Listen to GJC staff and Sareta Ashraph, an internationally-recognized attorney and expert in the field, discuss the ongoing genocide committed by ISIS against the Yazidi in "Genocide and Justice, Part 1."Listen on iTunes and Soundcloud.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — May 15, 2017
[NEW YORK, NY] - Today, the UN Security Council holds its Open Debate on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence under Uruguay’s presidency. In the concept note, Uruguay reflected on the findings of the new UN Secretary-General’s report on how rape is used as a weapon of terrorism and genocide. They cited the example of the crimes Daesh is committing against ethnic minorities such as the Yazidi in North Iraq and Syria, including using rape as a non-killing crime of genocide. Yet, to date, no trial has been held to prosecute perpetrators of this ongoing genocide.
On Anniversary of Rwandan Genocide, GJC Calls on the International Community to Uphold the UN Genocide Convention
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — April 7, 2017
[NEW YORK, NY] - Today marks the 23rd Anniversary of the start of the Rwanda genocide when 80% of the Tutsi population in Rwanda was exterminated. Over the course of 100 days, up to a half million Tutsi women were raped, sexually mutilated or murdered. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda handed down the first conviction for the use of rape as an act of genocide.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE— March 29, 2017
[NEW YORK, NY] - Yesterday, Jordan welcomed Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s President, for the Arab League’s annual summit. Bashir is attending despite two longstanding arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his actions in Darfur, including rape, murder, torture and extermination. He has been charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity and has been a fugitive from the ICC since 2009.
Trump’s New Executive Order Banning Refugees & Immigrants Needlessly Harms Those Fleeing Violence & Conflict
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE— March 6 2017
[NEW YORK] – Today, Donald Trump signed a revised executive order extending his racist and xenophobic campaign promise—ban refugees and immigrants from largely Muslim countries. This ban is accompanied by a halt in taking in refugees and increased vetting protocols that can be used as a pretext to surveil and profile those who enter the United States.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE— February 14 2017
[NEW YORK] – This weekend, the German newspaper “Welt am Sonntag” reported that in December, the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office obtained an international arrest warrant for a high-ranking ISIS commander who according to sources was “significantly responsible to the sexual slavery of Yazidi women and girls.” The warrant for genocide and war crimes, would be the first international arrest warrant for what is an ongoing genocide against the Yazidi.
Statement by the Global Justice Center on the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE— January 27 2017
“For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing." - Simon Wiesenthal
[NEW YORK] – Today, on the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, the Global Justice Center calls on the international community to remember Holocaust victims by standing up to renewed anti-Semitism, hatred, racism, and discrimination. The Nazi ideology of race resulted in the systematic persecution and murder of six million Jews, and other groups such as the Roma, Slavic, Communists, Socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, LGBTI and persons with disabilities.
Trump’s Executive Order Banning Refugees & Immigrants Needlessly Harms Those Fleeing Violence & Conflict
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE— January 27 2017
[NEW YORK] – Today, Donald Trump followed through on one of his racist and xenophobic campaign promise—ban refugees and immigrants from largely Muslim countries. This ban is accompanied by a drastic reduction in the number of refugees the US will take and a series of other undefined and vague provisions that could be used as a pretext to surveil and profile those who enter the United States.
On the International Day of Commemoration of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide the International Community Must Act to End Ongoing Genocide Committed by ISIS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—December 9, 2016
[NEW YORK] — Today the United Nations marks the second International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of the Crime. On this day, as we reflect on the legacy of genocide, yet again the international community is failing to take action in face of an ongoing genocide. ISIS is committing genocide, including through acts of rape and sexual slavery, against the Yazidi and other ethnic minorities, and the world must take immediate action to stop these atrocities.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—October 17, 2016
[NEW YORK, NY] - As the operation to liberate Mosul begins, all coalition actors should ensure that they uphold their obligations under international law to protect civilians and minimize the harm caused to them. Iraq is a party to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. These treaties define how Iraqi forces, including the Peshmerga, must carry out military operations.
GJC Staff Attorney Grant Shubin wrote a blog post in Just Security on gender and the Yazidi genocide.
