Missing Yezidis, "Is China Still a Developing Nation?", and Tunisian Freedom
Seven years after ISIS attempts to extinguish them, 2,868 Yezidis are still missing in northern Iraq.
On August 3rd, 2014, ISIS launched a brutal attack on the area around northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar. ISIS sought to purge the region of the Yezidis, a small religious community who have called the area home for centuries.
At the time, approximately 400,000 Yezidis lived in the Sinjar region. But by the month’s end, an estimated 5,000 Yezidi men had been executed and an estimated 7,000 Yezidi women and children were sold into sexual slavery. Tens of thousands of Yezidis fled to other parts of the region, and beyond, to places like Europe. Nearly 210,000 remain displaced to this day.
In 2016, the U.S., United Nations, and others declared the atrocities committed by ISIS a case of genocide. It was the first time since 2004, when the U.S. had declared genocide in the case of Darfur.
Despite all that they suffered, remarkably, Yezidi survivors continue to be discovered and rescued to this day.
Two Yezidi women captured by ISIS during the genocide in 2014, and presumed by many to be dead, were recently found and rescued from captivity. One was discovered in Baghdad by Iraq’s National Intelligence Service. The other, Ziri Mutou Shafan, was found in Deir Ezzor (a region in eastern Syria controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces), by the Asayish—the police forces of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. Together with the help of the Yezidi House in Al Hasakeh and officials of the Autonomous Administration, Shafan has now been reunited with her family in Sinjar.
Similarly, two Yezidi children were discovered in Turkey last year and also reunited with their family in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The two siblings, Emir and Emira Hudeda, were four and six years old when their parents were killed by ISIS. The two children reportedly had been living in Turkey since 2017 and were identified through DNA testing.
But these heartwarming stories of survival also remind us of a dark reality. Seven years after the genocide, there are still some 2,868 Yezidis whose whereabouts are unknown. Some of these Yezidi women, girls, and boys may still be held in captivity—possibly still used as slaves. Others may be free, but too fearful to identify openly as Yezidi. By one estimate, there may be as many as 250 Yezidis in hiding in the Al Hol camp alone.
When ISIS was finally defeated in Baghouz, some enslaved Yezidis were able to escape. But others were not so lucky—they were simply sold to some of the many other armed groups operating in Syria. At least five Yezidis have been discovered in Idlib, which is now a stronghold of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
The Free Yezidi Foundation has called upon the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh, the Iraqi Government, the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria, Interpol, UNITAD, UNAMI, and other stakeholders to craft a plan and mount a serious effort to locate the estimated 2,868 Yezidi abductees who may be still alive and suffering. “When genocide is committed, it must be seen,” said Nadia Murad, Nobel Prize winner and Yezidi human rights activist. “People must look at it with open eyes, not minimize its impact.”
China, the world’s second-largest economy, is still considered a “developing nation” by WTO and others, giving it certain types of preferential treatment.
China’s total GDP is approaching $15 trillion, and many experts believe it will surpass the U.S. economy in size in roughly a dozen years. Nevertheless, according to a recent report from the United Nations, China is still a “developing country.” The World Bank no longer classifies countries as "developing" or "developed,” citing the terms’ lack of precision and uniform definition. But as of 2021, it still provides assistance to China, citing the country’s low per-capita GDP and lack of industrial development.
This isn’t merely a matter of semantics: China’s “developing nation” status also raises important environmental issues. China is currently the world’s largest energy consumer and biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, and its energy needs will only rise as its economy continues to grow and expand. Despite this, due to its status as a developing nation, China is not held to the same environmental standards as other energy consuming giants such as the United States.
In an era that many analysts have dubbed a period of “Great Power Competition,” we need to be clear on the terms we use and what their implications may be for the most important policy challenges of our time. This isn’t simply a matter of the U.S. — China rivalry… it’s a matter of whether we can see the world with clear eyes.
In 2015, Tunisia became the first Arab country in over 40 years to be rated “free” by Freedom House. That status is now under threat.
The latest political developments in Tunisia have captured headlines worldwide, particularly amongst those who continue to hope the North African country can serve as a beacon for democracy in a region often characterized by limited freedoms and undemocratic processes.
Last week, Tunisia’s president rattled the budding democracy when he suspended parliament and fired the prime minister as well as other top government officials. The president’s moves came on the heels of nationwide protests against the government’s handling of the country’s COVID-19 response, as well as economic conditions made worse by the pandemic. Tunisia’s COVID-19 health crisis has resulted in almost 600,000 confirmed cases and over 20,000 fatalities in a country of a little over 11 million people—one of the highest per capita death rates worldwide.
The country, which many see as the birthplace of 2010’s Arab Spring protests, emerged as the region’s only nation able to institutionalize a strong democratic culture. However, as political parties have been trying to undo the damage done by years of dictatorial rule—including the reform of governing institutions riddled with unresponsive and corrupt bureaucracy—the country has faced a deteriorating economic situation. Unemployment rates in the nation were on the rise even before the global pandemic. Today, youth unemployment in Tunisia has surpassed 35 percent. Unsurprisingly, many young Tunisians are fleeing the country to seek employment opportunities and a chance at a better quality of life abroad, particularly in Italy and other parts of Europe.
The recent actions of Tunisian President Kais Saied have many observers worried that this young democracy could undo some of the democratic progress of recent years. Not only did President Saied fire the country’s prime minister and indefinitely freeze the activity of the country’s parliament, but he also implemented new restrictions on Tunisian citizens. On Monday, July 26, he announced a month-long nationwide curfew and banned public gatherings of more than three people.
Because Tunisia is a friend and ally in a sometimes “difficult neighborhood,” helping that country through its COVID-19 and economic challenges is a priority for both Congress and the President. In July, the U.S. delivered one million vaccine doses to the government in Tunis—only the latest support for the government in its battle against the pandemic. The U.S. has also helped with youth training and education assistance.
On both sides of the aisle and across multiple administrations, the United States has seen democracy as a core value in its foreign policy. But our policy makers also recognize, especially during times of public health and economic challenge, that our support must go even further. In countries like Tunisia, citizens, especially young people, need to believe their leaders are listening—and that they’re capable of delivering.