September 5, 2017

The Yazidi Genocide

Moreno Ocampo LLC provided pro bono advisory services to Yazidi human rights activists and Yazda, an NGO working on behalf of the Yazidi community helping those affected by the ISIS genocide.

In August 2014, ISIL brutally attacked the Yazidi community in their homes in the Sinjar mountain. They killed men, abducted women, submitted them to sexual enslavement, and transformed the captive children into soldiers.

A year later Luis Moreno Ocampo, Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown, Kerry Propper and Murad Ismael visited Kurdistan, Iraq to advise Yazda. They met with the Prime Minister of Kurdistan and other members of the government. Discussions focused on how to best help the Yazidi community. The team visited refugee camps in Dohuk and interviewed several Yazidi victims of the attacks. Documenting the genocide was important in acknowledging what the community had suffered. The documentation also clarified the extent of injuries in the interest of treatment, support, and healing.

The Yazidi community wanted the international community to recognize the genocide against them. Mr. Moreno Ocampo was one of the first international experts that proposed that the ISIS attack against Yazidi constituted a genocide. On September 4, 2015in Dohuk, Iraq, he stated to the press that the situation was a very clear case of an on-going genocide, with many people still in captivity.

Emphasis was initially placed on governments to establish policies to investigate the crimes in order to build a strong case for the ICC. Following this advice, Yazda, supported by the KRG, presented their evidence before the prosecutor of the International Crimincal Court, Fatou Bensouda at the Hague in September 2015. A request that the ICC open an investigation on ISIL leaders, nationals of state parties, was submitted.

The team which travelled to Iraq also supported Yazda’s communications and outreach through the IT’s ON U campaign. The campaign served to petition government officials to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC), andengage leadership from Iraq, Sweden, and France. Nadia Murad, a victim of the genocide who escaped from ISIL captors, participated as a prominent Yazidi voice.

Mr. Moreno Ocampo decided not to personally engage the ICC because of his former role as the first Chief Prosecutor. Instead, he outlined the process and the requisites for Yazda to present the Yazidi situation before the ICC. Because Iraq is not a state party of the Rome Statute this outline detailed three possibilities to open an investigation: a UN Security Council referral, an Iraq decision to accept the court jurisdiction in Sinjar Mountain district, or opening an investigation of crimes allegedly committed by ISIS members who are nationals of states parties.

Following this advice, Yazda, supported by the KRG, presented their evidence before the current prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensoudaat the Hague in September 2015. Yazda asked the ICC prosecutor to open an investigation on ISIS leaders who were nationals of state parties. Since then, the qualification as genocide has been adopted by different public and private institutions. This legal argument was subsequently reinforced by research from independent institutions and statements made by political leaders.

In November 2015, The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum published a report by Naomi Kikoler documenting that the Islamic State perpetuated genocide against the Yazidi community. On February 16, 2016 the European Parliament recognized the ISIS genocide against the Yazidis and Christians. On March 15, 2016 the US congress declared that the Islamic State committed genocide against different minorities including Christians and Yazidis. Finally, on March 17, 2016 Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the Islamic States was committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis and Shiites.

“Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions — in what it says, what it believes, and what it does,” Mr. Kerry told reporters in Washington, using the Arabic name by which many in the Middle East derisively refer to the Islamic State. (Excerpt from the New York Times.)

On April 20th, the UK parliament also recognized the genocide and requested that the case be sent to the International Criminal Court.

In addition to outlining a strategy for engaging the ICC, Mr. Moreno Ocampo sought console to help implement and build on it. May 2015 he contacted Amal Clooney, a lawyer with expertise in International Criminal Law and a commitment to gender issues, to represent Nadia Murad and Yazda in their case against ISIS. In June 2016 she accepted.

In August 2016, Luis Moreno Ocampo, Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown, Nadia Murad and Yazda travelled to Greek refugee camps housing the Yazidi community. The group advised leadership on ways the Yazidis could remain connected to their homeland and undermine the ongoing genocide.

Moreno Ocampo LLC remains engaged in work related to the Yazidi genocide. Current efforts include a collaboration with Forensic Architecture, who is producing high quality, state of the art evidence to document the crimes suffered by Nadia Murad. Nadia’s story presents an opportunity to build broad support and awareness for the Yazidi community.

Moreno Ocampo LLC and all involved with this project are deeply honored by the trust of the Yazidi community. We are inspired by their strength, their commitment to protect the most vulnerable members of their community, the children and the elders, which reflects their determination to maintain both a rich history and hopeful future.