Writtle University College and ARU have merged. Writtle’s full range of college, degree, postgraduate and short courses will still be delivered on the Writtle campus. See our guide to finding Writtle information on this site.

The Yazidis and the Crime of Genocide: Seeking Recognition and Accountability

Photo of Dr Aldo Zammit-Borda and the Yazidi group

Since 2015, Dr Aldo Zammit Borda from ARU has been leading a project on promoting recognition and accountability for the crime of genocide against the Yazidis, a small religious minority in northern Iraq.

Dr Zammit Borda worked with Dr Alexander Murray on this project. Dr Zammit Borda and Dr Murray collaborated with several stakeholders, including the Sinjar Foundation for Human Development, a Yazidi NGO, and the Honourable Vian Dakhil, a former Yazidi Member of the Iraqi Parliament, this project was one of the first legal initiatives to develop a firm baseline of evidence indicating that the atrocities committed against the Yazidis by members of Islamic State (ISIL) may be characterised as the crime of genocide in the legal sense.

The research systematically and extensively analysed the atrocities committed against the Yazidis using hard-to-obtain primary and secondary sources, including ISIL’s own publications (Dabiq) and original data gathered by the Sinjar Foundation for Human Development. The research identified and mapped out a pattern of conduct from which the extreme genocidal intent against the Yazidis could be inferred. Indicators of such conduct included ISIL’s specific ideological justifications for seeking to destroy the Yazidis and circumstantial evidence such as the utterances of perpetrators shouted before attacking their victims. 

The research resulted in several publications including:

This research is important because the notion of genocide is highly-politicised and often used and abused by various lobby groups to call attention to their causes. As a result, it is not always clear whether atrocities that are labelled “genocide” truly qualify as such in the legal sense of the term. Moreover, several national governments prefer to avoid use of the label “genocide” because of the specific legal obligations that defining a situation as such would entail. However, this tendency to avoid the label also means that, in those situations in which “genocide” in the legal sense does, in fact, occur, there may be a reluctance by the international community to recognise it and to seek accountability.

The research produced by Dr Zammit Borda and Dr Murray enabled the Sinjar Foundation for Human Development to lobby the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the United Nations Human Rights Council to recognise that the crime of genocide was committed against the Yazidis. In particular, the framework developed by the research enabled the Honourable Vian Dakhil to lobby for a change in policy by the UK Parliament and the UN Human Rights Council, and for these institutions to recognise the crime of genocide against the Yazidis. The Honourable Vian Dakhil stated that the research produced by the ARU researchers: 

“Enabled me to evidence my claims that ISIL fighters had the extreme mens rea necessary for the crime of genocide. I also made use of [the] research to evidence my claim regarding the applicable legal regimes. I would not have been able to evidence these claims and articulate the legal arguments so persuasively without this research.”

In order to continue to promote greater recognition and accountability for the crime of genocide against the Yazidis, in February 2020, Dr Zammit Borda convened a Stakeholders Conference on this subject at ARU. Several key, international policymakers, governmental officials and NGOs participated in this Stakeholder Conference, including:

  • The Honourable Vian Dakhil Saeed (spokesperson for the Barzani Headquarters and Chairperson of the Sinjar Foundation for Human Development)
  • Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Member of the UK House of Lords)
  • Ms Michelle Jarvis (Deputy Head of the United Nations International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (Syria))
  • Mr Mirza Dinnayi (2019 Laureate of Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity and Founder & Head of Luftbrücke Irak -Air Bridge Iraq)
  • Dr Michael Blume (Head of the Expert Unit on Non-Christian Religions, Values, Minorities and Projects in Kurdistan-Iraq and State Commissioner against Antisemitism)
  • Mr Ryan Xavier D’Souza (YAZDA and Visiting Fellow Oxford University)

This conference provided a platform for policymakers and practitioners to share ideas and experiences on how work on recognition and accountability could be taken forward.

In collaboration with YAZDA, a Yazidi NGO, the Centre for Access to Justice and Inclusion also hosted a virtual reality art exhibition at ARU on the subject of the Yazidi genocide entitled: “Nobody’s Listening.”