The United States government's designation that the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) has perpetrated genocide and crimes against humanity against religious minorities in Iraq is a historic first step towards addressing the human cost of IS's atrocities. Genocide and crimes against humanity are rare acts that shock the conscience.
By recognizing these crimes, the US government acknowledges the experiences and suffering of those religious minorities targeted by IS in Iraq and Syria. This represents an essential first step in what must be a broader effort to investigate the full extent of the crimes committed against all populations, to hold perpetrators accountable, and to protect remaining at-risk populations.
Importantly, this is the first time that the US government has determined that a foreign terrorist organization has committed genocide. As such, in addition to the threats posed to the national security interests of the United States, we must not lose sight of the fact that IS continues to pose an existential threat to the populations who live under its control or in areas that it seeks to hold.
As part of its efforts to counter the threat of IS, the international community should also prioritize the protection of those groups being explicitly targeted for extermination.
In November 2015, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum released a report, "Our Generation Is Gone: The Islamic State's Targeting of Iraqi Minorities in Ninewa," documenting IS's perpetration of genocide against the Yezidi and of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity against Christian, Yezidi, Turkmen, Shabak, Sabaean-Mandaean, and Kaka'i minority populations in northern Iraq between June and August 2014.
We documented that as IS and affiliated groups attacked cities, towns, and villages, they forced more than 800,000 men, women, and children from their homes and deliberately destroyed mosques, shrines, temples, and churches.
We heard harrowing accounts of displacement, forced conversion, rape, torture, kidnapping, and murder. In less than three months, IS decimated millennia-old communities and irrevocably tore the social fabric of the once-diverse region. But to date, the full nature and extent of these crimes remain unknown or underreported.
For the sake of those groups and communities already victimized by IS's targeted assaults, this finding of genocide must not merely be an acknowledgement of their suffering. Rather, it should serve as a call to action to protect and defend those remaining populations from the crimes that continue to be perpetrated today.
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