ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert on Thursday called for swift action from both the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to restore stability in the war-torn city of Sinjar (Shingal).
The comments come on the fifth anniversary of when the Islamic State overtook the Yezidi (Ezidi) city of Shingal and its genocide against the religious minority began.
“In memory of all victims and their loved ones, I would like to say to all those feeling challenged, including the authorities here in Baghdad as well as in Erbil: please, set aside your differences or partisan interests. And please, place - without any further delay - the needs of the people first.”
“It is our shared responsibility to memorialize the horrific and grave violations that may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Yet this sacred memory must not be static: the most powerful form of remembrance is the one that compels us to act.”
She said that that now, long after the liberation of Shingal, the Ezidi homeland remains rife with instability and unacceptable living conditions.
Almost four years have passed since the 2015 liberation of Shingal by various Kurdish forces supported by the US-led coalition. Since late 2017, it has been under the control of Iraqi forces and Hashd al-Shaabi (PMF) militias.
In May, Hennis-Plasschaert visited Shingal herself and called for unified control of Shingal. Thursday’s announcement included news that she will soon return to meet with Ezidi survivors, to show solidarity, and to follow up on efforts to restore normality to the area.
Much of the city remains uninhabitable rubble and very few of its former residents have returned to their homes.
Also on Thursday, the Kurdistan Parliament voted to officially designate Aug. 3 as Ezidi Genocide Remembrance Day.
“As we pay our tributes and honor the past,” Hennis-Plasschaert added, “we must also look towards the future and thus take decisive action. Decisive action to facilitate and accelerate the reconstruction of affected areas, enabling the safe return of the people, as a very first priority to cope with deep tragedy.”
Pari Ibrahim, Founder and Executive Director of the Free Yezidi Foundation, told Kurdistan 24, that her organization is “concerned that officials, governments, and UN and others are focusing on physical return to Shingal.”
“Everything they say is true, but what do we say to Yezidis in the meantime who have been in camps for five years? Services are being reduced and they are in great need. Focus must be on healing and education as much as bricks and roads,” she said.
In a statement, the Free Yezidi Foundation also said that Shingal is still not safe, warning, “Now, five years since the ISIS attacks, security is a primary barrier for return.”
On July 24, the Kurdistan Region’s Peshmerga and an Ezidi fighting unit clashed with Islamic State members in Shingal district, killing four, while two others detonated their suicide vests.
Moreover, on June 12, the extremist group carried out out a previous attack in the city against the Shingal Resistance Units (YBS), an armed group affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Ibrahim added, “The resurgence of ISIS is an ongoing, existential threat to Yezidis. It is important to bear in mind that Yezidi IDPs remain in tents primarily because it is not safe for them to go home.”
Members of the Ezidi religious minority were subjected to extreme brutality at the hands of the Islamic State after its militants entered Shingal in August 2014, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.
Others, unable to leave, remained stranded in the war zone and faced atrocities and mass executions at the hands of the extremist group for years.
Its fighters subjected women and girls to sexual slavery, kidnapped children, forced religious conversions, executed scores of men, and abused, sold, and trafficked females across multiple areas they controlled in both Iraq and Syria.
Editing by John J. Catherine