Vian Dakhil is a member of the Iraqi parliament and is being presented the 2016 Lantos Human Rights Prize.
WASHINGTON — More than two years ago, the Islamic State launched a forced conversion campaign against the Yazidi population of the Sinjar region in northern Iraq. Its fighters killed more than 5,000 Yazidis, piling them into mass graves, abducted some 3,600 women and sold them into sexual slavery, and drove more than 500,000 from their ancestral lands.
These are statistics, but for me this is deeply personal. I am a Yazidi, and these are my people. As in the Holocaust, in which Jewish people were targeted for extermination because of their religion, the Islamic State has sought to destroy my people because of our religion. The Islamic State considers Yazidis to be devil worshipers and used this excuse to commit mass murder, including by burning people alive.
What the Islamic State has done to the Yazidis is far beyond the ability of most people to comprehend. I’ve taken hundreds of trips to deliver relief to the numerous Yazidi refugee camps in Kurdistan, which I represent in Iraq’s parliament. And I try to aid the desperate women who manage to reach me from Islamic State territory through a courageous underground network of people who are risking their lives to help. The stories I’ve heard shock the conscience.
One mother told me how Islamic State fighters had taken her two children and later fed her rice with meat in it, only then revealing she had been eating the body of her son, whom they had murdered. Another woman told me how she was forced to watch Islamic State fighters gang-rape her 9-year-old daughter, who then bled to death. And another reported having been sold into slavery for a pack of cigarettes.
In August 2014, I gave a speech on the floor of the Iraqi parliament begging my government and the world to take action. Days later, then-President Barack Obama ordered airstrikes to open an escape corridor for the fleeing Yazidi population and air drops of humanitarian assistance. This was a moment of extraordinary hope for all Yazidis, but only a few months after that dramatic action, the United States pulled back. In 2015, the United Nations concluded that the Islamic State’s actions were genocide, and in March 2016, then-Secretary of State John F. Kerry agreed.
But the tragic and painful reality is that after heading off what could have been a massive genocide, the international community has abandoned my people.
Today some 85 percent of the Yazidi population globally are refugees. They live in underfunded and overcrowded camps in makeshift tents, usually with dirt floors, and often lack sufficient food and drinkable water. These refugees need hospitals, schools and jobs. But they don’t even have the most basic services, such as psychological support for women released by the Islamic State who have suffered trauma and sexual violence. In addition, nothing is being done to help liberate the thousands of Yazidi women enslaved by the Islamic State.
The Yazidis desperately need the world’s help.
In his campaign, Donald Trump promised military actions to crush and destroy the Islamic State, to cut off its funding, and to disable its recruitment. One additional approach he didn’t include, but that he also needs in order to win hearts and minds across the region, is helping its victims.
First, the United States should provide substantial financial support for Yazidi refugee camps and refugee resettlement. There is no sign the Yazidis will be able to return to their homes anytime soon, and virtually everything they had there has been destroyed. Many countries have sent money through the Iraqi government, but much of that money has disappeared. We don’t know where it went. So money needs to be provided to reputable local nonprofit organizations that are already working effectively in Yazidi camps.
Second, there needs to be a major campaign to rescue the thousands of abducted Yazidi women and girls. The United States should support efforts to expand the network that is enabling the rescue of countless Yazidis. The world must also know that the barbaric rape and torture of these women continues.
And finally, the Yazidis want recognition of what the Islamic State did as genocide, and they want justice and accountability for the perpetrators. Although Iraq has not signed the treaty creating the International Criminal Court, the U.N. Security Council has the power to ask the court to investigate and take action. As part of its strategy to increase pressure on ISIS in every way possible, the United States should strongly support this action being taken.
In his inspiring speech announcing U.S. airstrikes to protect the Yazidis, Obama said that when the United States saw there were “innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale,” and that it had “the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre,” then it could not “turn a blind eye.” And he boldly proclaimed, “America is coming to help.” Though the help given was appreciated, it fell far short of the high expectations Obama had created.
President Trump has ordered his top security officials to, within 30 days, provide him a plan to defeat the Islamic State. Mr. President, America’s credibility is at stake. Part of your plan must include following through on Obama’s unfulfilled promise.