Why Amal Clooney Has Brought a Renewed Hope for Justice for the Yazidi People

Mohamed Nasheed and Amal Clooney
Lawyer Amal Clooney sits with former president of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed at a press conference in London January 25. Clooney will represent Yazidi victims of ISIS at the ICC. Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

The so-called Islamic State militant group (ISIS) attacked the Yazidis in Sinjar in the heated summer of 2014 with the clear intention to destroy the Yazidi people, as they are a distinctive, non-Muslim religious group.

The Yazidis had two choices: convert or die. Other religious or ethnic groups largely benefited from a third choice—to pay Jizya or leave—which was taken by Christians and Muslims who didn’t agree on ISIS’ brutal interpretation of Islam. When a people is targeted for who they are and the only choice for them to survive is to abandon their identity under the edge of the sword, then it is, no doubt, a genocide.

ISIS’ premeditated plan was drafted months before the attack in the group’s de-facto capital Raqqa by a handful of Sharia “experts” and clerks who justified their directive by saying that Yazidis were not “people of the Book,” essentially allowing men to be killed, women and children to be enslaved, and property to be confiscated. This plan was publicly announced by ISIS and featured in its digital Dabiq newspaper. Beside this, they said that the presence of Yazidis in the Muslim world was a “shame on Muslims” and that Yazidis must be exterminated.

All elements of genocide exist in the Yazidi case. The 1948 U.N. International Convention defines the crime of genocide as any acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. On August 3, 2014, thousands of Yazidi men, women and children were killed, including hundreds of disabled and elderly who could not escape. To date, more than 37 mass graves have been found only in the liberated northern side of Sinjar, including sites where the remains of women and children were discovered.

More than 1600 children were taken from Sinjar to be subjected to ISIS brainwashing and terrorist ideology. More than 3000 women and girls as young as eight were made to be sex slaves. All captured Yazidis were forced to convert. The women and girls were “shipped” to ISIS territories and become “tools for joy” for thousands of the group’s fighters. All captive Yazidis are now systematically used as human shields in combat by their captors. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.K. parliament, the Holocaust Museum and the European Union have rightfully said that a genocide was committed against the Yazidi people on the basis of their distinctive religious identity.

Yazda is a global Yazidi organization, born from the ashes of this genocide and founded by a group of Yazidi-Americans. In early 2015, we worked with the former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno Ocampo, and the Watchers of the Sky documentary film and initiative. We have also worked with the organization It's On U to have world leaders denounce ISIS's actions as a genocide. Our team submitted a formal communication to the ICC prosecutor in August 2015, which laid the ground for the court to accept jurisdiction on the basis of citizenship for some 7,500 militants from ICC state-members. However, the ICC has unfortunately not taken the crucial first step of preliminary examination, which is needed to open the case. While Iraq is not a signatory of the Rome Statute, numerous jurisdiction tools are legally valid and could be deployed by the prosecutors, the easiest of all being a security council referral or acceptance on the basis of 7,500 ISIS foreign fighters.

Yazidi survivor and human rights activist Nadia Murad spoke fearlessly before the U.N. Security Council in December 2015, shaking the world’s representatives by relaying a first hand account of the Yazidi tragedy. When Ms Murad traveled worldwide to relay her story to others, she crossed paths with international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who has now decided to take up her and the other Yazidi victims’ cases.

Mrs. Clooney’s involvement has renewed hope for the entire Yazidi community. This significant milestone puts our society a step closer to justice. The geopolitical climate and chaos in the Middle East has so far stifled this quest for justice by victims against ISIS. But Mrs. Clooney brings the requisite expertize, knowledge and profile to help them achieve it. She will have to fight a long and complex legal battle, but we are confident that the result will be positive, and properly call what was done to the Yazidi community a genocide. Mrs. Clooney and Yazda have already initiated the phase of data collection, and once we establish a solid case internally, then I am certain she will find a way to have the ICC to open a preliminary investigation.

A challenge for us will be decoding the ISIS leadership hierarchy and showing its link with the crimes committed. This is not an easy undertaking, as ISIS mostly functions as a decentralized, secret organization. Mrs. Clooney's expertize working with cases like the U.N. Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the Armenian genocide recognition case, and others will help us guarantee success.

The goal is to prosecute ISIS. The world should see these primeval tyrants convicted at The Hague. Those who think they are untouchable should be shown they are deluding themselves and that justice will find them. It is important for the world, after 70 years of our pledge “Never Again,” to finally abide by this and stop the crime of genocide. The justice is not only important for the Yazidis; it is important for communities worldwide.

Two years have passed and the Yazidi genocide is still ongoing, yet the world had done so little and the tone of the international community has been “Wait until this genocide is forgotten!” But now Mrs. Clooney’s involvement will ensure this won’t be so.

In the 21st century no one should be slaughtered, burned, enslaved, or forced to convert because of their beliefs or identity. The Yazidi genocide is a crime against humanity as a whole. Amal understands this, and the whole world should as well.

Murad Ismael is the executive director of Yazda, a global Yazidi organization founded by a group of Yazidi-Americans.