I want to thank Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, Ambassador Brownback, and the United States Office of International Religious Freedom for organizing this important conference. Thank you for your efforts to promote religious freedom. I am grateful for having the chance to speak here today.
In the summer of 2014, ISIS invaded my ancestral homeland of Shingal and began a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Yazidi community. This genocidal campaign included mass killings, forced conversions, and widespread sexual violence against women of all ages. These attacks resulted in the massacre of thousands of members of the Yazidi community, the enslavement of more than 6,000 Yazidis, and the displacement of over 400,000 Yazidis to IDP camps. All of this happened to my people because of our religion. Women, in particular, were used by ISIS as weapons of war against Yazidis and other religious minorities in Iraq.
I lost 9 family members during this genocide. 21 women and girls from my family were taken into captivity, including myself. Today, I have 19 nieces and nephews that will grow up without fathers. ISIS killed their fathers because they were Yazidis. This is only one story of one Yazidi family.
Although ISIS has been largely defeated, my community and other religious minorities continue to feel the lasting effects of genocide. History and research have taught us time and time again that genocide is an ongoing process. Nearly 350,000 Yazidis are still stranded in IDP camps in Kurdistan. Over 3,000 Yazidi women and children remain missing.
In 2014, the international community rallied behind the Yazidi cause. Today, the Yazidis have largely been abandoned. While there is some support and empathy, there are no real efforts focused on the most important objective that would end the genocide and allow the Yazidis to heal – enabling my community to return to our ancestral homeland of Shingal and rebuild our lives in a safe, healthy environment. The Yazidi community wants to return home. They want to start over – to rebuild their homes and farms and to create new lives with their families. They want justice for the trauma they have suffered. However, they cannot achieve this without the support and partnership of the international community.
I am not here to paint a dark picture. I am here to present the reality on the ground. I am here to tell you that the work is not done yet. Before it’s too late we must act. We must act to make it possible for all communities to return to Shingal, including Muslims, Christians, and others.
There are concrete steps we can take to support the repatriation of the Yazidi community, an essential step towards the end of this genocide.
First, issues of local governance in Shingal must be resolved. While 80,000 Yazidis have returned to Shingal, local conflicts make it difficult for them to survive and rebuild. Disputes between Baghdad and Erbil over Shingal must end. Without a solution between them, Yazidis will continue to be the victims of their conflict.
Second, we must promote long-term regional stability by investing in reconstruction and sustainable development initiatives. Funds are desperately needed to rebuild homes, hospitals, schools, and roads. Without international funding targeted to development in Shingal, stability cannot be achieved.
Third, the international community should call upon Baghdad and Erbil to better integrate religious minorities into the Security Forces. These efforts will enable religious minorities to have a hand in their own security and also prevent future genocidal efforts.
Fourth, the Yazidi community deserves justice for the atrocities they have endured, namely the prosecution of ISIS members for committing genocide against Yazidis and other minorities. The evidence collected by the UNITAD team should be used in an international court.
Finally, if we abandon the Yazidi community, we are helping ISIS accomplish its goal of eradicating the Yazidis from their homeland. It is imperative that we urge the world to protect religious minorities globally. Next month will mark the 5th anniversary of the Yazidi genocide. If the international community does not act swiftly, my community will disappear from their homeland.