On 3 August 2014, ISIS terrorists overran the city of Sinjar and surrounding villages, committing genocide and crimes against humanity against the Yezidi population. Men and older women were massacred, while thousands of Yezidi women and girls were captured and subjected to unspeakable acts of sexual violence and torture. With the help of smugglers or through daring escapes, almost half of these abducted women and girls have reached freedom, and many of them are currently residing in IDP camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Most Yezidis from Sinjar were not captured, and fled to Mount Sinjar and eventually reached IDP camps in the Kurdistan Region. Hundreds of thousands of Yezidis have fled the ISIS attacks and were displaced in this way.
The Free Yezidi Foundation was established as a direct response to the attacks in Sinjar, and was formally registered as a charity by the Dutch government in August 2014. The initial cause for FYF was advocacy in favor of the Yezidis who fled and were stranded on the top of Mount Sinjar without food, water, or shelter.
After the Attacks – Recognition of Genocide and Humanitarian Aid
By the autumn of 2014, most Yezidis had completed the harrowing journey from Sinjar to safety in the IDP camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq or fled to foreign soil. Those who could not escape were either killed or abducted.
At this time, FYF turned its attention to three primary causes: lobbying the international community to recognize these attacks as genocide; advocating for rescue missions to bring back Yezidi women, girls, and children; and efforts to raise funds for the massive humanitarian needs of Yezidi survivors in IDP camps.
FYF Founder and Executive Director Pari Ibrahim has led this effort, speaking at UN Headquarters in Geneva and New York, including in a closed meeting of the UN Security Council, as well as in the House of Lords in London and at numerous think-tanks, universities, and news outlets. She also conducts meetings with government officials in North America, Europe, and Iraq to advocate for policies better protecting the rights and welfare of Yezidi survivors and the Yezidi community as a whole.
A critical achievement during this time was ensuring that FYF could access enough funding to operate its centers in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Gucci’s Chime for Change provided the first sizeable contribution, allowing FYF to establish its women’s and children’s center. Other corporate, humanitarian, and human rights donors then helped FYF to increasing its support to the Yezidi community.
FYF also partnered with another Yezidi organization to submit a formal communication to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, calling for a preliminary investigation into the crimes perpetrated by ISIS foreign fighter terrorists against Yezidis.
FYF takes great care to ensure that survivors – especially survivors of sexual violence – are never exploited, manipulated, or mistreated for the purpose of promoting advocacy efforts. Assisting survivors is a goal in itself, and FYF is very concerned by the manipulation and exploitation of Yezidi survivors at the hands of organizations, political actors, lawyers, and journalists. In advocacy efforts, FYF takes a victim-centric approach. Yezidis are in great need and the international community must do better to support our people, but even humanitarian and political goals are secondary to the welfare of each and every survivor. Their rights matter most.
Because Yezidis constitute a very small ethno-religious minority, it is essential that Yezidi-led organizations like the Free Yezidi Foundation pressure the international community and global leaders to help Yezidis rebuild their society from the ground up during this traumatic time.
Current Advocacy Priorities
Although there has been widespread agreement that ISIS has committed genocide against the Yezidis, there has not been a single indictment of a perpetrator for the crimes committed. Many have been tried and convicted for being a member of a terrorist organization, but no one has been held to account for murder, rape, kidnapping, torture, crimes against humanity, or genocide.
FYF is heavily invested in the pursuit of justice, which is an absolute necessity for reconciliation and any possibility of peace for Yezidis in Iraq. To find out more, please visit the FYF justice project page. [hyperlink to justice project]
In addition to the pursuit of justice, FYF remains committed to providing humanitarian aid to Yezidis wherever there is need. FYF is currently operating in the Xanke Camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, while making frequent visits to Yezidi survivors in Germany. The needs of Yezidi IDPs are enormous and will continue for the foreseeable future. A key component of FYF humanitarian advocacy is highlighting the importance of Yezidi-led organizations. Reliance and dependence on the UN or international organizations and the donor community is not a sustainable long-term goal, and it is absolutely critical that Yezidi individuals and organizations are empowered to rebuild the community from the ground up. An important part of this is ensuring that the donor community honors current commitments and that resources are reaching those Yezidis most in need, while lobbying for projects that will provide sustainable tools and skills for Yezidis.