A senior U.N. human rights official warned Tuesday that Islamic State militants in Iraq may be trying to wipe out minority Yazidis.
Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic has just returned from a week in Baghdad and the Kurdish cities of Dohuk and Irbil, where hundreds of thousands of displaced persons have fled to escape the terrorist group, also known as ISIL.
He told reporters that there has been a dangerous spike in violence and that human rights violations are widespread and systematic. He warned that minority Yazidis - a mostly Kurdish-speaking people who practice a unique monotheistic faith - face particular danger.
“Actions taken against Yazidis may amount to attempt of genocide. Why? Because they are defined by their religion and the only option they have is either to convert or to be killed," said Simonovic.
Simonovic met several dozen Yazidis who fled ISIL-captured areas, including a 12-year-old girl who escaped sexual slavery, a father whose four sons were murdered because they refused to convert to Islam, and a boy who survived a mass execution.
Simonovic said the Yazidis reported they were given the choice to convert to Islam or face execution. He said this differs from the experiences of some other groups, such as Christians, who were given the choices to convert, leave the area, or stay and pay taxes.
The U.N.’s human rights office warns that ISIL is well-resourced, well-armed and active in recruiting support from the local population and foreign fighters. They say the group’s ruthless tactics are causing ethnic and religious divisions among communities to deepen.
Simonovic urged community leaders, elders and religious authorities to speak out and condemn violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and demand the care and protection of victims, no matter their ethnic, religious or other affiliations.
Violence has surged in Iraq this year. In September alone, the U.N. says more than 1,100 Iraqis were killed and nearly 2,000 were injured in acts of terrorism and violence.