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By Olivia Ward, Toronto Star

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion called the motion ‘crass politics’ as it was defeated 166-139

A Yazidi woman from the Sinjar district of Iraq holds her child after arriving by boat from the Turkish coast on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Nov. 26, 2015. (SERGEY PONOMAREV / THE NEW YORK TIMES)

A Yazidi woman from the Sinjar district of Iraq holds her child after arriving by boat from the Turkish coast on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Nov. 26, 2015. (SERGEY PONOMAREV / THE NEW YORK TIMES)

When Daesh attacked their homeland in Iraq’s Sinjar region in August 2014, thousands of Yazidi women and girls were kidnapped, beaten, raped, tortured and sold as sex slaves. Many of their male relatives were killed.

The terrorist group — also known as ISIS and ISIL — boasts of its conquests on its website, Dabiq. It calls the Yazidis, who belong to a small ancient religious sect, apostates who should be exterminated if they refuse to convert to their extreme version of Islam. Earlier this month they reportedly burned 19 Yazidi women alive in a cage for refusing sex with their fighters.

Tuesday in Ottawa, Liberal MPs defeated a Conservative parliamentary motion to recognize the assault on the Yazidis and other minorities as genocide, by 166-139. It was supported by the NDP and Bloc Québécois, and three Liberals broke ranks to vote for it.

The motion, tabled by interim Tory leader Rona Ambrose, called for the atrocities targeting Yazidis, Christians, Shia Muslims and other ethnic and religious groups — as well as gays and lesbians — to be defined as genocide.

“We are very disappointed with this new government, and we can only think that they are not interested in minorities,” said Mirza Ismail, a Yazidi activist who lobbies for recognition of genocide, and for aid to the surviving Yazidis, who are living in miserable conditions in Kurdistan. They include hundreds of girls and women who escaped or were smuggled out of captivity.

“Every MP must have seen videos and reports of what has happened to the Yazidis,” said Ismail. “The terrorists make no secret of it. But we have had no response from the Liberals.” Efforts to get the government’s approval for acceptance of Daesh survivors as refugees have so far failed, he added. Nor has Immigration Minister John McCallum met with Yazidi advocates.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion has dismissed the genocide motion as “crass politics,” and said in an earlier debate that “however revolted we may be by the massacre, that is not sufficient to call them genocide.”

But in a strongly-worded letter to the UN Security Council he called for the international community to “take steps to ensure the accountability of members of ISIL for the atrocious crimes perpetrated” against the victims.

Dion urged the council to set up an investigation of reported human rights violations by the terrorist group “to determine whether (they) constitute acts of genocide or other serious international crimes,” and to take action including a possible referral to the International Criminal Court.

A UN referral would need support from the five veto-bearing permanent council members, some of whom have blocked referrals to the court in the past. Even if the case did get to the court, there would be a lengthy investigation and it has no force for arresting those suspected of heinous crimes.

UN human rights investigators have accused Daesh of genocide, saying its aim was to “destroy the Yazidis as a group.” The U.S. Congress, British House of Commons and European Parliament have also recognized the attacks as genocide.

Last week high-profile international lawyer Amal Clooney agreed to represent Yazidi survivors of Daesh atrocities, including Nadia Murad, a kidnap victim nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

“We know that thousands of Yazidi women have been enslaved by a terrorist organization, (Daesh) that has publicly proclaimed its genocidal intent,” Clooney said in a statement, adding that she would press for accountability “in the dock in The Hague.”

But Payam Akhavan, a McGill law professor and former UN prosecutor at The Hague, said that the question of whether the “extermination and enslavement of the Yazidi” qualifies as possible genocide is “not news.” The question is, will it change anything for the survivors who are sitting in the refugee camps traumatized and despondent?

“I would prefer that Canada does something meaningful for them; something that will make a difference.” The immediate needs, he said, are exhumation of mass graves and therapy for the survivors.

Akhavan is working with the Kurdistan government to set up a truth commission for the Yazidi survivors, and is helping to collect their testimonies, asking what they most need to achieve justice. “Everybody condemns Daesh and feels sorry for the victims,” he says. “But nobody listens to their voices.”


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