Syrian Accountability Project Works to Document Ongoing Yazidi Genocide

(Re-published from The Daily Orange | Nov. 28, 2017) Since August 2014, the Islamic State group — also known as IS — has targeted the Yazidi community in the Middle East, primarily throughout Syria.

“After having met with the Syrian National Council in The Hague in March of 2011, I saw the need to create an NGO that would build a case against not only President Bashar al-Assad and his henchmen but all groups involved in the Syrian Civil War.”

Yazidi men are murdered by the thousands and women are sold into sex slavery by the militants, according to the Syrian Accountability Project. Yazidi people are a Kurdish-speaking religious minority.

The Syrian Accountability Project — established in 2011 at the Syracuse University College of Law — documents war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the Syrian crisis.

The Daily Orange spoke with David Crane, an SU College of Law professor of practice and the founding chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and Joseph Railey, executive director of SAP, to discuss the ongoing Yazidi genocide.

The Daily Orange: What inspired you to become the project leader of SAP?

David Crane: After having met with the Syrian National Council in The Hague in March of 2011, I saw the need to create an NGO that would build a case against not only President Bashar al-Assad and his henchmen but all groups involved in the Syrian civil war.

Using techniques that I used in Sierra Leone as chief prosecutor for the international war crimes tribunal in West Africa — called the Special Court for Sierra Leone — I started building a case against all warring parties for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It will be seven years in March 2018. The Syrian Accountability Project is the oldest NGO working on the conflict — staffed by Syracuse College of Law students who are building a conflict map, a crime base matrix and other ancillary documents for our clients: the U.N., the International Criminal Court and various governments.

The D.O.: What are the SAP’s goals — in the short- and long-run?

Joseph Railey: Our primary goal is to hold actors accountable for the crimes they have committed in Syria since the start of the conflict. We are working to prepare data to assist in prosecution efforts in the International Criminal Court, different nations’ domestic courts and eventually a U.N.-sanctioned tribunal in Syria.

The D.O.: Why isn’t the Yazidi genocide more prevalent in popular news media?

D.C.: Like any situation that involves atrocity, the new media in the U.S. generally refrain from covering these crimes due to cost and lack of interest by the American consumer.

J.R.: To some degree in 2014, when the genocide started, it was. However, I think the reason why it really isn’t all that heavily reported is the fact that the genocide is very heavy stuff to talk about, and when the media discusses ISIS, there are generally other angles that they take.

Unfortunately, I feel like it is hard to get Western media consumers to really empathize with the horrific violence that the Yazidi people have faced.   

The D.O.: Can you describe some of the acts of genocide inflicted upon the Yazidi community?

J.R.: ISIS committed genocide through systemic rape, forced marriages — in the Yazidi religion, if a woman marries someone who is not Yazidi, she is no longer a member of the community — forced abortions to prevent Yazidi children to be born, murder and kidnapping.

Many Yazidi women have also been sold into sex slavery via markets in Mosul, Raqqa and other places throughout the region. In our view, all of the events when taken together demonstrate genocide …

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