Let’s Avoid Politicizing the Genocide Against Yazidis


Yazidi refugees present United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Angelina Jolie with a banner as she arrived at a refugee camp in southern Turkey (Photo: Umit Bektas / Reuters)

There is no doubt that genocidal acts have been perpetrated against the Yazidi people by the Islamic State (ISIS). A recent report by United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria has given credence to political declarations in the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, and elsewhere that ISIS is waging a campaign to exterminate the Yazidis. ISIS’s particular brand of violent and radical Islam is unambivalent in its zeal to destroy groups that stand in its way of building an Islamic caliphate. Not only has ISIS committed unspeakable atrocities against Yazidi people, but it has clearly articulated its intent to exterminate them. But not every way of recognizing a genocide is equally appropriate. Over the last week, Canada witnessed one of the most unhelpful approaches towards recognizing that ISIS is genocidal. To avoid such fiascos in the future, the Canadian government — as well as other states seeking a role in mass atrocity prevention and prosecution — should establish its own International Justice Ambassador.

It is worth reviewing what transpired in Ottawa two weeks ago. The Conservative Party, backed by the New Democrats, introduced a motion in the House of Commons to officially recognize that ISIS’s violence against the Yazidis, Christians, and Shias in northern Iraq constituted genocide. The Conservatives provided no evidence for such a finding. They provided no definition of genocide. They referred to no reports nor any investigations. Their ultimate claim, it seems, was to ensure that Canada did what the UK and the US Secretary of State John Kerry had already done— i.e. give ISIS’ crimes the “g-word” treatment, and call their violence a genocide.

After an acrimonious and dramatic debate, the Liberals, with the exception of four MPs, rejected the Conservative motion. The Liberals (rightly) insisted that the House of Commons was not the appropriate place to determine whether the crimes amounted to genocide. In doing so, they did what UK Prime Minister David Cameron had advised British officials to do when he exclaimed that “Not only are the courts best placed to judge criminal matters but their impartiality also ensures the protection of the UK government from the politicisation and controversies that often attach themselves to the question of genocide.”

Remarkably, the very same Conservatives who put forward the bill guaranteed that the vote would fail. A few minutes of research would have revealed that the UN Commission of Inquiry in Syria was on the verge of announcing that the atrocities amounted to genocide. Moreover, any due diligence (i.e. vote counting) would have made clear that the Conservatives would lose the vote with the motion worded as it was. They proceeded anyways. To top it off, at the same time, the Conservatives provided no clear sense of what a finding of genocide would mean or require of Canada. Would they call the UN Security Council to refer Syria and Iraq to the International Criminal Court (ICC)? It seems unlikely, given their mistrust of international criminal justice and the fact that, under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Conservatives were the last Western government to put their support behind such a referral, one which would have allowed the ICC to investigate and prosecute allegations of genocide against the Yazidis.

The obvious conclusion — and a rather grotesque one — is that the Conservatives wanted the vote to fail in order to gain some political brownie points at the expense of the Liberals — and, sadly, the victims of ISIS atrocities. Not to be outdone, however, when they lost the vote, the Conservative MPs grovelled at the bottom of the political barrel, posting a poll on Twitter to determine whether ISIS crimes amounted to genocide.

The very same week and following the UN Commission of Inquiry report (which reported that ISIS was committing genocide against Yazidis but not other groups, including Christian minorities), Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion told the House that the government would recognize that the atrocities being committed by ISIS constituted a genocide. A Liberal motion introduced in the House also stated that “the government of Canada [would] continue its efforts to have these atrocities properly investigated and, where appropriate, referred to the International Criminal Court to formally determine the existence of genocide and to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice”. Canada is now leading diplomatic efforts to push the United Nations Security Council to mandate a commission to investigate ISIS crimes.  

It was, in short, a mangled and mismanaged debate. The politicking over whether crimes against the Yazidis constitutes genocide fell prey to a type of politicization that does little to protect or prosecute vulnerable groups from ISIS violence. It made any finding of genocide a matter of distasteful partisan one-upmanship. While we can’t turn back the clock, we can look forward and identify policies to avoid such unhelpful polarization and drama. One such policy would be to establish a position: an International Justice Ambassador.

Creating an International Justice Ambassador would allow governments like Canada to refer questions regarding international crimes to a specifically mandated office. The Ambassador would be tasked with representing Canada’s international justice interests at relevant institutions such as the ICC and the UN, coordinating with groups that the government supports, such as the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, and which actually collect evidence of international crimes on the ground, as well as keep tabs on how our allies have responded to mass atrocities — and why. Whenever necessary, he or she could be requested to come up with clear recommendations to the Government and the House on questions such as whether to recognize certain situations as genocide. Doing so would allow Canada and its allies to avoid needlessly politicizing such decisions. It would also avoid always having to refer to the United Nations for advice whilst simultaneously rebuilding our reputation on matters of global justice and accountability.

