WASHINGTON, February 28, 2015 — As the Islamic State moves through Iraq and Syria, it leaves a wake of unfathomable cruelty and destruction. The group has stated that its goal is to restore the Islamic Caliphate throughout the Middle East.
In the process, ISIS appears intent on leaving another legacy: genocide.
Although it is difficult to estimate the number of people killed so far by ISIS, human rights groups estimate ISIS has killed between 15,000 and 20,000 people. It targets “unbelievers,” who they identify as anyone who opposes their particular brand of Islam.
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria reported in November 2014 that the group systematically commits crimes against humanity, and Human Rights Watch said ISIS repeated its tactics in areas it now controls in Libya. ISIS regularly commits beheadings, stoning, floggings, and public executions, and now appears to be moving to burning its enemies alive.
On February 3, ISIS released a video showing Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kasaesbeh placed in a cage and burned alive as ISIS supporters chanted. In late February, an Iraqi colonel reported that the group burned 45 people to death after they captured the western town of al-Baghdadi.
Although the majority of the individuals killed by ISIS are Muslims who they label as infidels—including one strike against 450 members of a Sunni tribe who refused to follow them—minorities have come under direct attack by ISIS.
President Obama warned of the potential for genocide against minorities in his mid-February request to Congress to declare war on ISIS. In that Authorization for Use of Military Force request, Obama noted the tactics and atrocities committed by ISIS, specifically saying:
Whereas ISIL has committed despicable acts of violence and mass executions against Muslims, regardless of sect, who do not subscribe to ISIL’s depraved, violent, and oppressive ideology;
Whereas ISIL has threatened genocide and committed vicious acts of violence against religious and ethnic minority groups, including Iraqi Christian, Yezidi, and Turkmen populations;
Whereas ISIL has targeted innocent women and girls with horrific acts of violence, including abduction, enslavement, torture, rape, and forced marriage;
Whereas ISIL is responsible for the deaths of innocent United States citizens, including James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller;
Now a group of human rights organizations has released a study in Brussels seeking to prove that ISIS has launched a systematic strategy to permanently remove minority groups from large areas of Iraq.
The report, titled “Between the Millstones,” describes the threat to religious and ethnic minorities from ISIS, and explains in details how ISIS is breaking international law. It explains the violence against minorities and their forced displacement, as well as the destruction of religious sites by ISIS.
One of the key findings of the report is:
Summary executions, forced conversion, rape, sexual enslavement, the destruction of places of worship, the abduction of children, the looting of property and other severe human rights abuses and crimes under international law have been committed repeatedly by ISIS. While minorities have long been vulnerable to attacks by extremists, this iolence appears to be part of a systematic strategy to remove these communities permanently from areas where they have lived for centuries.
It warns that without swift international action, religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria will be eliminated.
“The research done for this report shows very clearly that ISIS has committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly even genocide against religious and ethnic minorities in northern Iraq,” said Alison Smith, Legal Counsel of No Peace Without Justice, one of the authors of the report, in a prepared statement. “These atrocities cannot go unremarked and unaddressed; the Iraqi Government and the international community have to obtain accountability and redress for the victims.”
The report says the jihadists are guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide for their persecution of Christians, Kaka’i, Shabak, Turkmen and Yazidi.
The report comes after ISIS kidnapped more than 200 Assyrian Christians last week. ISIS entered approximately ten villages in northeastern Syria and took the Assyrians. The kidnappings mark the first known example of ISIS going into areas it does not control and kidnapping large numbers of individuals.
ISIS then took the victims to the ISIS-controlled city of Shaddedeh..
According to a priest in the area, at least 15 of those Christians have already been killed by ISIS. It may attempt to use the remainder for a prisoner swap, according to some sources, or it may use them as propaganda in a video of mass killings.
ISIS-linked groups in Libya also beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians in late January.
William Spencer, executive director of the Institute for International Law and Human Rights said,
“You could argue that ISIS’ quest for purity is very similar to what the Nazi party was looking for. What was happening in World War II was so incredible, nobody believed it [at first].” He then added, “But here everyone is aware of it and believes it.”
The question now is what to do to stop it.