A question of executed intent

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has established that the terror group ISIS tried to destroy the Yazidi as a religious group, and has accordingly identified the Yazidi as victims of genocide​.

Under international law, “genocide” refers to violent crimes committed against a group with the intent to destroy it based on, for instance, its religious or ethnic identity. This intent to destroy such a group differentiates genocide from other crimes, such as crimes against humanity, which refers to widespread or systematic attacks against civilians.

What is”genocide”? Interview with professor William A Schabas

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention) was adopted in 1948 in response to the Holocaust, and aimed to prevent such atrocities from happening again. It defines genocide as an international crime, which signatory nations “undertake to prevent and punish”. More specifically, genocide is defined as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Despite the focus on targeted groups, the main aim of the Genocide Convention is to protect the human rights of individuals. The aims and implementation of the Genocide Convention must therefore be seen in combination with the UN human rights conventions.

Gender-based violence is central to genocide as a strategy to destroy a group. On December 7th 2018, the Global Justice Center launched the first in-depth legal analysis of the role of gender in genocide. Read the full report here.

The Genocide Convention establishes a duty on states to take steps to protect against and prevent such atrocities. The United Nations has a special office for this purpose: The United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect.

Related resources
External resources

Here are a few selected recent reports and films addressing issues related to the Yazidi case. In the case and topic sections you will find links to other relevant external resources.