In early August 2013, Islamic State managed to overcome Kurdish forces and conquer the town of Sinjar, near Mosul in northern Iraq, where one of the largest concentrations of Yazidis in the world was located.
What happened next — massacres, sex slavery and forced enlistment in Islamic State ranks — has been recognized since by the UN as a full-fledged genocide.
Two years later, the Yazidis, who number around 400,000 in northern Iraq and Syria, remain in danger of systemic murder at the hands of Islamic State jihadists.
The designation of genocide is rare under international law. And in the case of the Yazidis it marks the first recognized genocide carried out by non-state actors — Islamic State — not by a state or a military force acting on behalf of a state.
The Armenian Genocide of 1915, the Holocaust, the massacre of the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 and the systematic destruction of the Bosnian-Muslim population in Srebrenica in 1995 are the only other cases of recognized genocide.
As noted by Yale University Holocaust scholar Timothy Snyder, author of Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, the systematic killing of the Yazidis — and indigenous Christian communities — followed the pattern of past genocides. A small group, ethnically and religiously different from the majority, is deemed to be not just less than human but an obstacle to the ushering in of a better world. Men are led away from women to be killed first. Whole communities are stripped of valuables before being systematically destroyed.