Click here to read the full article.
by Martin Fowler
A year ago, on the one-year anniversary of ISIS’ callous murder of 5,000 Yazidi men and enslavement of 7,000 Yazidi women on Mount Sinjar, The Guardian asked its readers, “is Iraq becoming a forgotten humanitarian crisis?”
Today, on the two-year anniversary of the Sinjar Massacre, the answer is clear: the genocide perpetrated by ISIS against the Yazidi minority is alreadya forgotten humanitarian crisis. In a Newsweekop-ed, GJC Staff Attorney Grant Shubin urges the international community to address the Yazidi atrocity as genocide.
Driven from their homes by ISIS’ frequent attacks, 40,000 Yazidis found themselves trapped on the mountain in August 2014. ISIS killed thousands of Yazidi men and enslaved even more women; those who did not fall into ISIS’ hands faced severe food and water shortages.
In addition to ISIS’ mass killings, their sexual enslavement and rape of Yazidi women constitute genocide and these crimes are prosecutable under international humanitarian law.
Yet, as Shubin notes, the international community focuses on ‘counterterrorism’ – not genocide – in its approach to ISIS, despite ample evidence of the latter and a clear legal responsibility to act to end the genocide.
This collective inaction allows ISIS fighters to continue carrying out genocide with impunity and is an offense to victims of previous genocides, upon whose memories the international community pledged to react more forcefully.
The Yazidi genocide might be forgotten today, but in the future, people will remember our inaction as yet another inadequate and woeful response – a twenty-first century version of the response to Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. But there is still time to change this story – to confront and act upon our responsibilities under international humanitarian law to protect human beings from genocide and prosecute those who commit such acts.
by Jessica Zaccagnino
With the rise of non-state terrorist groups, such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State, the strategic face of war has changed. This shift has subsequently altered the experience of civilians in armed conflict. In this changing landscape, women and girls face distinct horrors in comparison to men.
Groups such as ISIS have been perpetuating genocide against minorities in controlled territories, notably against the Yazidis. These violent extremists target women and men differently when committing crimes of genocide. In addition to systematic murder, ISIS subjects women to sexual slavery, forced marriages, rape, forced impregnation, and other gender-specific crimes of genocide. Despite the distinct tactics that are being used to commit genocide, the gender reality of genocide is often overlooked when enforcing the Genocide Convention. Global Justice Center’s Genocide Project fights against the gender-gap in responding to crimes of genocide perpetrated by extremist groups, like ISIS, and seeks to ensure that the laws of war work for, and not against, women.
On the morning of August 3rd, 2014, ISIS forces entered the Sinjar region in Northern Iraq, only months after declaring itself a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria. The region has a high population of Yazidi people, an ethno-religious Kurdish minority that has been heavily targeted by the ISIS insurgency. In Sinjar alone, 5,000 men were killed, thousands of women were systematically raped and sold into sexual slavery, and over 150,000 Yazidis were displaced. When ISIS took Sinjar, men and boys over the age of ten were separated from women and children, and most, as evidence of mass graves suggests, were killed. In the process of fleeing, an estimated 50,000 Yazidis were trapped in the Sinjar Mountains, with ISIS forces surrounding them. Although a majority of those trapped were able to eventually escape the mountainous region, the Sinjar Massacre left thousands dead, and thousands more enslaved. Yazidi women “have been systemically captured, killed, separated from their families, forcibly transferred and displaced, sold and gifted (and resold and re-gifted), raped, tortured, held in slavery and sexual slavery, forcibly married and forcibly converted.” These women have been targeted by ISIS solely on the basis of their gender and ethnicity, and such acts make clear ISIS’ genocidal intent to destroy the group in whole.
Despite the air drops of food, water, and supplies, the Yazidis trapped in the mountain siege survived in grim conditions—circumstances intended by ISIS to destroy the group. In addition to air drops, President Obama invoked the need to “prevent a potential act of genocide” as a justification for launching air strikes to rescue those trapped in the Sinjar Mountains. Just this year, Secretary of State John Kerry officially declared that ISIS is committing genocide. It is vital for the United States to recognize the unique aspects of genocide that specifically target gender within the persecution of Yazidis when taking action against ISIS. Although the United States has taken a big step in declaring ISIS’ genocide, the United States must move beyond words. In fact, the United States is required by the Genocide Convention to take action against genocide. Yet, as the two-year anniversary of Sinjar approaches on August 3rd, the United States has still not taken any necessary further steps to combat ISIS’ genocidal crimes.