The idea of an International Justice Ambassador was initially proposed by a group of experts and scholars in a public letter during the last Canadian federal election. It has since gathered additional coverage and momentum. The United States, for one, already has such a position in place and Stephen Rapp, Washington’s previous War Crimes Ambassador, recently spoke to Canadian diplomats and academics about the value of such an ambassadorship. Few countries boast so many qualified and respected candidates to fill such a office than Canada. But there is no reason why countries around the world shouldn’t establish a similar point-person for international justice-related issues.

It is an exceedingly rare opportunity for a government to resolve multiple issues with a single policy decision. Establishing an International Justice Ambassador would help avoid political partisanship over the suffering of victims of mass atrocities, would help to rebuild the capacity to effectively respond to international crimes, and, in Canada, would give substance to Justin Trudeau’s words that were welcomed by all who expect the country to be a leader on global accountability: “we’re back.”


About Mark Kersten

Mark Kersten is a consultant at the Wayamo Foundation, a Senior Researcher at the Munk School of Global Affairs, and a law student at McGill University Law School. He is also author of the book, 'Justice in Conflict - The Effects of the International Criminal Court's Interventions on Ending Wars and Building Peace' (Oxford University Press, 2016).
This entry was posted in Canada, Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), Genocide, International Criminal Court (ICC), International Justice Ambassador, Iraq, ISIS, Islamic State, Syria, Terrorism, UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, United Kingdom, United Nations, United States, Yazidi Genocide and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Let’s Avoid Politicizing the Genocide Against Yazidis

  1. Wasn’t the real motivation of the bill to include Christians in the category of those against whom ISIS committed genocide? Kerry includes them, as does the UK. But the CoI does not. So isn’t this just religious politics of a particularly base kind?

    • Mark Kersten says:

      I don’t think that was the “real motivation”, though I do agree with you that including Christians was part of the calculus of the declarations — and one done, at least in the US, to assuage pressure from domestic Christian groups pushing for their inclusion in any statement re: ISIS genocide. Very interesting that the CoI explicitly says there is no genocide against the Christians in Iraq / Syria by ISIS. I have a piece on that coming soon(ish).

  2. el roam says:

    Thanks for that interesting post Mark . There is bit of complications here :

    First, no UN committee is authorized to define nothing!! It is only authorized to describe reliable facts or occurrences , taking place somewhere in the globs . Yet , it does finally present , factual configuration , which , according to their best understanding , may amount to specific criminal definition suited , yet , they can’t cut it clear or officially determining it , only court can do it .

    However , even court can’t do it !! why ?? a court has jurisdiction , only upon an individual ( criminal court , see for example : article 25 (1) to the Rome statute ) means :

    At the end of the day, certain individual, has committed a crime, and has participated in genocide for example, yet:

    The court , doesn’t and can’t conclude , categorically , that a Genocide occurred here or there , this is not his duty , this is the outcome ( differentiated from duty ) of historians or chronologists :

    The court , is only authorized , to conclude , that certain person , or persons has participated in ……and , in what paradoxically , it is a problem !!

    So how come ?? it may look or sound like nuance , or official and formal difference , yet :

    Suppose, that, despite or contrary to an official policy and intention, a group, within a group, committed genocide, if you would conclude that the whole group did it, it would be wrong, and contrary to fundamental justice.

    In the case of IS for example , one may claim , that we deal with horrors indeed , yet , their advocate in court , would suggest , not genocide , why :

    Well , their policy ( of IS ) is to convert religion ( Islam , Sunit , see links ) so , a person is given a clear cruel chance :

    Converting or extermination. Is it the same like the jews and the holocaust for example ?? clearly not !! it is very complicated issue , not here .

    So , whatever , neither UN , nor the court , but : history , or subjective perception would define it . The Turkish for example , denied up to that current day , any Genocide or Armenians ever never ( see link ) .

    Links :

    Daesh converting yazidis :



    Turkey and Germany recognition of genocide :



  3. el roam says:

    Just to accomplish the dish of my comment above :

    As such , that doctrine of International justice Ambassador , is useless in this regard . And again , because we deal with judicial definitions , and individual responsibility . So , only true justice , just procedure , where both sides argumentations are heard , and , where judges define it and conclude it , is the right think . In that issue of IS , it is an extreme case ( and even so as proven ) but , in other cases , can be very excessive and dubious and unjust to define it or judge it without a court and well organized procedure .

