H.E. Matthijs Wolters, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, visited Sinjar district on Thursday (20/6.)
The Ambassador was made familiar with the enormous human and physical damage in the district. He visited the village of Kocho, where ISIS massacred and abducted hundreds of Yezidi’s in 2014, and where the Government of Iraq, UNITAD and ICMP are currently collecting evidence and exhuming mass graves.
He also visited Dutch funded activities in support of rehabilitation, demining, humanitarian efforts and evidence collection. The total Dutch support to these activities in the areas liberated from ISIS since 2014 is worth over 210 million USD, while additional Dutch contributions are expected.
Political solution for Sinjar needed
Ambassador Wolters: “It is shocking to see that five years after the probable ISIS-genocide on the Yezidi’s, the circumstances in Sinjar are still dire. This is an important obstacle for a safe return of many original inhabitants. It also is a human tragedy.”
“The Netherlands supports the call of the UN on the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to establish stable governance and security structures without delay, in close consultation with the local leadership in Sinjar district, and thus facilitate the reconstruction of affected areas and the return of displaced persons from Sinjar.”
Mass graves: international tribunal and recognition of genocide
Together with UN Special Advisor and Head of the Investigative Team (UNITAD) Mr. Karim Khan and Head of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) Program in Iraq Mr. Adi Rizvic, Ambassador Wolters visited the village of Kocho, where ISIS murdered and abducted hundreds of Yezidi persons in 2014.
Ambassador Wolters: “The atrocities that took place in Kocho are beyond imagination. It is key that justice is served and that the families get clarity. Also, the events must be made visible to Iraq and the entire world.”
Wolters repeated the recent call of Dutch Minister for Foreign Affairs Stef Blok to establish an international tribunal for the prosecution of ISIS fighters. “Prosecution is key for reconciliation. Preferably it takes place in the region itself. An international tribunal could play a key role in that. It is also of utmost importance that the UN Security Council recognizes that ISIS has committed genocide on Yezidi’s.” Minister Blok therefore called on the international community to join hands.
UNITAD and International Commission for Missing Persons The Ambassador expressed his appreciation for the work of UNITAD, the Government of Iraq, ICMP and their partners. UNITAD and the Government of Iraq are currently exhuming mass graves in and around the village, as part of broader efforts to collect evidence, ensure accountability for the victims of survivors of ISIS crimes in Iraq and to make sure that remains are ultimately returned to the families.
The work of the Government of Iraq and UNITAD is supported with high-quality technical resources and expertise by ICMP, an international organization with Headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands.
Ambassador Wolters: “The Iraqi authorities – the Mass Graves Directorate at the Martyrs Foundation, the Medical Legal Directorate of the Government of Iraq and the Ministry for Martyrs and Anfal Affairs of the KRG – as well as UNITAD and the ICMP are delivering an outstanding job in this difficult work. We are proud to support UNITAD for its work and commend the Iraqi authorities for their successful efforts.”
“As a host nation to ICMP, we are also proud of the excellent facilities that ICMP offers to this difficult and important work. We appreciate the ongoing cooperation between the Government of Iraq and ICMP. We continue to hope that the decision making on ICMP’s permanent legal status in Iraq is soon finalized.”
Explosive hazard contamination and UNMAS activities Ambassador Wolters also visited explosive hazard management activities carried out by UNMAS in the village of Ibrat Ash Shighirah. The Ambassador met a team of mine clearing workers and took note of the enormous amount of mine contamination in the area, which still hinders a safe return of many original inhabitants.
Ibrat Ash Shighirah was controlled by ISIS, which left many explosives in the village, and liberated by the Iraqi forces through air strikes and ground fighting. To date, UNMAS implementing partners surveyed approximately 97,000 square meters and found several IED’s, projectiles and one rocket. More unexploded ordnance and IEDs are expected to be found. Mine action in Sinjar is carried out by teams comprised of both males and females, Yezidis and Muslims, with the majority originating from the city itself.
“The work UNMAS and other mine action operators are conducting in Sinjar is essential for reducing life-threatening risks for the local population, notably Yezidi minority groups, and to enable the safe return of many IDPs that were forced to fled their homes. The Netherlands remains a strong supporter of survey, clearance and risk education initiatives in the area, which have a direct and visibly positive impact on the people most at risk. I was especially impressed by the mixed teams who are working on demining in Ibrat Ash Shighirah, as this also contributes to community building.”
The Netherlands has provided significant financial support to UNMAS activities in Iraq, and is preparing a new contribution to its work.
Reconstruction and humanitarian relief
In addition, the Netherlands has supported reconstruction in Sinjar through the UNDP-FFS stabilization program, which rehabilitates schools, hospitals, water and electricity and other critical infrastructure. With a total contribution of 62 mln USD, the Netherlands is the third largest donor to FFS in Iraq, and is preparing an additional contribution. The UNDP-program has carried out over 31 rehabilitation projects in Sinjar, while an additional 12 projects are still underway.
In addition, the Netherlands has provided over 115 mln USD in humanitarian support to refugees and IDP’s in Iraq and is currently preparing an additional contribution to support to refugees and IDP’s. Ambassador Wolters also visited the Sharya camp, which provides shelter to mainly Yezidi IDP’s. “We will further step up our support to displaced persons in Iraq, including in Sharya camp”, said Wolters.
Wolters said that the most desired objective remains that displaced inhabitants of the district are able to return home in a safe, dignified and voluntary manner. “The Government of Iraq and the KRG and the communities, actors and international partners involved all have a responsibility to make sure that that is possible.”