Terrorism

Iraq seeks answers on fate of missing Yazidis

By Khalid al-Taie

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An Iraqi medic takes a blood sample from a Yazidi girl as part of a government effort to reveal the fate of missing Yazidis. [Photo courtesy of the Iraqi Directorate for the Affairs and Protection of Mass Graves]

The Iraqi government has been compiling a database of all Yazidis who remain unaccounted for following the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) incursion into Sinjar four years ago.

A government team began working with local officials on September 4th to collect personal information and blood samples from the families of Yazidis who are still listed as missing.

The team, which includes several experts in forensic medicine, has so far compiled a database of more than 600 missing Yazidis.

The compilation of the database comes ahead of a larger effort, to open the many mass graves ISIS left behind in Sinjar and nearby areas.

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Families of missing Yazidis visit a data collection centre in Iraq's Sinjar district. [Photo courtesy of the Iraqi Institute of Martyrs]

The database includes the names and ages of missing persons as well as the dates they went missing, Independent High Commission for Human Rights spokesman Ali al-Bayati told Diyaruna.

It also includes blood samples from the relatives of the missing persons that can be used to conduct DNA tests that will help to identify the remains of victims found in mass graves, he said.

Hopes and fears

"There is a large number of missing Yazidis whose fate is unknown," al-Bayati said.

Local sources believe some members of the minority group who are still missing are still alive, and that ISIS has been holding them captive in Syria.

These assumptions have been given credence with the rescue in September of of eight Yazidi women and children from ISIS after four years of imprisonment.

While there is cause for some hope, there are realistic fears that many Yazidis were killed by the group and buried in mass graves.

More than 200 mass graves containing the remains of up to 12,000 victims have been found so far in Iraq that could hold vital evidence of war crimes committed by ISIS, the UN said Tuesday (November 6th).

Among them are 70 mass graves in Sinjar and nearby areas which are believed to contain the bodies of Yazidi victims, al-Bayati said.

Most of these mass graves have not yet been exhumed, since this would require "massive and precise technical effort", he said, adding that serious efforts are now under way to exhume all these grave-sites.

"Putting together the database is a preliminary step in this direction, and will help reveal the fate of many missing persons," al-Bayati said.

The Independent High Commission for Human Rights is charged with monitoring government efforts in this regard, he said.

"We have a monitor in each of the relevant federal and local teams and committees to document terrorism crimes and bring justice to the victims, and we are determined to carry out all the tasks as requested," he added.

A promising step

As of October 10th, 3,086 Yazidis, including 1,429 women and 1,657 men, were still missing, said Khairi Bouzani, general director for Yazidi affairs in the Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs.

"Following the occupation of Sinjar, ISIS abducted a total of 6,417 Yazidi men, women and children, according to official statistics," he told Diyaruna.

So far, 3,331 abductees have been freed, he said, among them 1,159 women, 337 men and 1,835 children under the age of 14.

Bouzani said he is committed to undertaking any procedure that will help shed light on the fate of these missing persons.

"The families of the victims want the authorities to find out what happened to their loved ones and put an end to their suffering," he said.

Sinjar mayor Mahma Khalil told Diyaruna the compilation of the database of missing Yazidis is a promising step that will help bring answers to the families.

"We appreciate this effort," he said. "We have to do everything we can to stand by these families, as a long time has gone by without them precisely knowing what has befallen their loved ones."

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