More Ezidi Mass Graves Discovered

In November 2016, news agencies reported the discovery of mass graves believed to contain the remains of Ezidis in Iraq. Voice of America published an article on mass graves found in Sinjar[1], while Reuters reported on the discovery of two mass graves in Mosul.[2] [3]

Da’esh forces occupied Sinjar in the summer of 2014, capturing Ezidis living in the area, and torturing and killing many of them. The first mass grave containing the remains of Ezidis was found in November 2015 after the town of Sinjar was retaken by Kurdish forces. The grave contained the remains of at least 78 women and children. [4] The latest discovery brings the total number of mass graves found so far to 29, according to Sinjar Mayor Mahma Xelil. [5]

The Ezidi religious faith combines Islamic belief with a number of other traditions, a mixing of different beliefs that is viewed as heretical by orthodox Muslims. Estimates put the global number of Ezidis at around 700,000, with the vast majority concentrated in northern Iraq, in and around Sinjar. The Ezidis are predominantly ethnically Kurdish, and have kept alive their syncretic religion for centuries, despite oppression and threatened extermination.[6]

Da’esh appears to have targeted the Ezidi population with particular cruelty, in Iraq and also in Syria, because of its perceived deviation from orthodox Islam. In addition, Da’esh violence has been focused on Ezidi women and girls. Survivors have reported a systematic, gender-based program of rape, sexual slavery, trafficking and murder.

The violence perpetrated by Da’esh against Ezidi women, highlights the general cruelty to which the population in Da’esh-controlled areas has been subjected. At the same time it draws attention to the distinct experience and susceptibility of women and girls during armed conflict. This, in turn, points to the urgent necessity of adopting a gender-based approach to helping survivors deal with physical and psychological trauma, and a gender-based approach to helping the authorities address the issue of enforced disappearances.

ICMP’s mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating and identifying missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, irregular migration and other causes and to assist them in doing so.  It has played an important part in addressing this issue in Iraq since 2003.  In 2005 ICMP assisted in the creation and development of the Law on the Protection of Mass Graves, and in 2012 ICMP signed an agreement with the Ministry for Human Rights, the Ministry for Health and the Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs, through which it is able to engage directly with relevant departments in order to expand institutional capacity to address the issue of missing persons regardless of sectarian or national affiliations

In addition to working with the authorities, ICMP has launched a series of programs to build the capacities of family associations and other CSOs, mainly comprised of women, to improve dialogue between the authorities and families of the missing, and to provide safe spaces for families of different ethnic and religious background to work together. ICMP has already formed a focal point network among Ezidi families.

The participation of families in data collection efforts is the first step towards an effective process of locating and identifying the missing and contributes to the empowerment and engagement of families. This process helps to build bridges between families and the authorities and reduces mistrust and antagonism. It is also a pre-condition for a successful DNA-based identification process.

With the assistance of supporting governments, including those of the United States, Canada and Germany, ICMP is working to protect the mass graves that have been discovered in Sinjar, to preserve evidence in accordance with international standards and in such a way that this evidence will be admissible in court proceedings against perpetrators. ICMP is also providing training in mass grave exhumations, crime-scene management, and mortuary procedures; providing guidance on effective operational planning, inter-agency cooperation and chain of custody; upgrading mortuary facilities; and that ensuring field operations have adequate resources and equipment.

[1] http://bit.ly/2geSv8D

[2] http://reut.rs/2gmO4G7

[3] In August of the same year, Associated Press reported on the discovery of 72 Ezidi related mass graves. Available at: http://apne.ws/2bFe65I

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinjar

[5] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-graves-idUSKBN13M075

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/07/who-yazidi-isis-iraq-religion-ethnicity-mountains