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Author Gejsi Plaku

“In Rambussi we were held in a house with five other girls. There they did to me what they did to many other girls. I was raped. My cousin was not molested; they wanted to take her to marry her to a man but in the end they left her with us and then we managed to escape. One of the girls said she was not raped but I don’t know if it is true; I hope it is true.”[1]

According to the United Nations over 1.8 million people have been displaced by violence through the so-called self-proclaimed world caliphate of the Islamic State (IS)[2] in 2014; up until August 2014 at least 8,493 civilians have died in the conflict reaching a peak in August with about 850,000 fleeing their homes.[3] Within weeks the extremist militant group carried out a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing in the northern region of Iraq with fatal consequences for the ethnic and religious minorities who suffered violence at the hands of members of the IS. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds, Yezidis[4], Assyrian Christians, Shabak Shi`a, Turkmen Shi`a, Sabean Mandaeans as well as Sunni Muslims opposing the terror group have been subjected to persecution and different forms of violence by IS fighters.

Human rights violations committed by IS jihadists have mainly targeted civilian population and have been systematic and organized in nature. Their atrocities constitute crimes against humanity and include murder, executions by beheadings, mutilation, torture and imprisonment. Additionally, captive women have been raped, forced into marriages, sold for money and pushed into sexual slavery – sexual violence against women and girls has been used specifically as a tool to subjugate the civilian population.

Hostage-taking and the subsequent forced enslavement and sexual abuse of women belonging to ethnic minorities in IS-controlled territory are some of the grave instances of human rights abuses and criminal violations aimed at destroying these communities. A report published by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) states that IS militants have “systematically killed, tortured and raped” women and girls predominantly from Yezidi and Christian communities who have been subjected to particularly brutal treatment, including sexual abuse and also enslavement.[5] After the capture of the Sinjar area in northern Iraq through the jihadists in August 2014, Iraqi and Kurdish (Peshmerga) forces fled in the face of IS advance leaving civilians from the Yezidi and other minorities unprotected. The takeover of the Sinjar region was accompanied by an upsurge in violence against Yezidi women. Up to 500 women and girls were forcibly taken in this area, younger girls were separated from their families and “sold, given as gifts or forced to marry IS fighters and supporters. Many have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, and have likewise been pressured into converting to Islam.”[6]

According to UN reports[7] the total number of women and children captured by the extremist militant group stands as high as 7,000, as the group went on a rampage to ethnically wipe out all those it saw as apostates and infidels. Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Advisor, who spoke to more than 40 former captives in northern Iraq, stated that “many of those held as sexual slaves are children – girls aged 14, 15 or even younger. Islamic State fighters are using rape as a weapon in attacks amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”[8] Rape is also used as a tool of terror against the women`s family members that have not been abducted but continue to daily exist in fear.

After abduction, women and girls are distributed among IS jihadists as spoils of war, forcibly married off to the extremists and their supporters, pressed into sexual slavery or auctioned off as personal slaves. Far from hiding its heinous acts, the IS has boasted about the crimes they have committed. Based on their own interpretation of early Islam, the extremist militant group has given detailed theological reasons justifying their actions and seeking to legitimize these criminal acts. In its English-language online recruitment tool Dabiq[9] the IS militants discuss the treatment of female sex slaves by differentiating between women from Muslim sects who are regarded as heretical and the “mushrikin”, polytheists and pagans. According to Dabiq “…Before Shaytān [Satan] reveals his doubts to the weak-minded and weak-hearted, one should remember that enslaving the families of the kuffār [infidels] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Sharī’ah…”[10]

The research and religious department of the jihadist army issued a pamphlet on the topic of female captives and sex slaves in November 2014 titled “Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves” which has been released to clarify the position of the IS on various relevant issues and instructing fighters on sexual activities with female captives. In compliance with the pamphlet – which includes 27 “Questions and Answers” – it is permissible to have sexual intercourse with non-Muslim slaves, including young girls, and that it is also permitted to beat them and trade in them, among others. An “al-Sabi” (woman who has been captured by Muslims) can be taken captive, bought, sold or given as a gift, as she is merely considered as property, which can be disposed by her owner. If the female captive is a virgin the “master” is permitted to have intercourse with her immediately after taking possession of the slave. If the owner dies his captives are handed over as part of his estate. As a form of darb ta`deeb (disciplinary beating) the female captive can be beaten at any time.[11]

As a result of the recent success of the Peshmerga forces against IS, some of the people held captive by IS militants are being released; separately, about 400 women and girls have managed to escape from captivity so far. When former female captives return to their communities, the vast majority of them are not able or willing to talk about their experiences and the violence they suffered. Given the deeply conservative nature of the Yezidi communities, rape and sexual violence is a deeply shameful and traumatic event for the entire community as well. Given the taboo regarding sexual abuse and rape, Yezidi spiritual leaders and politicians have called on members of the community not to shun, punish or ostracize women and girls who have had to endure sexual violence by the IS, but care for and support them. Despite an issued edict on this matter, the social stigma against IS female victims remains.