Grant Shubin, a Staff Attorney at GJC, and Pari Ibrahim, the Founder and Executive Director of the Free Yazidi Foundation published an op-ed in Newsweek about the state of Yazidi women on the second anniversary of the Sinjar Massacre.
Click here to read the full article.
Transcript, Janet Benshoof, Keynote Address delivered at The Third Annual Law Summit at the NYU School of Law, titled, “Women in Conflict: Gender, Violence, and Peacekeeping," on February 20th, 2015.
On July 17, Global Justice Center celebrated International Justice Day and reminded of the ongoing Yazidi Genocide, despite promises of #NeverAgain.
Last year, when commemorating the July 11, 1995 commencement of hostilities in Srebrenica, Bosnia & Herzegovina that ended in the deaths of 8,000 men, the White House wrote that, “only by holding the perpetrators of the genocide to account can we offer some measure of justice to help heal their loved ones.” Political condemnation is, in other words, not enough; criminal prosecution should follow such remarks. Today, the United States and other international actors who have acknowledged the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (“ISIS”) genocidal acts must honor the legacy of the International Criminal Tribunal in Yugoslavia (“ICTY”) and follow international humanitarian law by prosecuting ISIS fighters for genocide.
The 11-day massacre in Srebrenica is often noted – and rightfully so – for the horrific killings of thousands of Muslim Bosniaks, most of whom were unarmed civilians, by the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska (“Bosnian Serb Army”). The murders, carried out under the pretense of impunity, specifically targeted a religious subpopulation – a violation, as noted by the ICTY, of article II of the Geneva Conventions.
Srebrenica’s men were killed whilst Srebrenica’s women were sexually assaulted and raped. By raping and sexually mutilating the wives and daughters of the men they had just murdered, the Bosnian Serb Army aimed to comprehensively “assert [its] superiority and victory over the Muslims.” As the landmark trial of Akayesu - a man involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide - established, such actions are not separate to, but rather components of, genocide.
ISIS’s current actions in Iraq and Syria are remarkably similar to those in Srebrenica 21 years ago: ISIS fighters specifically target religious and ethnic minorites like the Yazidis – as acknowledged by US Secretary of State John Kerry - and they systematically rape and sexually enslave Yazidi women. As in Yugoslavia in the 1990’s, where rape served as a military tactic intended to “transmit a new ethnic identity to the child,” today’s rape of minority populations by ISIS serves as a central tenet of the group’s military quest for regional domination.
Such actions are not only morally repugnant but also criminal and prosecutable under international humanitarian law. The convictions of Bosnian Serbs for genocidal actions in Srebrenica should not exist in a temporal vacuum; they entered humanitarian law as precedence for the future prosecution of genocide, thereby providing justice to victims at the timeand offering legal tools for future genocide prosecutions elsewhere.
Today, the international community should honor the memory of those killed and raped in Srebrenica and the lessons learned from that conflict by prosecuting ISIS fighters for genocide. By doing so, the international community will acknowledge its responsibility to protect victims of genocide, recognize the legal precedents established in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, deter future fighters from joining the organization’s ranks, and provide justice to ISIS’s victims.
“In the light of its factual findings with regard to the allegations of sexual violence […] the [International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda] considers the criminal responsibility of the Accused on Count 13, crimes against humanity (rape), punishable.”
Despite the conviction of rape as a component of genocide nearly twenty years ago, the international community has yet to prosecute Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (“ISIS”) fighters for similar actions.
In 1998, a decision by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda entered legal history as the world’s first conviction of genocide by trial. 18 years later, The Prosecutor v Jean-Paul Akayesu (“Akayesu”) continues to garner significant international attention; The Uncondemned,a feature length documentary about the case, was released in 2015 and an international lawyer recently compared Akayesu’s importance in international criminal law to the US Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown v Board of Education case which established the unconstitutionality of “separate but equal,” accommodations in US public education.
