Yazidi campaigners are calling for world leaders to declare their treatment by Islamic State as genocide to escalate obligations for the international community to prevent crimes against them and punish those victimizing women and children.
Islamic State militants have killed, raped and enslaved thousands of Yazidis since 2014, forcing over 400,000 of the religious minority group to flee their homes in northern Iraq, accusing them of being devil worshippers. According to the United Nations, the Sunni militants enslaved about 7,000 women and girls in 2014, mainly Yazidis whose faith blends elements of Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Islam, and is still holding 3,500, some as sex slaves.
But while the United States, the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have all described the Islamist militant group's actions as genocide, other countries are yet to follow. Yazidi campaigners are pushing for international justice for the crimes committed against them by Islamic State.
Hanifa - who did not want to give her full name for fear of reprisals - escaped the Islamic State incursion into Sinjar in summer 2014 but her five sisters did not. They were captured as they fled and she has not seen or heard from them since. "Thousands of our girls and women have committed suicide. Ten-year-old girls are being sold four times a day .. We the Yazidi are powerless and no one to back us," Hanifi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a recent interview.
"We want international protection and our genocide to be recognized .. as without international protection and apply the rule of genocide, this will happen all over again." Islamic State militants have exploited the five-year civil war in Syria to seize areas in that country and in neighboring Iraq, taking control of swathes of territory with an eye toward establishing jihadism in the heart of the Arab world.
The United States began air strikes against militant targets in Iraq in August 2014 in part to save the Yazidis and in March this year declared the attacks on Yazidis and other religious groups amounted to genocide. U.S. officials hope the determination will help them win political and budget support from Congress and other nations to help the targeted groups return home if and when Islamic State-controlled areas such as the Iraqi city of Mosul are liberated.
But for displaced Yazidis such as Nasreen the process is taking too long with thousands of Yazidis still enslaved. Nasreen was 19 when she was captured two years ago by Islamic State in Sinjar with 19 other members of her family. Her family was split up into men and women, then into smaller groups that were shunted from place to place with little food and never knowing if they would live or die.
Two years later Nasreen managed to escape but has no idea where the rest of her family is - or if they are alive. "Islamic State destroyed our lives and future," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "I keep thinking about the girls who are still in their grip. Although I have been freed, I always think of them. Life was like being in hell in their hands." She called for international intervention.
"The world is not listening to us and not doing anything for us," she said. "I ask European countries to do something for us, and recognize our genocide." Dakhil Osman Khidir Al-Yazidi, formerly a wedding singer, fears the lives of the Yazidi will never return to normal. "Why are we being killed? ... Why all this silence from the world countries, and especially Iraq. We want them to be punished by international courts," he said.
By Anna Martin