Islamic State (IS) militants have committed genocide against Iraq's Yazidis, while carrying out war crimes and ethnic cleansing against other minorities, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum says.
Between June and August 2014, IS atrocities were committed against Christian, Yazidi, Turkoman, Shabak, Sabaean-Mandaean, and Kaka'i people in Iraq's northern Nineveh Province, according to a report by the museum's Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide.
"We believe Islamic State has been and is perpetrating genocide against the Yazidi people," the report said. "Islamic State's stated intent and patterns of violence against Shi'a Shabak and Shi'a Turkmen also raise concerns about the commission and risk of genocide against these groups."
The report comes as Iraqi Kurds, backed by U.S. air strikes, launched a major offensive on November 12 to regain control of roads and territory around the Yazidi town of Sinjar in northern Iraq, which was taken over by IS forces last year.
IS, which has seized about a third of the territory in Iraq and Syria, considers the Yazidis to be devil-worshippers.
The Yazidi faith has elements of Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Islam. Most of the Yazidi population, numbering around half a million, remains displaced in camps inside the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq.
Of around 5,000 Yazidi men and women captured by the militants in the summer of 2014, some 2,000 have managed to escape or been smuggled out of IS's self-proclaimed caliphate, activists say. The rest remain in captivity.
IS boasted last year that it had reinstated slavery, offering its fighters captured Yazidi women and girls as rewards for their religious and military feats.
"The crime of genocide is ongoing against the Yazidi population as women and children who have been kidnapped in large numbers remain enslaved by their captors," the museum's Cameron Hudson told AFP.
The center conducted a two-week trip to Nineveh in September to learn about atrocities that took place there. Its conclusions are based on interviews detailing harrowing instances of rape, torture, and murder.
Some survivors gave "heartbreaking accounts" of having to leave older or sick family members behind as they fled IS
"This was especially true for the poor and those without access to cars or trucks, who had to flee on foot," the report said.
"Men, women, and children who were kidnapped and are still being held by Islamic State continue to be the victims of atrocity crimes. Their release must be a priority," it said.
A 1948 United Nations Convention defines genocide as the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.
The UN said in March that IS may have committed genocide in trying to wipe out the Yazidi minority, and urged the UN Security Council to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.
Neither Iraq nor Syria is a member of The Hague-based court, so its prosecutor is unable to open an investigation unless a referral is made by the 15-member Security Council.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters