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One Year Later: The Attack on Mount Sinjar


August 3, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) this week solemnly marks the one-year anniversary of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant's (ISIL) attacks in the Sinjar and Tal Afar districts of northern Iraq’s Ninewa Province and their horrific outcomes.  During these attacks, ISIL targeted Yazidis and other religious communities: more than 500 Yazidi men were slaughtered; hundreds more men, women, and children were captured; women and girls were sold into slavery; and at least 200,000 civilians, most of them Yazidis, were forced to flee for their lives. For months, Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar faced imminent death either at the hands of ISIL or through starvation. 

ISIL has unleashed untold misery and suffering on defenseless religious and ethnic communities, while destroying treasured religious and historical sites in both Iraq and Syria,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George. “Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and others are all at risk.  Due to ISIL’s reign of terror, millions of people from Iraq and Syria have been forced to flee and now are refugees or internally displaced.

In response to these depredations, USCIRF recommended in its 2015 Annual Report that the U.S. government call for or support a referral by the UN Security Council to the International Criminal Court to investigate ISIL violations in Iraq and Syria against religious and ethnic minorities. USCIRF’s report also found that the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and the Iraqi government under former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, by exacerbating sectarian tensions that long have existed in these countries, fueled the conditions that allowed ISIL to rise, spread, and ultimately control significant areas of northern and central Iraq and Syria.

The humanitarian crisis that now engulfs Syria, Iraq, and the neighboring countries that are hosting millions of refugees demands a more robust, multifaceted and strategic response,” said George. “The duration of the conflict and the millions of refugees in neighboring countries are causing sectarian tensions and increasing the risk of violence and instability.

USCIRF’s 2015 Annual Report provides several recommendations to the U.S. government relevant to the global displacement crisis, including:  raising the annual U.S. refugee resettlement ceiling from 70,000 to at least 100,000; allocating sufficient resources to the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies to process applications and conduct security background checks expeditiously; and provide refugee host countries more aid to assist them in managing the burdens on their countries.

For more information, see the introductory chapter in USCIRF’s 2015 Annual Report as well as the Iraq and Syria chapters.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov or 202-786-0613.