Ending Impunity and Encouraging Firsts: A Call to Action for the ICC to Open a Preliminary Examination into Genocide against Yazidis.
Written by Carolina van der Mensbrugghe
On August 15th, 2014, nineteen-year-old Nadia Murad Basee Taha, an Iraqi Yazidi, was kidnapped by ISIS fighters in Kocho, a city outside of northern Iraq. The ISIS fighters then separated their captives by gender, and proceeded to execute over three-hundred men in one hour, including Nadia’s six brothers. Following this trauma, Nadia was dehumanized, defined as a sex slave by her captors, and subject to months of unimaginable acts of physical and sexual violence, including systematized gang-raping at the hands of jihadi ISL fighters. Against all odds, Nadia escaped ISIS control in November 2014, and is now a Yazidi activist pushing the United Nations to obtain international justice for her and thousands of other Yazidi. The United Nations has heard, but not yet moved to act on these pleas.
The World Day for International Justice, held annually on July 17, provides an opportunity for the global community to reflect on its progress and promote the evolving criminal justice system. The day also commemorates the signing of the Rome Statute eighteen years ago, which led to the creation of the International Criminal Court (”ICC”).
International recognition of gender-based crimes is essential in achieving justice for women in conflict and post-conflict societies. Genocide is carried out differently against women than it is men, detailed in Nadia’s harrowing accounts that represent thousands of Yazidi women still caught in extreme, brutal, and systematized acts of sexual violence that amount to genocide. The global failure to heed Nadia’s pleas and act to prevent this ongoing genocide specifically against Yazidi victims of sexual violence is both discriminatory and disgraceful in effect.
Now, more than ever, it is time to act towards ending gender-based violence. Such actions towards achieving justice for survivors of gender-based violence are gaining momentum, reflected in both normative and practical milestones that happened this year.
On July 16, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, chairman of the panel, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, declared for the first time that genocide, largely in the form of sexual violence, against Yazidis in Syria and Iraq had occurred and is ongoing. Pinheiro demanded action, calling for the case to be referred to the ICC and reminding countries of their international obligations under the 1948 genocide convention to take measures to prevent the ongoing violence.
On June 21, five days later, the ICC sentenced Former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba to 18 years in prison for charges of using rape as a war crime and crime against humanity. This is the first conviction for ICC on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) charges.
On the same day that the ICC released its landmark sentence, United Nations member states held a meeting to commemorate the first International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. In The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) chamber, the discussion focused on justice via accountability. Panel speakers noted that despite increased availability of evidence for gender-based crimes, exasperated diplomats demanded action over talk.
The UN #EndRapeInWar hashtag, inaugurated at the panel discussion, is itself a mandate that demands substantive action. Such action, the panel urged, should be directed towards ending genocidal sexual violence against Yazidi women, echoing Chairman Pinheiro’s call to action.
We are living in a historical moment for the International Justice System. The UN has explicitly noted the need for justice for the Yazidi genocide. The time is now and the call to action to end impunity is clear.
The ICC should lead by example to act as the first international entity to take action by launching an preliminary investigation into crimes of genocide. The case could result in the first genocide prosecutions at the ICC, which could include the first enforcement of gendered forms of genocide, and would result in justice for Nadia and the Yazidi.