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Museum Statement on Crimes against Humanity in Iraq

Press Contacts

WASHINGTON, DC—The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum today condemned the ongoing crimes against humanity being committed against religious minorities—including both Christians and Muslims—by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) across large portions of northern Iraq. Of greatest immediate concern is the fate of up to 50,000 Yazidi civilians estimated by the UN to be under siege on Mount Sinjar in Iraq without food or water since August 3 and who face likely slaughter should they attempt to flee. Scores have reportedly already died from thirst and starvation; most victims have been children.

“The Museum calls upon all parties to the conflict in Iraq and upon the international community to take immediate action to protect the Yazidi civilians who are facing imminent death,” said Tom Bernstein, the Museum’s chairman. “Intentionally targeting a religious group for destruction constitutes genocide. The world must act now to prevent this crime.”

The majority of the approximately half million Yazidis live in Iraq, concentrated in the areas of Sinjar and Shakhan. Since August 3, IS has reportedly summarily executed hundreds of Yazidis and abducted and enslaved scores of Yazidi women. In that time, some 50,000 Yazidi civilians have fled Sinjar to the nearby mountains, where they remain surrounded by IS forces.

“Widespread, systematic attacks against civilians targeted for their religious affiliation are crimes against humanity and represent a clear early warning sign of genocide,” said Michael Chertoff, chairman of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience. “The Iraqi government has a responsibility to protect all Iraqis from such crimes, and the international community should act to ensure that this responsibility is fulfilled.”

Beyond the immediate threat to the Yazidi minority, IS—following a string of victories since June—has subjected Iraqi civilians who do not adhere to its particular strain of extremist Sunni Islam to persecution, abduction, ethnic cleansing, and widespread massacres. In July, the 1,700-year-old Christian community of Mosul fled the city after IS demanded its members immediately convert, pay a tax, leave, or be slaughtered. That community remains under serious and imminent threat. IS has also summarily executed members of groups it considers apostate; these groups, including Shi’a Muslims, Shabaks, Turkmen, and the Yazidis, remain under constant siege. According to the UN, more than one million Iraqis have been displaced by the conflict since June, most of them members of religious minorities.

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. For more information, visit