Philippe Sands writes: Eight mass graves reportedly found in the Iraqi city of Tikrit earlier this month are believed to hold some of the bodies of 1,700 Shia military cadets who were rounded up by Islamic State in June 2014 and paraded through the streets, before disappearing.
These graves, and surely others in and around the city, will be subjected to a grim, intimate process followed too often around the world, a fruit of ethnic and religious strife. As in Rwanda and various parts of former Yugoslavia with now familiar names – such as Srebrenica and Vukovar– the sites will be mapped and documented; bodies will be identified, photographed, removed and then minutely analysed by forensic anthropologists for identity and trauma; full excavation of the site will follow, with identification and accounting for the moment of mass death. What happens next?
These sites are crime scenes, with a resonance going beyond the local. Their dimension is international because of their scale, nature and context. Such acts of unlawful killing may be war crimes in armed conflict, or “crimes against humanity” when occasioned beyond the battlefield. If it can be established that the killings were motivated by an intention to destroy Shias as a group in whole or in part (as the UN has intimated in relation to accounts of the murder by Islamic State forces of members of the Yazidi community in Iraq), then “genocide” may have been committed. [Continue reading…]