April 22, 2015

Yezidi MP asks Washington to support ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq

Washington, DC, USA (us.gov.krd) – Vian Dakhil, the only Yezidi member of the Iraqi Parliament, held meetings in Washington DC this week with the US government, Congress, media and think tanks to call for further assistance for the Kurdish-Yezidi community and to ask for international recognition of the 2014 genocide against her people.

sapersteinMs Dakhil, who was in Washington in April 17 to 21, had also spoken at the United Nations Security Council earlier in the month. It was the MP’s second visit to Washington this year and she was accompanied by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Representative to the United States Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman in her meetings.

Ms Dakhil met with officials from the State Department including Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom David Saperstein. Ms Dakhil made four requests in this and other meetings. She reiterated her call for the recognition of the genocide of the Yezidis and for more humanitarian aid to be given to the refugees and displaced people in Iraq and Kurdistan Region. She also called for international guarantees that her people and other minorities would be protected should they return to their homes which had been overrun by ISIS terrorists. The fourth call to action was for specific assistance to the women and girls, some as young at eight years of age, who have been enslaved by ISIS. ‘We need psychological support for the girls that have been rescued from ISIS. Some of them are totally alone in this world with no single living relative left. They need help to overcome their physical and psychological trauma and to begin a new life.’

Ambassador Saperstein showed support for the Yezidis and said that the US Government recognizes the urgency of the crisis. These sentiments were also expressed in a meeting with the Near Eastern Affairs Director for Iraq Anthony Godfrey. KRG Representative Ms Abdul Rahman, commenting on Ms Dakhil’s visit, said, ‘Vian Dakhil’s visit to Washington has helped to underscore the urgent need to help the Yezidis, Christians and many others who have been targeted by ISIS because of their faith, ethnicity or simply because they don’t share ISIS’s interpretation of Islam. We are grateful to the United States for leading the international coalition against ISIS and the humanitarian relief effort, including the life-saving emergency response in August. The humanitarian crisis continues and we hope much more can be done to help all the displaced in Iraq and all the Syrian refugees.’

The ISIS advance on the mainly Yezidi town and district of Sinjar in August 2014 precipitated a massive exodus of Yezidis, with hundreds of thousands seeking refuge in Kurdistan, and tens of thousands more finding safety on Mount Sinjar. Within days, those on the mountain found themselves without food and water. On August 7, the US and international partners conducted humanitarian air drops, bringing tons of critically needed fresh water and food rations to the survivors.

Today the Kurdistan Region hosts over 1.6 million Syrian refugees and internally displaced Iraqis. Of the 600,000 Yezidis in Iraq, 420, 000 are currently sheltering in Kurdistan. Another 8,000 are in refugee camps in Syria and Turkey. As a region with a rich history of ethnic and religious diversity, Kurdistan has been a sanctuary for minorities including Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac Christians, Yezidis, Shabaks, Kaka’is and Faily Kurds, Sunni and Shi’a Turkmen, Sunni and Shi’a Arabs, and others.

At a dinner hosted by the KRG Mission in Washington, Ms Dakhil updated members of the Congressional Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus on the status of Yezidis and other minorities in Iraq. She said, ‘ISIS has targeted Yezidis because of their religion – thousands of our men have been killed, thousands of our women and children kidnapped, raped, and sold into slavery. What has happened can only be called a genocide, and I urge the international community to acknowledge that.’ The meeting was attended by members of Congress including Caucus co-chairs Anna Eshoo and Jeff Fortenberry, Representatives Trent Franks, Glenn Grothman, and Stephen Lynch, as well as scholars and representatives from Christian communities.

During a ceremony last month hosted by the KRG Representation in the United States commemorating the anniversary of the chemical attacks on Halabja, Representatives Chris Van Hollen and Marsha Blackburn pledged to reintroduce legislation that would recognize the Kurdish genocide of the 1960s to the 1990s, with an additional section to recognize the crimes committed by ISIS against the Yezidis and others as acts of genocide.

Throughout the week, Ms Dakhil met with members of Congress to bring awareness to the plight of minorities in Iraq today, including Representatives Susan Brooks, Trent Franks, Jim McGovern, and Joe Pitts. She also briefed members and staff of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in a roundtable discussion. She asked Congress to recognize the crimes against the Yezidis as a genocide saying, ‘It is important, not only for bringing the perpetrators to justice, but for the prevention of future genocides.’

In March the UN Human Rights Council described the atrocities committed by ISIS against the Yezidis as a ‘possible genocide’. The KRG believes that these crimes constitute a genocide as defined by Article 2 of the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and has called for a UN resolution to define it as such. ISIS has slaughtered over 2,000 Yezidis, with another 5,400 held captive today. Of these, over 3,000 are women and girls who have been sold in to slavery.

As part of her advocacy to Congress, Ms Dakhil met with the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal commission dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief. She said that although the KRG is providing assistance and protection, it is not enough and the international community should do more to help. ‘There’s a need for more humanitarian assistance. Of the 2.5 million displaced in Iraq, 900,000 are minorities, and they lack even basic services.’ Ms Dakhil briefed scholars and journalists at the Middle East Institute on the plight of Yezidis in Iraq and the international response. She said, ‘Many of the minorities in Iraq have fled to Kurdistan, and Kurdistan is protecting and looking after them. Unfortunately, the Peshmerga do not have the proper weapons needed. The international community should equip them.’

The visit also included meetings with senior members of Human Rights Watch, The Iraq Foundation, both organizations focusing on the protection of human rights and civil society. She asked the organizations to be aware of the issues that Yezidis will have returning to their homelands. In a meeting with Executive Director of Human Rights Watch Sarah Margon, Ms Dakhil said, ‘It is important to defeat ISIS, but we need to see how people can go back after this crisis. When ISIS came, our neighbors helped them identify us. ISIS foreign fighters didn’t know who was who. They pointed us out and helped them commit those crimes. Tomorrow, these people will still be there. How will we go back?’

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