    On the other hand , the rest , is left to history .


  4. el roam says:

    just correcting it , in my above first comment :

    should be : Genocide of Armenians of course , and not : ” Genocide or Armenians ” .


  5. The UNSC Resolution 2249 (2015) offers the following salient element that among all terrorist groups constituting a major challenge on a regional or a global scale, ISIS is singled out as a ‘global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security,’ a qualification so far no terrorist group has ever been awarded.

    Thus, being a “global and unprecedented” threat to international peace and security ISIS requires primary attention. It is not inconceivable that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group is still committing genocide and other crimes against the Yazidi minority in Iraq, as a statement by the United Nations commission investigating human rights abuses in Syria had stated on last Wednesday, 3rd. August 2016.


  6. Despite the colourful essence of Public International Law and its’ corpus of case scenarios, I find it utterly dumbfounding that despite the mass atrocities of Bosnia & Rwanda as mere examples, the international community finds itself restrained from assisting the innocent Yazidis from the horrendous atrocity crime of genocide that had befallen the Bosniaks/Bosnian Muslims and by the Hutus upon the Tutsis respectively.

    We are supposed to, in fact are required to prevent this crime of genocide (Bosnian Genocide Case) inter alia other crimes as our obligations to our fellow mankind, yet, we fail to understand the gravity of these crimes being perpetrated upon them that challenge their very existence in our shared world. Our Shared World!

    How many more mass graves do we need to uncover to account for such deliberate heinousness?

    John Kerry doesn’t need to convince the world that the Yazidis are facing the incredulous perils of the crime of genocide. Reading the Genocide Convention of 1948 simpliciter, any one will discern the merits of the Yazidis tragic circumstances.

    The predicament of many innocent victims and their families will definitely continue without the essentially effective planning of military actions by the UN Military Staff Committee in ensuring its revival from a long period of dormancy in the pursuit of individual criminal responsibility in the Joint-Criminal Enterprise (JCE) via prosecutions in an UN-sanctioned International Penal/Criminal Tribunal.

    It’s time the UN sets-up an International Penal Tribunal to Prosecute Constitutionally Responsible Rulers, Public Officials or Private Individuals pursuant to Arts. 4 & 6 of the Genocide Convention for the International Crime of Genocide of the Yazidis.

    Excerpts from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention 1948)

    Article 4 Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.
    Article 6 Persons charged with genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall be tried by a competent tribunal of the State in the territory of which the act was committed, or by such international penal tribunal as may have jurisdiction with respect to those Contracting Parties which shall have accepted its jurisdiction.



    The Islamist Terrorists have no respect whatsoever for one child’s right to life, what more for anyone’s right to property.

    The innocent children now remain distant memories upon a mural wall.

    The present depiction of such a tragedy validates the fight against this scourge of mankind, hostis humani generis, the enemy of all mankind, pursuant to UNSCR 1373 (2001) & 1566 (2004) to further eliminate impunity and make this world a better place for posterity.

    These are merely examples of my humble contributions in this courageous fight against Islamist Terrorism and the strong assertion of the need to punish these genocidal criminals :


  7. el roam says:

    Just to demonstrate, with an actual one, how time and history may confuse occurrences and perception of such genocides , here, this days , in Burundi, tense situation, referring back to Rwanda genocide, I quote from the UN report about the situation there, here, under the title of:

    ” UN adviser on preventing genocide deplores ‘inflammatory statements’ by senior Burundi official ”

    So it goes :

    ” On 16 August, Pascal Nyabenda, at that time the President of the ruling Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD) party and President of the National Assembly suggested that the genocide in Rwanda was a “fabrication of the international community” and that it was used to remove the Hutu government that was in place at the time.”

    End of quotation :

    Can one believe it ?? One may reach the article or report , here :



  8. el roam says:

    Mark , my comment , posted yesterday here , not yet appearing , here as follows , as a whole again :

    Just to demonstrate, with an actual one, how time and history may confuse occurrences and perception of such genocides , here, this days , in Burundi, tense situation, referring back to Rwanda genocide, I quote from the UN report about the situation there, here, under the title of:

    ” UN adviser on preventing genocide deplores ‘inflammatory statements’ by senior Burundi official ”

    So it goes :

    ” On 16 August, Pascal Nyabenda, at that time the President of the ruling Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD) party and President of the National Assembly suggested that the genocide in Rwanda was a “fabrication of the international community” and that it was used to remove the Hutu government that was in place at the time.”

