Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate August 10, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)
UN rights monitors called Tuesday for the global community to take urgent action to avoid a potential genocide against the Yazidi community in Iraq.
Thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority are trapped on a mountain in northwestern Iraq with little food or water after Islamic State jihadists overran the region.
"All possible measures must be taken urgently to avoid a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours," said Rita Izsak, the UN's minority rights expert.
"Civilians need to be protected on the ground and escorted out of situations of extreme peril," Izsak said in a joint statement with fellow monitors.
"The responsibility to protect populations at risk of atrocity crimes falls both on the Iraqi Government and the international community."
Thousands of Yazidi refugees are stranded on Mount Sinjar, besieged by Sunni extremists from the Islamic State who control much of northern Iraq and eastern Syria.
"We are witnessing a tragedy of huge proportions unfolding in which thousands of people are at immediate risk of death by violence or by hunger and thirst," said Chaloka Beyani, the UN's monitor on the rights of displaced people.
"Humanitarian aid must be delivered quickly and no efforts should be spared to protect all groups forcefully displaced by this conflict," he said.
Islamic State fighters have targeted Christians, Shiite Muslims, Kurds and other groups in their brutal sweep across Iraq.
The militants have presented non-Sunnis with a "convert or die" option, said Christof Heyns, UN expert on abritrary executions.
"We cannot stand by in the face of such atrocities. International actors must do all in their power to support those on the ground with the capacity to protect lives," he said.
His religious rights counterpart Heiner Beilefeldt said that freedom of faith was being "denied in the most gross and systematic way possible, through the attempted extermination of religious minorities."
Women are bearing the brunt, said Rashida Manjoo, who monitors gender-based violence.
"We have reports of women being executed and unverified reports that strongly suggest that hundreds of women and children have been kidnapped -- many of the teenagers have been sexually assaulted, and women have been assigned or sold to 'IS' fighters," she said.