As a result of their abductions and captivity, these women and girls face social consequences for their future, such as difficulties to find suitable husbands. Furthermore, according to Amnesty International, women and girls who escaped IS captivity have been pressured through their family members and relatives to speak to the media. Local media representatives have often brought journalists to interview the escapees without first seeking their informed consent. The situation is aggravated through challenges in terms of accessing medical care and psycho-social support. While counselling is provided by humanitarian organizations and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), most of the help and support is located far from the survivors who desperately need it. NGOs call for providing facilitated access of victims of sexual violence to adequate medical care and support services. “The KRG and the UN agencies and humanitarian organizations who are providing or putting in place such services should ensure that they are physically, geographically and financially accessible, and that survivors are provided with adequate and timely information on the available support services and how to access them. Information and materials about medical and psycho-social services must be made available in the appropriate languages so survivors are able to access them.” Support for survivors of sexual violence should be comprehensive and cover all levels including “prompt medical and forensic examination in accordance with survivors’ wishes, including trauma support and counseling; sexual and reproductive health care including emergency contraception, HIV counselling, testing and post-exposure prophylaxis, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, the option for safe and legal abortion services and maternal health support; legal and financial assistance; access to shelters or housing, education and training; and assistance in finding employment.”[12]

According to the Resolution 1820 (2008) of the UN Security Council “women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group”. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are considered as a “war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide”.[13] In this context Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN’s human rights chief, condemned the “staggering” array of abuses and recommended that the Iraqi government accede to the Rome Statute, a treaty that established the International Criminal Court and requires all states that are parties to it to cooperate with the court on war crimes.[14]

In a joint statement the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, condemned “the barbaric acts” of the IS against minorities as well and urged the immediate protection of civilians, calling Iraqi leaders to act in unison to restore control over territory that have been taken over by IS and implement inclusive reforms.

In light of the fact that 3,500 (mostly Yezidi) female slaves still are held captive by the Islamic State, that 1.6 million people still remain uprooted and that hundreds of thousands refugees suffer daily living under harsh circumstances, it remains to be hoped that the military intervention in Iraq consisting of a coalition of 60 nations led by the US succeeds in damming up the growing influence of the IS and stopping this terror group soon.

 

[1] The account of a Yezidi girl who was abducted and held in IS captivity before being able to escape, from: “Escape from hell: Torture and sexual slavery in Islamic State captivity in Iraq”, Amnesty International 2014, Printed by AI, International Secretariat, United Kingdom

[2] The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is an Islamist radical group that controls territories in Iraq and Syria and also operates in eastern Libya and other areas of the Middle East. The Arabic acronym is “Daesh”. In June 2014 the rebel group proclaimed itself to be a Caliphate and renamed itself the Islamic State (IS). Its origin can be tracked back to the foundation of Jamat al-Tawhid wal Jihad in 1999

[3] Refugees – Numbers: http://www.un.org/en/globalissues/briefingpapers/refugees/, retrieved on February 19, 2015

[4] A mostly Northern Kurdish-speaking religious minority whose original main settlement areas are in Northern Iraq, Northern Syria and Southeastern Turkey. The Yezidis consider themselves partly as a distinct ethno-religious group.

[5] The report which was jointly conducted with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is based on 500 interviews with witnesses and was released in October 2014

[6] Amnesty International, 2014, p. 4

[7] Based on UN reports, s. “Jihadists boast of selling captive women as concubines”, The Economist, October 18, 2014

[8] The New York Times, “Iraqi Yazidi Girls Abducted by IS Endured Horror”, December 22, 2014:

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2014/12/22/world/middleeast/ap-ml-iraq-amnesty.html?_r=0, retrieved on February 21, 2015

[9] The Clarion Project/Challenging Extremism, Promoting Dialogue: The Islamic State`s (ISIS, ISIL) magazine: http://www.clarionproject.org/news/islamic-state-isis-isil-propaganda-magazine-dabiq#, retrieved on February 20, 2015

[10] Pass Blue – Covering the UN: „Yazidi Women in Iraq Describe ‘Unspeakable Brutality’ Under IS Rule“, January 4, 2015: http://passblue.com/2015/01/04/yazidi-women-in-iraq-describe-unspeakable-brutality-under-is-rule/, retrieved on February 20, 2015

[11] The Middle East Media Research Institute: “Islamic State (ISIS) Releases Pamphlet On Female Slaves”, December 4, 2014: http://www.memrijttm.org/islamic-state-isis-releases-pamphlet-on-female-slaves.html, retrieved on February 21, 2015

[12] Amnesty International, 2014, p. 4

[13] Resolution 1820, adopted by the Security Council at its 5916th meeting, on June 19, 2008:

: http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/CAC%20S%20RES%201820.pdf, retrieved on February 19, 2015

[14] Amnesty International, 2014, p. 17