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Iraqi Minorities Seek UN Emergency Session

  • Lisa Schlein

A refugee woman from the minority Yazidi sect, who fled the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, sits with a child inside a tent at Nowruz refugee camp in Qamishli, northeastern Syria, Aug. 17, 2014.

A refugee woman from the minority Yazidi sect, who fled the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, sits with a child inside a tent at Nowruz refugee camp in Qamishli, northeastern Syria, Aug. 17, 2014.

An international coalition of activists is calling on the U.N. Human Rights Council to convene an emergency session on the plight of minority groups in Iraq, including the Yazidis and Christians. The coalition says urgent action is needed to save the people whose lives and cultural heritage are in grave danger.

The rights activists said the U.N. council could not physically protect the hundreds of thousands of Yazidis, Christians and other Iraqi minorities forced to flee from brutal attacks by Sunni Muslim militants who call themselves the Islamic State. But, they said the rights council had the unique power to ring the alarm and galvanize the world into action.

The executive director of the monitoring group U.N. Watch, Hillel Neuer, said the activists were appealing to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to call for the special session. He said the rights council could mobilize action to protect vulnerable populations in Iraq against mass killings.

“Second, to establish a fact-finding mission to investigate the Islamic State for their acts that destroy in whole all or in part ethnic and religious groups that may constitute genocide, as defined in the genocide convention," said Neuer.

"And, finally, to revive the mandate, which used to exist here in Geneva of a special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iraq. It was terminated 10 years ago. We are asking for it to be revived, to ensure that we have an early warning mechanism for the international community, with regular reporting to both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.”

The son of the leader of the Yazidi people, Breen Tahsin, also is calling for the U.N. council to meet urgently on the destruction of minorities in Iraq. He said Islamist militants have killed more than 3,000 Yazidi men and kidnapped about 5,000 people, most of them women and children, during their offensive in Iraq.

He said more than 95 percent of the population of Sinjar have fled to Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria, and Turkey. He said about 23,000 Yazidis remain stranded in the barren, hot Sinjar mountains, with little food or water.

He is calling on the U.N. and international community to help resettle Yazidis to Europe, America, Canada, and Australia. He said his people could no longer live in Iraq, where they are in danger of being exterminated.

“Until that, establish a safe region under direct protection of the United Nations for Yazidis and Christians of Iraq who plan to continue living in Iraq because it is not safe any time from now,” said Tahsin.

He said a percentage of the Iraqi budget should be used to compensate the Yazidis for the material and moral damage caused to them by, what he calls, the genocide.

A member of the community of Iraqi Christians in Geneva, Maryim Wahida, described the conditions under which tens of thousands of displaced Christians were living in Dohuk, Kurdistan. She said they needed shelter, food and medicine.

She said the Christian population has been decimated and there was no future for them in Iraq.

“Very, very few of them still have hope and want to go back to their houses. But, most of them want to leave now. They just want to go to a place where it is safe. That is all what they want - to be safe and have a decent place to live,” said Wahida.

Meanwhile, the U.N. refugee agency is launching one of its largest aid operations ever in northern Iraq to help close to half a million people who have been forced to flee their homes. This huge air, road, and sea operation starts Wednesday with a four-day airlift from Aqaba in Jordan to Irbil in Iraq's Kurdish region.