It's not over: Yazidis are still suffering genocide at hands of ISIS
© Getty

This week the United Nations announced 36 Yazidi people in Mosul, Iraq were rescued from slavery under the terrorist group known as the Islamic State, ISIS or Daesh.

They are survivors of the 2014 genocide that followed a Nazi methodology labeling Yazidis "less-than-human," therefore justifying any and every despicable action taken. The U.N. estimates that up to 1,500 Yazidi women and girls remain in captivity.  Escapees are currently receiving basic care including clothes, food and lodging, but there is a long road to recovery ahead of them.


Our anti-genocide organization, Yahad-In Unum (“Together In One”), launched an initiative called Action Yazidis in 2015 to research and document these actions.  The goal of this initiative has been to preserve the memory of the Yazidi people, de-radicalize Yazidi survivors and offer the world proof of one of the most heinous crimes against humanity in modern history.   


To date, the organization has carried out six research field trips in Iraqi Kurdistan since 2015, where we began collecting testimony from survivors and escaped ISIS slaves. This work has provided in-depth documentation of the genocidal process (its various stages, its topography, etc.).  And it has provided archival proof to help in the fight against the impunity of ISIS perpetrators. Furthermore, it provides a clear picture of the level of utter disregard ISIS militants hold for human life and dignity.

Our results have enabled us to analyze the fate of the Yazidis victims by category: men, boys, women, girls, babies and the elderly.

To date, after having conducted more than 100 semi-directive interviews of Yazidi victims of all ages, who escaped from ISIS slavery in Iraqi Kurdistan, the following conclusions can be drawn:

  1. As soon as they are captured, the Yazidis must convert to Islam or they are executed.  They are deprived of all their possessions (money, jewelry) as well as expelled from their houses. The ISIS promise is that of cunning and deceit: “You will return home if you convert to Islam.” This process, from its inception, is clearly carried out by a coalition of people explicitly belonging to ISIS and by local Arab clans, neighbors of the Yazidis.

  1. The second stage – the separation of men, boys, virgin girls, married and elderly women is recurrent but its implementation can vary depending on where it takes place.

What follows is a breakdown of how the different categories of Yazidis prisoners are dealt with:


Most men are quickly separated from the others and taken to places known by neighbors, where they are summarily shot. A beard or hair under the arms helps to separate men from young boys. The shootings of men are organized in such a way that other members of the Yazidi community cannot witness the acts of mass murder.

Young girls

Female doctors very often physically check the young girls’ virginity status because the girls are known to put on their mothers’ wedding rings or hold a baby in an attempt to escape selection. The young virgins are usually moved around and repeatedly resold: first as a group of women and eventually as individuals.  The prettiest among them are often forced to become partners of leaders of ISIS. Others become sex slaves under the worst conditions.


Their fate needs further investigation. Often, during their capture, babies still being breastfed are separated from their mothers. The infants are put on buses to unknown destinations. ISIS claims that the babies are given to Muslim families to be raised. The same treatment is reserved for the babies born to mothers in prison.

Young boys

Young boys are not only forced to convert to Islam but also forced into becoming fighters. Locked up in training camps, they seem to be subsequently divided into three types of commandos: attack commandos (aimed at villages), I.E.D. (improvised explosive devices) commandos and suicide bombers. Many children disappear. Among the bombers, many die by accident. The camps are kept secret.

Elderly women  

Elderly or married women become servants, slaves for combatants or for an ISIS family. They also serve as human shields during bombings.

All, or almost all, of these people undergo frequent trips or deportations, which sometimes take them hundreds of kilometers away from their homes.

The Time To Act is Now

The above cases demonstrate the horrific crimes committed by ISIS against the Yazidis. Not only do they include kidnapping, sequestration, rape, and murder punishable by national laws, but they also involve the most serious crimes as defined by international laws.

This evidence of these crimes against humanity exists in abundance, yet the world turns a blind eye while such atrocities continue.  Everyday, thousands of young girls are raped and traded as property, men are executed on the spot and young boys are forced into the ISIS military where they are forced to repeat the cycle of horrors.  

There are currently barriers that most government officials throughout the world will point to. At this time, it is impossible to have these crimes tried in Iraq or Syria or in the International Criminal Court due to the fact that those two countries, Iraq and Syria, have not ratified the Treaty of Rome. However, there is still a path justice.

That path is to pursue the matter before national courts on the grounds of extraterritorial jurisdiction. The only way these crimes can be tried is by establishing the responsibility of alleged perpetrators as nationals of a sovereign nation state which has ratified the Treaty of Rome.   Therefore it is crucial to begin this process now in order to ensure the survival of the Yazidi people and for leaders of the so-called “civilized world” to  preserve their claim to that title.

The Rev. Patrick Desbois is a Catholic priest and President of Yahad – In Unum, a global humanitarian organization he founded in 2004. He is a professor the the Center for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University and the author of “The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews,” Winner of the National Jewish Book Award, and the recently released “The Fabric of Terrorists: Into the Secrets of Daesh”, based on his investigation of the Yezidi genocide in Iraq.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.