    End of quotation :

    Can one believe it ?? One may reach the article or report , here :



  9. A Young Woman’s Plea : Nadia Basee Murad – A Victim of Injustice


    The captured photo-images of a young Yazidi Iraqi woman who survived repeated acts of gang-rape and systematic abuse as a captured sex slave of the Islamic State Group (ISIS) terrorists who became a UN goodwill ambassador for the dignity of survivors of human trafficking, who has been calling for justice for the victims of the terrorist group and even beseeched the international community that the 2014 attack on the Yazidis should be recognized as a genocide carry poignant images of her plight as a victim and in raising awareness of the predicament of victims of trafficking of persons, especially refugees, women and girls.

    Her selflessness in spearheading a campaign to push for accountability for atrocity crimes committed by ISIS before the United Nations Security Council reminds myself of the campaign for reclaiming justice led by Muhamed “Mo” Sacirbey for Bosnia & Herzegovina and his fellow Bosniaks.

    But unlike Mo, has Nadia’s pleas fallen upon deaf ears?

    The Commission of Inquiry on Syria’s report, titled “They Came to Destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis”, released on 16 June 2016, determined that ISIS has committed the crime of genocide, as well as multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes, against the Yazidis.

    Two years on, crimes committed by ISIS against the Yazidis, including genocide, are “ongoing,” with more than 3,200 women and children still held by the group and being subjected to almost-unimaginable violence, the Commission said.

    Till date, those responsible for these atrocity crimes have not been brought before any international penal/crimes tribunal to the ongoing detriment of the victims specifically and on the human race generally.

  10. The Yazidis Right Of Access To Justice

    Access to justice is an important element of the rule of law. It enables individuals to protect themselves against infringements of their rights, to remedy civil wrongs, to hold executive power accountable and to defend themselves in criminal proceedings.

    My position has always been that the right of access to justice must be considered as an imperative of jus cogens, failing which, must be tantamount to a “complete denial of justice”.

    This actually protects and preserves the rights of each & everyone pursuant to Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which unequivocally states that :

    “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.”

    And the said UDHR Article is enshrined in the 14th. Amendment in the US Constitution.


  11. Despite my hectic legal practice, I arduously read Mark Kersten’s Justice In Conflict for its indepth analyses and justice & solutions inspired theme.

    I’d like to bring forth India’s pursuit of a notorious individual who had on numerous times proclaimed the need and support for muslims to be terrorists and support for Osama Laden’s actions in terrorizing America, the proclaimed biggest terrorist. The very same individual had his organization outlawed/banned by the Indian Delhi High Court for criminal activities including the financing of an ISIS Terrorism Recruit, fleed from the lawful exercise of an issued non-bailable warrant of arrest and sought safe refuge in Malaysia whilst India is merely exercising its Chapter VII obligations under UNSCR 1373/2001, 2249/2015 etc.


    As reported by an ndtv.cvom news article dated November 22, 2016, the now-outlawed Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), an organization led by the very same individual found in Malaysia had awarded alleged ISIS recruit Abu Anas a Rs 80,000 scholarship last year, an Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe has revealed. IRF had paid Rs 80,000 to Abu Anas – a resident of Tonk in Rajasthan – who had been arrested in January this year in an ISIS-related case. The money had apparently been sent to him as a scholarship in October last year. As per the anti-terror agency, Mr Anas – who is presently held at Delhi’s Tihar Jail – was planning to go to Syria and fight for ISIS at the same time.

    It was reported by oneindia.com on November 25, 2016, that the former engineer who became an ISIS recruit was funded TWICE by the outlawed/banned organization. The Indian NIA while probing deeper had found another transaction of Rs 70,000 to the ISIS terrorism recruit Anas.

    This bone-chilling news was also reported in the deccanchronicle.com :

    The individual came under the scanner of Indian authorities after Bangladesh authorities accused him of making speeches that possibly inspired some of the terrorists who attacked a Dhaka cafe in July, killing 20 people.

    In this year, March 2017, the Indian Delhi High Court bench of Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva upheld the ban imposed on the individual’s NGO, Islamic Research Foundation (IRF).

    The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs in November 2016 declared the organization as an “unlawful association” under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

    It was reported on April 20, 2017 that the special NIA court in Mumbai on Thursday issued a non-bailable warrant against the controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, wanted by the agency for his alleged role in a terror case. The National Investigation Agency had registered a case against Naik under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act last year.

    It told the court that Naik didn’t appear before it even after three summonses were issued and it would need to take Interpol’s help to bring him back to India. “Issue NBW against Naik,” said Special Judge V V Patil.







Leave a Reply to Paul V Dudman Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s