Research Article: Mortality and kidnapping estimates for the Yazidi population in the area of Mount Sinjar, Iraq, in August 2014: A retrospective household survey

Date Published: May 9, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Valeria Cetorelli, Isaac Sasson, Nazar Shabila, Gilbert Burnham, Alexander C. Tsai

Abstract: BackgroundIn August 2014, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacked the Yazidi religious minority living in the area of Mount Sinjar in Nineveh governorate, Iraq. We conducted a retrospective household survey to estimate the number and demographic profile of Yazidis killed and kidnapped.Methods and findingsThe survey covered the displaced Yazidi population from Sinjar residing in camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Fieldwork took place between 4 November and 25 December, 2015. A systematic random sample of 1,300 in-camp households were interviewed about the current household composition and any killings and kidnappings of household members by ISIS. Of the 1,300 interviewed households, 988 were Yazidi from Sinjar. Yazidi households contained 6,572 living residents at the time of the survey; 43 killings and 83 kidnappings of household members were reported. We calculated the probability of being killed and kidnapped by dividing the number of reported killings and kidnappings by the number of sampled Yazidis at risk, adjusting for sampling design. To obtain the overall toll of killings and kidnappings, those probabilities were multiplied by the total Yazidi population living in Sinjar at the time of the ISIS attack, estimated at roughly 400,000 by the United Nations and Kurdish officials. The demographic profile of those killed and kidnapped was examined, distinguishing between children and adults and females and males. We estimated that 2.5% of the Yazidi population was either killed or kidnapped over the course of a few days in August 2014, amounting to 9,900 (95% CI 7,000–13,900) people in total. An estimated 3,100 (95% CI 2,100–4,400) Yazidis were killed, with nearly half of them executed—either shot, beheaded, or burned alive—while the rest died on Mount Sinjar from starvation, dehydration, or injuries during the ISIS siege. The estimated number kidnapped is 6,800 (95% CI 4,200–10,800). Escapees recounted the abuses they had suffered, including forced religious conversion, torture, and sex slavery. Over one-third of those reported kidnapped were still missing at the time of the survey. All Yazidis were targeted regardless of age and sex, but children were disproportionately affected. They were as likely as adults to be executed but constituted 93.0% (95% CI 71.9–98.6) of those who died on Mount Sinjar. Moreover, children only accounted for 18.8% (95% CI 8.4–36.9) of those who managed to escape captivity. A sensitivity analysis suggests that the actual toll of killings and kidnappings may be underestimated in our data because of survival bias. The uncertainty associated with inference from a small sample of in-camp households and the reliance on a rough figure of 400,000 for extrapolation to the total Yazidi population of Sinjar at the time of the ISIS attack are the main limitations of this study.ConclusionsConsistent with other existing evidence, our data provide a clear indication of the severity of the ISIS attack against the Yazidis in terms of both the number and demographic profile of those targeted.

Partial Text: During the summer of 2014, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) subjugated Nineveh governorate in Northern Iraq. Nineveh has historically been home to most of Iraq’s minority groups, including Yazidis, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, Sabaean-Mandaeans, Turkmen, Shabak, and Kaka’i. These minorities were systematically targeted by ISIS in its violent campaign to “purify” the region from non-Islamic influences [1]. Yazidis, whom ISIS militants consider “devil worshippers,” were singled out for particularly brutal treatment [2].

The Yazidi religious minority of Sinjar was devastated by the ISIS attack of August 2014. We estimate that 2.5% of the Yazidi population was either killed or kidnapped over the course of just a few days. Other minority groups in Nineveh governorate were also attacked on the basis of their religious identities and forced to flee their homes, but the scale of killings and kidnappings was not as high [2,3]. The Yazidis have long faced discrimination in Iraq and in recent years have experienced increasing persecution by Sunni extremists. In 2007, two Yazidi villages were completely destroyed in the single most devastating Islamist terror attack since the beginning of sectarian conflict in the country [5].

On the occasion of the second anniversary of the August 2014 attack, the United Nations Human Rights Council has declared that the ISIS violence against Yazidis constitutes a case of ongoing genocide, calling for a refocus of attention on the rescue, protection, and care of the Yazidi community and recommending the Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court or an ad hoc tribunal with relevant geographical and temporal jurisdiction [33]. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide 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: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” [34]. A United Nations Commission of Inquiry has recently determined that “ISIS has committed, and is committing, the prohibited acts with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the Yazidis of Sinjar” [3]. Population-based estimates from our survey confirm the severity of the ISIS attack against the Yazidis. Combined with other existing evidence, these estimates can contribute to documenting the full scale of violations and holding perpetrators accountable for their actions.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.