‘Convert or die’: UN report finds evidence of genocide in Isis treatment of Yazidis

Brutal killings, especially those of children, “shocked the conscience of humanity and chilled the soul”

The United Nations Security Council is under pressure to refer allegations of genocide by Islamic State militants against the beleaguered Yazidi community in northern Iraq to the International Criminal Court (ICC), following a major new report by UN investigators.

The UN team that found “clear and convincing evidence” of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes was led by British lawyer Karim Khan QC, who briefed the security council this week and who takes over as ICC prosecutor – one of the most influential jobs in international law – next month.

Islamic State (also known as Isis) overran the Yazidi heartland in August 2014, forcing young women into servitude as “wives” for its fighters, massacring thousands of families, and displacing most of the 550,000-strong community – with the aim, said Mr Khan, to “destroy the Yazidi, both physically and biologically”.

Isis fighters, he told the security council, gave a string of Yazidi villages in the disputed Sinjar district the same clear ultimatum to “convert or die”, and the brutal killings that followed, especially those of children, had “shocked the conscience of humanity and chilled the soul”.


The plight of the Yazidi came to global attention when more than 40,000 sought refuge on the slopes of Mount Sinjar where they faced almost certain death – although the majority were ultimately rescued by Kurdish fighters, under cover of targeted air strikes ordered by US president Barack Obama.

Mr Khan said his Unitad investigators had also examined the mass killing in June 2014 of unarmed cadets and military personnel at Tikrit Air Academy, where, they’d concluded, “it was clear that the crime of direct and public incitement to commit genocide had occurred”.

Overall, the team had identified 1,444 possible perpetrators of attacks against the Yazidi. It had identified the remains of 875 victims found in mass graves in Tikrit, as well as 20 “people of interest” in relation to that attack.

Unitad was established in 2017 after Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi woman who was raped, tortured and enslaved by Islamic State, joined forces with human rights lawyer Amal Clooney to criticise the UN for its persistent inaction.

On Monday, Ms Murad – who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and who has spoken since of her “frustration” at how her advocacy has left her captors unpunished – issued another appeal for prosecutions to follow the latest report.

She asked the security council to refer the report to the ICC – or failing that to create a special hybrid court with the agreement of the Iraqi government, which is also a route with plenty of political and legal precedent.

“Evidence has been found,” she said, “but now we are searching for the political will to prosecute.”

Karim Khan takes over as ICC prosecutor on June 15th when the term of the incumbent, Fatou Bensouda, comes to an end after nine years as prosecutor.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court