of advocacy groups in charge of advocating for priority changes on behalf of their communities.
  7. Establish a help line and referral system to support the target group and their communities in accessing available services and opportunities.

Sinjar district is considered the most affected area as the district was systematically destroyed by ISIS. Further destruction was caused by the two years of fighting between the Peshmerga forces and the ISIS terrorist groups. While comprehensive across all sectors, there are some variations in the type and scale of destruction in different sectors; up to 80% of public sector and infrastructure is either completely destroyed or impaired; up to 70% of private properties and civilian homes are either completely destroyed or partially damaged. Approximately 16,000 civilian houses are destroyed beyond repair and must be rebuilt. The assets and livelihoods of the families in the suburban areas were looted and some property and equipment destroyed such as houses and agricultural machineries. 70% of the families lost their livestock and crops, which were their main sources of income.

Conclusion: In a vote on 28 April 2016, the Iraqi Council of Representatives declared the condition of Sinjar district a disaster due to the level of destruction, catastrophic human and economic losses inflicted on the district and the population by ISIS. The Council of Representatives decision placed a responsibility on the Government of Iraq to allocate special funds to rebuild the district’s infrastructure, restore public services and also provide special financial assistance to the affected families and communities. It is important to note that the communities, particularly the Yezidis, need extensive assistance for safe and dignified return to their homes and to create conditions for their safe enjoyment of rights and to recover economically, socially and psychologically.

Sinjar district requires extensive financial and technical assistance over the next five years to enable reconstruction of critical societal and public services in the district and create conducive conditions for sustainable return and long-term peace, social cohesion and coexistence among all the communities. This would require estimated $458,433,854 to achieve priority targets under all relevant sectors. Lack of financial resources at the federal and governorate level necessitate urgent international assistance.

International community have a moral and legal obligations and can play a supportive role in this process through provision of technical and financial assistance such as expertise and recommend practical advice and lessons from comparative cases to the judicial system which will be very useful in the development of policies related to the transitional justice and increasing understanding the best practices, especially gender consideration in the design or development of justice mechanisms, measures and policies.

Historical background: Sinjar (Shingal in Kurdish) district is composed of three sub-districts; Sinone (Al-shimal), Qayrawan (lbleech) and GirOzer (Al-qahtaniya). Sinjar is located northwest of Ninawa province, bordering Syria and 380 km from Erbil and 126 km from Mosul.  With a surface of 3,188km2, Sinjar had a mixed population of estimated 400,000 before the invasion of ISIS in August 2014. Estimated ninety-three thousand (93,000) families were living in the city of Sinjar and the remaining scattered across the surrounding villages. The district is mainly composed of small rural communities living on agricultural produce (wheat and barley, livestock etc.).

The area is considered the ancient land of the Yezidi people, a Kurdish minority adhering to the Yezidi religion. Prior to the displacement, the district was inhabited by a majority Yezidi population but also other ethnic and religious minorities including Arab Shiite and Sunnis, Christians and Kurdish Muslims. For decades, Sinjar had been marginalized as former Iraqi governments had remained reluctant to invest in socio-economic development and service delivery in the district. Thus, the district has experienced decades of social, economic, political and cultural marginalization as well as repeated acts of violence and genocide committed against its population, especially the Yezidis.

Hence, historical and geopolitical factors and isolation have contributed to the emergence of rather closed communities that have been deprived from basic developments and opportunities. Marginalization has resulted in under-achievement in education, public health and other social indicators as well as negligible economic development resulting in limited employment and other livelihood opportunities. Despite a history of deprivation and marginalization by the former Iraqi regimes, Yezidis have endured the hardship while remaining in their lands and successfully preserving their unique religious faith and practices.

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