Ambassador Tueller Speaks at Seventh Annual Commemoration of the Yezidi Genocide

In an event hosted by Yazda and the Zovighian Partnership in honor of the seventh annual commemoration of the Yezidi Genocide, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller noted that “the brutality against the Yezidi community by ISIS represents a dark chapter in humanity’s shared history and must never be forgotten.”  The United States is committed to supporting the Yezedi community, and the United States Congress voted unanimously to recognize the crimes against the Yezidi community as genocide in 2016.  To date, the U.S. government has provided more than $470 million to support religious and ethnic pluralism in Iraq.

Full remarks below:

“Thank you very much for inviting me to participate in this solemn occasion of remembrance in honor of the seventh anniversary of the Yezidi genocide at the hands of ISIS.  The brutality against the Yezidi community by ISIS represents a dark chapter in humanity’s shared history and must never be forgotten.

The ISIS occupation of Sinjar resulted in heinous crimes of a profound nature.  Yezidis fled their homes to escape the targeted campaign of killings, rapes, abductions, and enslavement.  Many remain displaced today.  Still others have permanently left Iraq.  The scars of that experience are borne by Yezidis around the world.

Da’esh tried to tear apart the very fabric of Iraq’s society through a campaign of hate and a culture of intolerance.  But in its failure, there is hope.  Today, Iraq has the opportunity to embark on a new path, one that leads to peace, stability, and prosperity for all of Iraq’s diverse components.  Yezidis are leading the way, working hand in hand with Sunnis, Shia, Kurds, Turkmen, Shabak, Christians, and all of Iraq’s communities to rebuild.  By doing so, Iraq can serve as an example of tolerance for the rest of the region.

So while today we remember the lives lost and the victims and their suffering, we also honor the strength, resilience, and determination of the Yezidi people.

The Yezidi homeland is a sacred place in the hearts of Yezidis wherever they reside.  Over the past year thousands of Yezidi families have returned to Sinjar, finally coming home after years of displacement and exile.  The United States will continue to support these families, and those who follow them, to find durable solutions to facilitate the return of the Yezidi people to their ancestral homes and to heal from these wounds.

Our support to your community is long-term and unwavering.  As you know, in 2016, the United States Congress voted unanimously to recognize the crimes against your community as a genocide.  We are humbled by survivors who continue to come forward and brave potential marginalization to tell their stories of courage… stories the world must absorb to ensure that this genocide and suffering are never repeated.

Iraq has taken an important step in hearing those stories and addressing that suffering by passing the Yezidi Survivors Law.  Implementing the Law through the new Survivors Affairs Directorate will be integral to the healing process for Yezidis and all of Iraq’s components.  I am honored to participate in this event with Survivors Affairs Director General Sarab Barakat and we will continue to support and advocate for the Government of Iraq to robustly fund and staff the directorate’s important mission.

The women of the Yezidi community deserve special mention.  The isolation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many of the issues you have been facing for years.  I’m proud to announce that the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) has increased its programming efforts to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and address its effects on survivors’ mental health and overall well-being.

To date, the U.S. government has provided more than $470 million to support religious and ethnic pluralism in Iraq and to heal and restore these communities.  The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) continues to support the Sinjar General Hospital so that it can expand its services, as well as the rehabilitation of key irrigation wells, the provision of psychosocial support to victims of ISIS, and the preservation of Yezidis’ rich cultural heritage, including your unique oral tradition.

Housing, security, and livelihoods are other key issues for Yezidi IDPs and returnees and the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) is providing job counseling, vocational training, apprenticeship, and other employment services to vulnerable populations in Sinjar.  Alongside these efforts, DRL has also supported UN Habitat to map and register property claims for over 7,600 Yezidi returnees.  We are working with the Government of Iraq to transition these Occupancy Certificates to full Land Ownership Titles, acknowledging the rights the community has to its land and property.  And we continue our rehabilitation of schools in Sinuni to help students who have missed years of education due to conflict and COVID-19, because the future of the Yezidi community depends on the next generation.

The full renewal of civic life in Sinjar can only be achieved through justice and accountability.  The return of remains to Kocho village earlier this year was a symbolic step in this direction.  To that end, we are supporting the Ministry of Health’s Medico-Legal Directorate and the Martyrs’ Foundation, in partnership with technical assistance provided by the International Committee on Missing Persons and the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh (UNITAD) to deliver justice to communities impacted by Da’esh brutality.  U.S. support in this matter complements the Government of Iraq’s efforts to collect, preserve, and store evidence of Da’esh atrocities for its future use in judicial proceedings.  Just as the Iraqi security forces – in partnership with military forces from the Global Coalition to Defeat Da’esh – helped break Da’esh’s grip on Iraq, Iraq’s judiciary will hold Da’esh to account for its barbarity.

Our support, and that of the international community, must be accompanied by progress to establish a local government and security mechanisms that enjoy the full confidence of the Yezidi community.  The Sinjar Agreement signed last October was an important step in this regard, and we encourage Iraqi leaders and the international community to make its implementation a priority in consultation with the Yezidi community.  True safety and security can only be achieved if all members of the Yezidi community – women, youth, and persons with disabilities – are able to participate and share their concerns in the decision-making process.

Only the delivery of justice will set the Yezidi people on a path to address the pain and loss stemming from this genocide.  The pain may never fully heal… But it is incumbent upon us all to honor those we have lost and the brave survivors among us through action and a steadfast commitment to preventing Da’esh from ever again inflicting its hateful ideology upon the world.  Thank you.”