By Patrick Wintour
Yazidi Justice Committee has been working privately for more than two years to show states failed to protect minority group
An aerial view of mourners carrying coffins during a funeral for Yazidis found in a mass grave in the village of Kojo, northern Iraq, last December. Photograph: Zaid Al-Obeidi/AFP/Getty Images
A group of high-level British lawyers have been working privately on compiling evidence to show that one or more countries failed in their international obligations to prevent genocide against the Yazidis in northern Iraq.
The lawyers, who formally announced their collaboration as the Yazidi Justice Committee (YJC) on Tuesday, have been working over the past two and a half years to investigate the genocide committed from early 2013 by Islamic State.
The group includes five international human rights organisations and is chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, formerly a lead prosecutor at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Its lead patrons are the peers Helena Kennedy QC and David Alton.
The YJC is expected to name three countries in a report next month when the work is complete.
It would be one of the first times that states have faced the risk of proceedings being instituted against them for failing to prevent genocide, and could open up a new form of human rights accountability.
The YJC lawyers, working pro bono, have examined evidence that as many as 10 countries could be deemed responsible for the failure to prevent genocide under the UN’s Genocide Convention, and could be brought before a court of law. The aim is to bring those states before the international court of justice (ICJ), a step that would require another country to take action. If the case was successful, the respondent states might be required to pay reparations to the victims of genocide.
Under article 1 of the 73-year-old convention, states have a responsibility to prevent, prosecute and punish the crime of genocide.
There has been virtually no accountability for the Yazidi genocide except for a prosecution in Germany last November of a single Islamic State fighter who was found guilty of genocide over the death of a five-year-old Yazidi girl he bought as a slave in 2015.
The Frankfurt trial was based on the principle of universal jurisdiction to address crimes under international law that were committed abroad by a perpetrator who is not a German citizen and who was only extradited to Germany on the basis of an international arrest warrant.
The YJC says there is evidence the genocide is still taking place, and that Yazidis remain in an extremely precarious position in Iraq and Syria largely as a result of the recent resurgence of Islamic State, Turkish drone strikes and an overall sense of neglect by the Iraqis.
It is widely acknowledged that more than 5,000 Yazidis have been killed and more than 400,000 displaced from their homes. To date, at least 2,800 Yazidi women and children are still being held captive by Islamic State or remain missing.
Aarif Abraham, an international human rights barrister and co-founder of the YJC, said the report would be the first to consider the issue of state responsibility in relation to the Yazidi genocide. He said: “It will serve to put states on notice of their binding obligations to prevent genocide through using all means reasonably available.”
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