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Museum Releases Groundbreaking Report on Threats to Minorities in Iraq

Report Reveals Crimes against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing Perpetrated against Religious Minorities in Northern Iraq; Yezidis Targeted for Genocide
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Washington, DC—The self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) perpetrated crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing against religious minority communities across northern Iraq between June and August 2014. As part of its deliberate campaign of terror, IS singled out Yezidi populations for genocide and continues to perpetrate genocide against Yezidis trapped under IS control, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Museum issued a report today by its Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, detailing the full range of crimes committed against Yezidis, Christians, Turkmen, Shabak, and other minority groups. This is the first such declaration by the Museum since 2004, when it declared a genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. 

“The self-proclaimed Islamic State is carrying out a widespread, systematic, and deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity against religious minorities in Iraq solely because of their religious beliefs,” said Museum Chairman Tom Bernstein. “We have a moral responsibility not just to bear witness to these crimes but to act to prevent them.”

The report, “'Our Generation Is Gone': The Islamic State's Targeting of Iraqi Minorities in Ninewa,” is based on research and oral testimony collected by staff of the Simon-Skjodt Center during a Bearing Witness trip to northern Iraq in September 2015. Displaced Iraqis who fled the Islamic State in June–August 2014 shared in dozens of personal interviews harrowing accounts of displacement, forced conversion, rape, torture, kidnapping, and murder. A collection of testimonies and photographs from the trip is made available on the Museum's website.

In just three months in the summer of 2014, more than 800,000 people from millennia-old communities were forced from their homes by IS. In a deliberate campaign, the Islamic State kidnapped thousands of women and children and killed hundreds, likely thousands, of ethnic and religious minorities. IS destroyed shrines, temples, and churches. Today, virtually no members of the targeted communities remain in Ninewa province.  

“Rarely have the consequences of mass atrocities and of acts of terrorism like those the Islamic State commits been so closely aligned. Preventing genocide and mass atrocities has been declared a core national security interest of the United States. That belief must animate our collective response to this crisis going forward,” said Michael Chertoff, chairman of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience.  

The Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center report contends that there were early warning signs of potential genocide in Iraq that went unnoticed or misdiagnosed by the international community and local authorities. The displaced people of Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance and physical protection. As they contemplate an attempt to return home and coalition forces work to liberate captured lands, the risks to these affected communities will become more acute. This will require a sustained commitment to protecting these groups.

About the Museum

A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Its far-reaching educational programs and global impact are made possible by generous donors.

About the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide

The Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide works to make the prevention of genocide a core priority for leaders and academics around the world through its multipronged program of research, education, and public outreach. Its groundbreaking Early Warning Project is one of many ways the Simon-Skjodt Center works to carry out the mandate of the Museum-sponsored Genocide Prevention Task Force by equipping decision makers, including officials in the United States as well as other governments, with the knowledge, tools and institutional support required to prevent—or, if necessary, halt—genocide and related crimes against humanity. 

Photographs were taken by award-winning photojournalist Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin and can be viewed in the report.