Is there a genocide in Syria and Northern Iraq?

It seem that the international community is coming together to stop the so-called Islamic State (otherwise known as ISIS or ISIL). The airstrikes are continuing. It looks as though we will be arming the moderate Syrian opposition, while assisting the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi forces. There may be boots on the ground soon, if the West can overcome its Iraq syndrome. I’ll lay my cards on the table and admit that I support rigorous intervention, but that is not the topic of this post. I want to discuss what comes after, because it is not enough for the IS to be degraded and destroyed.

So far we have treated IS as hostis humani generis. Placing them in the same category as pirates and outlaws, enemies of humanity that can be summarily killed. This is not justice. Indeed, it runs the risk of making martyrs out of monsters. The leaders of IS such as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his lieutenants should not be killed and certainly should not be spirited away to some black site never to be seen again. They need to be tried in open court. Their crimes against Christians, Yazidis, and Muslims need to be laid bare for the world to see. This would show these embattled communities that they are not alone. It might also help to break the spell that the IS has cast over disenchanted Muslims in the West, just as the Nuremberg Trails revealed the depths of Nazi depravity.

Just how to do this is difficult. Syria and Iraq are parties to the Genocide Convention. This could provide the means by which justice can be done. There is a question as to whether what is happening in IS controlled territory constitutes genocide. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Secretary General of NATO, has said it is “very close to genocide.” I think it’s already there.

The convention defines genocide as  “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

The first three acts are especially relevant here. Amnesty International has reported that there have been mass killings in the Sinjar Region of Iraq, specifically in Kocho, Qiniyeh, and Jdali. These attacks have killed hundreds of men and boys from minority communities. There have also been reports of women and girls from the same communities being abducted, raped, and enslaved. This constitutes serious bodily and mental harm, as well as the forcible transfer of children to another group. As awful as these acts are, the expulsion of minorities from IS controlled territory may be the most relevant to the question of genocide.  It is evident that minorities in IS occupied territory have been subjected to ethnic cleansing, but it goes beyond this. The 30,000-50,000 Yazidis who were driven into the Singar Mountains in August of 2014 would have been in conditions inimical to life if not for the humanitarian assistance of the USA and the protection of the Kurds.

You might not be convinced that this is genocide. The numbers of deaths are low when compared to the Holocaust or the Rwandan Genocide. However, the fact that hundreds of thousands have not died is irrelevant. The Convention allows for prosecution for the “conspiracy to commit genocide, incitement to commit genocide, and the attempt to commit genocide.”  The actions of IS during the Siege of Mount Sinjar shows intent to commit genocide by inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy the entire communities. It does not matter that this happened to portion of these communities since genocide can apply to a part or a whole of an ethnic or religious community. There is a strong case to be made that the IS has been attempting to commit genocide against those who do not meet their definition of religious purity. This should be enough to prosecute its leaders.

The discourse surrounding the intervention against IS has focussed on the threat posed to us in the West, but we owe justice to the victims.

If you are still unconvinced then please read my longer post on this topic: Is the Islamic State committing Genocide?



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