The campaign of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) against Iraq's Yazidi minority may be attempted genocide, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic said on Tuesday.
"Facts are indicating that actions against Yazidis may amount to attempted genocide," he told reporters at the United Nations after returning from a recent visit to Iraq.
Simonovic was speaking as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) advanced on Iraq's Sinjar mountain, tightening a siege of thousands of stranded Yazidis, who called on the United States and its allies to act to avert more bloodshed.
Thousands of Yazidis have been shot, buried alive or sold into slavery by Islamic State militants, who regard them as "devil worshippers." Earlier this month, a Human Rights Watch report documented imprisonment, compulsory religious conversion, forced marriage and sexual assault of hundreds of men, women and children.
U.S. President Barack Obama authorized air strikes in Iraq in August, citing the duty to prevent an impending genocide of Yazidis at the hands of ISIL fighters after they overran a vast swathe of northern Iraq. U.S. military aircraft also made humanitarian airdrops of food and water to the Yazidis.
The 1948 U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as an intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethical, racial or religious group.
The convention says this can be done by killing members, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members, deliberately inflicting conditions on the group calculated to bring about its physical destruction, preventing births within the group or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Simonovic said that ISIL was forcing Yazidis to either convert to Islam or be killed with the intent of destroying the religious group.
ISIL originally attacked the area around Sinjar, in northwestern Iraq, in August. A renewed assault began at dawn on Monday, when militants driving Humvees and civilian vehicles attacked several Yazidi residential compounds, forcing the Yazidis to retreat up the mountain.