The genocide conviction is not, however, the case’s sole historical feature; Akayesu also marks the first conviction of rape as a component of genocide (at the time, there was not even a commonly accepted definition of “rape,” in international law). The judges unequivocally compared rape to torture, noting that “like torture, rape is used for such purposes as intimidation, degradation, humiliation, discrimination, punishment, control or destruction of a person.” In certain cases, they note, “rape in fact constitutes torture.”
Even with such clear precedent for rape in genocide prosecutions, war rape is still a common feature of modern warfare: research conducted by the Global Justice Center - and submitted to the International Criminal Court - has found that ISIS “systematically raped, enslaved, killed and tortured,” girls and women – actions potentially similar to those Akayesu was convicted for 18 years ago. Furthermore, the United Nation’s (“UN”) Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria recently concluded that ISIS is committing genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes against the Yazidi people.
Yet despite the UN’s documentation of ISIS-committed sexual slavery, rape, and sexual violence, “little to no action has been taken to investigate, document and ensure accountability.”
By prosecuting ISIS fighters for war rape – an act likened to torture by a criminal tribunal – the international community would provide a semblance of justice to war rape victims, follow and establish international legal precedent, and send a powerful message to potential ISIS fighters that they will be held accountable for their actions.
by Jessica Zaccagnino
On March 17th, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that ISIS is committing acts of genocide against Yazidis and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria, launching the United States into a complex discussion of how to feasibly prosecute ISIS. Although there is not universal ascension to the Genocide Convention, customary international law has enshrined obligations of the international community to prevent, suppress, and punish perpetrators of genocide. Akila Radhakrishnan, the Legal Director of the GJC, emphasized in an interview that “the prohibition on genocide is actually considered to be so widely important that it has attained an even higher status of customary international law called jus cogens,which means it is absolutely non-derogable in every context.” The United States, party to the Genocide Convention, is required by both international conventions and customary international law to take action against genocide. Declaring that ISIS is relatively easy, but actually prosecuting ISIS poses a unique set of challenges in part due to their non-state actor status: logistical, legal, and otherwise.
The prosecution of ISIS for genocide raises numerous, difficult questions: first, what body should carry out trials? In a resolution released days prior to Kerry’s announcement, Congress indicated support for trial in an internationally-run court, such as the International Criminal Court, or an entirely new tribunal, would be the best course of action. The White House has yet to indicate a plan of prosecution. Similar questions of logistics, such as who to hold responsible and where to hold large numbers of detainees, have also been raised. The existence of a defined administrative hierarchy within ISIS raises questions as to what extent subordinates should be held accountable for acts planned by their superiors; however, this is a question that plagues most tribunals.
In terms of prosecuting foreign fighters, it will likely be easier for the United States to turn over detainees to Iraq, an ally, than to Syria, as the US has been supporting rebel groups wishing to oust President Bashar Assad. Since ISIS utilizes many foreign fighters, estimated at 27,000, the use of national jurisdiction over these fighters may open up opportunities for a case in the ICC, even though Iraq and Syria are not party to the Rome Statute, or domestic trials in the US if extradited. The final problem is one of evidence: genocide is a very difficult crime to prove. Due to the “specific intent” portion of the definition, more extensive evidence is required than general charges of crimes against humanity or war crimes. This means, in order to prosecute ISIS, there must be a careful collection of evidence, all while in an active war zone.
To successfully prosecute ISIS for crimes of genocide, the US and international community will have to parse through numerous complex challenges in the near future and focus their energy not on only combatting ISIS militarily, but also constructing a clear prosecutorial strategy.
Although prosecuting ISIS for crimes of genocide poses a unique set of challenges, they are not impossible to overcome. The United States and the global community have a duty to prosecute crimes of genocide under international humanitarian law. ISIS’ prosecution, with the US playing an active role, is of utmost importance, especially now that both the US and UN’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria have come to the consensus that ISIS is perpetuating genocide. Countries must engage with these challenges proactively and address them head on in order to make substantial progress towards prosecution.
Clickhere to read the full interview with Akila Radhakrishnan and Grant Shubin, lawyers at Global Justice Center, about the US’ declaration of ISIS’ genocide.