Militants with the Islamic State have murdered or kidnapped hundreds of members of Iraq's religious and ethnic minorities, and driven more than 800,000 from their homes in a "wave of ethnic cleansing," Amnesty International said today.
The Islamic State has carried out "war crimes — including mass killings and abductions — as part of a systematic targeting of non-Sunnis and non-Arabs in the north of the country, the right group charged in its latest report.
Survivors of massacres told Amnesty that in the northern Sinjar region, scores of men and boys — some as young as 12 — from Iraq's Yazidi minority were rounded up, taken to the outskirts of villages and shot dead by Islamic State militants. Meanwhile, Yazidi women and children, possibly numbering in the thousands, were abducted by the group.
"The massacres and abductions being carried out by the Islamic State provide harrowing new evidence that a wave of ethnic cleansing against minorities is sweeping across northern Iraq," said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty's Senior Crisis Response Adviser. "The Islamic State is carrying out despicable crimes and has transformed rural areas of Sinjar into blood-soaked killing fields in its brutal campaign to obliterate all trace of non-Arabs and non-Sunni Muslims."
Minorities targeted by the militants include Yazidis, Assyrian Christians, Shiite Turkmen, and Shabak, Kakais, and Sabean Mandaeans, all of whom have lived together in northern Iraq for hundreds of years. IS seized a large swathe of the region in a lightning offensive in June, then overran territory which had been held by Iraqi Kurdish forces in early August.
The Amnesty report details a number of mass killings committed by the Islamic State in August, including two incidents in the villages of Qiniyeh and Kocho on August 3 and 15 respectively, in which hundreds were killed. The massacres mostly occurred in towns and villages in which armed residents attempted to hold off the militants, Amnesty said — likely as a warning to others who might try to do the same.
One survivor of the Qiniyeh massacre, Fawas Safel, described being among dozens of men whom militants rounded up and marched to a location 15 minutes outside of the village, to the edge of a large hole, where militants then began shooting them. "They opened fire and some people tried to run away. I let myself fall in the hole, and others fell on top of me. I stayed still. After the continuous fire stopped, Islamic State militants fired individual shots at those they saw were not yet dead," he said. Safel gave Amnesty a list of 28 men from his family who have been missing since then and that he believes have been killed.
Women and children from villages that attempted to mount an armed resistance were also far more likely to be abducted, the report found. Most of these victims are still held by militants in unknown locations. Some of the captives who have managed to contact their families have described being forced to convert to Islam, while others have recounted cases of rape and sexual abuse, Amnesty said.
One man, Mirze Ezdin, told researchers that 45 of his relatives, all women and children, were abducted in Qiniyeh. "We get news from some of them but others are missing and we don't know if they are alive or dead or what has happened to them," he told the group.
Meanwhile, more than 830,000 members of Iraq's religious or ethnic minorities fled their homes to avoid a similar fate — often carrying nothing with them but the clothes they were wearing. The vast majority sought shelter in Iraqi Kurdistan and are now living in IDP camps, makeshift settlements, or even parks.
In the video below, UNHCR — the UN refugee agency — documents the plight of the hundreds of thousands of displaced members of Iraq's minorities.
Amnesty urged a swift humanitarian response and called on Iraqi authorities to protect vulnerable communities.
"The forced displacement of Iraq's ethnic and religious minorities, including some of the region's oldest communities, is a tragedy of historic proportions," the report said. "Amnesty International's field investigations have concluded that the IS [Islamic State] is systematically and deliberately carrying out a program of ethnic cleansing in the areas under its control. This is not only destroying lives, but also causing irreparable damage to the fabric of Iraq's society, and fueling inter-ethnic, sectarian and inter-religious tensions in the region and beyond."