On Thursday the UN Security Council unanimously agreed to set up an investigation to collect evidence of crimes against humanity and possible genocide committed by Islamic State (IS) in Iraq. Crucially, the Security Council resolution (2379) includes crimes “motivated by religious or ethnic grounds.” Whilst it does not specifically name any ethnic or religious group, it has been widely recognised that Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims have been specifically targeted, with US Secretary of State John Kerry last year specifically referring to this as “genocide.”
Whilst the investigation is limited to the actions of IS in Iraq, it is nonetheless enormously significant, not least because it allows investigators to collect evidence of crimes against humanity and genocide committed against members of any religious or ethnic group.
It had been feared that Russia and China would veto any such resolution in case it led to other resolutions scrutinising their own human rights record. It is therefore a major feat of diplomacy that this resolution has been passed unanimously. Agreement appears to have been reached on the basis that the evidence collected would be used to try those responsible under international law, but in the Iraqi national courts, rather than the International Criminal Court (ICC).
This resolution has been a long time coming and no one should doubt the difficulties that have had to be overcome to reach this point. When Barnabas Fund met with the Foreign Office minister in February we presented her with a list of possible options for achieving a genocide investigation and asked if the UK government had a preferred option; the response was that the UK was trying all options! We had ourselves some months earlier written to the ICC’s chief prosecutor asking her to consider initiating a proprio motu investigation of crimes against humanity and possible genocide committed against Christians in Iraq and Syria.
We therefore warmly welcome the passing of this resolution. However, this is just the start. Evidence must now be gathered and justice achieved for the victims of IS in Iraq. But let us remember that it is not just in Iraq but also in Syria and the broader region where IS have specifically targeted Christians. Nor is it just IS’s victims, but also victims of other jihadists that we must continue to seek justice for.