Hundreds of Yazidi Americans have launched a class action lawsuit accusing French cement maker Lafarge of supporting violence carried out by ISIL (ISIS).
Led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, the group filed the lawsuit on Thursday at a court in east New York, accusing the French conglomerate of conspiring to provide material support to a campaign of violence. Now United States citizens, the Yazidis are survivors of ISIL violence that started when the group targeted their homeland of Sinjar in northern Iraq in 2014.
During that campaign, Murad was kidnapped and held by ISIL for three months. After escaping and fleeing to Germany, she became an activist working with survivors of trafficking and genocide. In 2016, she sued ISIL commanders with the help of human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. In 2018 she was awarded the peace prize.
“When ISIS attacked Sinjar, my family was killed, and I was taken captive as a slave. I was exploited and assaulted every single day until my escape,” said Murad.
The plaintiffs were represented by Clooney, former US diplomat Lee Wolosky, and US law firm Jenner & Block.
According to the lawsuit, Lafarge “aided and abetted ISIS’s acts of international terrorism and conspired with ISIS and its intermediaries”. The plaintiffs demand that the company “must pay compensation to the survivors”.
Lafarge has admitted to a conspiracy that aided ISIL by providing millions of dollars in cash to the group, according to a statement by law firm Jenner & Block and is alleged to have provided ISIL with cement to construct underground tunnels and bunkers used to shelter ISIL members and hold hostages, including captured Yazidis.
This is not the first time the company has faced such accusations. Families of US soldiers and aid workers killed or injured by ISIL fighters at the al-Nusra Front filed a similar lawsuit against Lafarge in July.
The French company also pleaded guilty last October in a US court to a charge that it made payments to groups designated as terrorists by the United States, including ISIL, so that it could continue operating in Syria. Lafarge agreed to pay $778m in forfeiture and fines as part of the plea agreement.
“It is shocking that a leading global corporation worked hand in hand with ISIS while ISIS was executing American civilians and committing genocide against Yazidis,” Clooney said in a statement. “We hope that this case will send a clear message that supporting terrorists cannot be ‘business as usual’ and that there will be justice for the victims.”
Centuries of persecution
For centuries, the Yazidis have been persecuted for their religious beliefs by the Ottomans, Arabs and most recently, ISIL.
“Our religion is an ancient Mesopotamian one, connected to nature. We pray to Tawusî Melek, who is symbolised as a peacock. So, because we pray to a ‘peacock angel,’ we’ve been called ‘devil worshippers,’” Wahhab Hassoo, co-director of NL Helpt Yezidis, a Dutch organisation fighting for the rights of the community, told Al Jazeera.
Yazidis mainly inhabit the mountainous regions of northwest Iraq. They consider the mountain valleys of Lalish and Sinjar sacred. The community can also be found in parts of Turkey, Armenia and Syria.
ISIL views Yazidis as devil-worshippers. When the group took control of Iraq’s major cities in 2014, it killed and enslaved thousands, forcing many into camps for displaced people in Syria and Iraq. Some also fled to other parts of the world to seek refuge.
In 2016, The US determined ISIL committed genocide against Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslims.
In May 2021, Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, special adviser and head of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD), said: “I can confirm to the [UN Security] Council that based on our independent criminal investigations, UNITAD has established clear and convincing evidence that genocide was committed by ISIL against the Yazidi as a religious group.”
Murad said that the tragedy for them is that the horrors they experienced took place under the awareness and support of powerful corporations like Lafarge.
“Still, the responsible parties have not been held accountable,” she said.
“In filing this lawsuit, I stand alongside my fellow Yazidi Americans seeking justice and accountability from those whose actions enabled our nightmare.”
Source: Al Jazeera