USCIRF calls for US government to support Iraq’s religious communities on anniversary of genocide determination

Washington, DC [US]: The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) solemnly marks the eighth anniversary of the US Department of State’s determination in 2016 that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) perpetrated genocide against northern Iraq’s Yazidis, Christians, and Shi’a Muslims.

The State Department also determined that ISIS carried out crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed toward these same groups and, in some cases, Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities. USCIRF reiterates its call for the US government to give greater support to Iraq’s diverse religious communities still suffering from the aftereffects of ISIS’s genocidal campaigns, USCIRF said in a press release.

“ISIS’s atrocities against Iraq’s religious and ethnic minorities were part of a deliberate campaign of genocide and crimes against humanity. Although ISIS’s threat has diminished, militant non-state actors and government-affiliated militias continue to perpetrate abuses against Yazidis, Christians, Shabaks, Shi’a and Sunni Muslim Turkmen, and other religious and ethnic minorities,” stated USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck, adding, “USCIRF urges the United States to encourage the Iraqi government to curb the power of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) and other state-affiliated forces who subject religious minorities to checkpoint harassment, interrogation, detention, torture, and efforts to usurp their political representation and leadership.”

In 2014, ISIS surged to dominance in northern Iraq. ISIS has systemically subjected the region’s diverse array of ethnic and religious minorities, including several indigenous groups, to atrocities such as mass execution, mass rape, systematic sexual slavery and forced labour, and forced religious conversion.

On March 15, 2016, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution finding that ISIS’s crimes against religious minorities in Iraq and Syria constitute genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, the USCIRF release also said.

On March 17, 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that ISIS had committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Yazidis, Christians, Shi’a Muslims, and others. In 2019, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS–including the United States and its local partners–achieved its territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

“Today, minorities in Iraq continue to suffer for their religious and ethnic identity,” said USCIRF Commissioner Frank Wolf, adding, “USCIRF calls on the US government to support the governments of Iraq and its Kurdistan Region in their missions to rescue the 2,700 missing and enslaved Yazidi women and girls. The US must also emphasise to the Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional governments the urgency of fully implementing the 2020 Sinjar Agreement and making the region safe for the return of genocide survivors, so that hundreds of thousands of Yazidis and others among the 1 million-plus Iraqis languishing in internal displacement can go home,” it added.

USCIRF has consistently highlighted the long aftermath of ISIS’s genocide against Iraq’s religious minorities, including threats to their administrative autonomy and political representation. USCIRF recently held a hearing identifying ways the US government can work with the Iraqi federal government (IFG) and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to address religious freedom concerns, especially for the country’s vulnerable religious minorities. In September 2023, USCIRF also published a report examining recent developments as well as ongoing factors affecting religious freedom in Iraq, the release also said. 

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