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Supreme Court of the United States

Justice for the Victims of Genocide – What Are We Still Waiting For?

October 17, 2017

By: Ewelina Ochab
Legal Counsel for ADF International and international expert on the issue of genocide

Two years ago, in August 2014, ISIS massacred thousands of Yazidis in Sinjar, Iraq. In just one day, thousands were killed or abducted; tens of thousands were forced to flee.

Just recently Amal Clooney drew the UN General Assembly’s attention to this tragic anniversary.

Reportedly, more than 3,200 Yazidi women and children have been held in captivity since. This statistic is yet another reminder that two years after ISIS unleashed its genocidal campaign against Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities, the terrorist group has not been stopped and continues to commit atrocities in the Middle East and beyond. 

While military and humanitarian actions have been deployed and are ongoing, the question of impunity remains. As time goes by, it becomes worryingly clear that neither the UN Security Council nor the International Criminal Court seem to be willing to take necessary steps and bring the perpetrators of genocide to justice.

This is not a minor issue. The victims of genocide deserve for their plight to be taken seriously and their torturers prosecuted. No one should be allowed to return to their “normal” lives after attempting to extinguish an entire culture.

Since 2014 the situation has worsened dramatically. Despite recent set-backs, ISIS has established its so-called caliphate in many regions of Syria and Iraq. The death toll and the humanitarian crisis have reached unprecedented levels. In response, the US, the UK, the Russian Federation, and others have deployed military intervention.

ISIS is an influential international terrorist group: from Belgium to France, from Iraq to Syria, from Libya to Egypt. It is one of the most severe threats to international peace and security in the 21st century—a threat that requires action by the UN Security Council.

The surest method we currently have for bringing justice to the victims of genocide in the Middle East is a resolution from the UN Security Council, targeting ISIS exclusively.

Unfortunately, the Security Council Report’s July 2016 update on the situation in Iraq indicated that some Council members feel that “such a selective approach” could set a “highly problematic” precedent. The update did not, however, specify what exactly was so “highly problematic” about condemning ISIS atrocities as genocide.

In the absence of a referral of ISIS to the International Criminal Court, the creation of an international criminal tribunal for international terrorism may be another solution.

The tribunal could be established as a subsidiary body to the UN Security Council and have a mandate to respond to atrocities committed by terrorist networks. The statute establishing the tribunal could define international terrorism and the crimes falling within its jurisdiction.

ISIS is not the only non-State actor that could be prosecuted by such a mechanism. The new mechanism could be used to investigate and prosecute all non-State actors perpetrating genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Such a mechanism may be the much-needed response to increasing international terrorism.

Recent years have witnessed the emergence of powerful terrorist groups, notably ISIS in the Middle East, and Boko Haram in West Africa. Despite various steps taken to combat them, these terrorist groups continue unabated by any effective deterrence or punishment.

Such a tribunal could address jurisdictional deficiencies that currently allow terrorist organisations like ISIS to be shielded by outdated legal definitions and to elude accountability for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.


No person or group should live in fear of being killed, tortured, or oppressed because of their religious beliefs.


To learn more about the work that ADF International is doing to stop genocide in the Middle East, visit

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