Three years after the Yazidi Genocide took place, KMEWO calls on the Kurdish and Iraqi governments to act on the horrific human rights abuses suffered by 6,470 abducted Yazidi women and children.
On August 3, 2014, Islamic State (IS) began an attack on the Yazidi community living in the district of Sinjar, Iraqi Kurdistan. Women and girls over the age of nine were indiscriminately separated from their families and sold as sex slaves in areas including Raqqa and Mosul.
During the siege on Mount Sinjar, thousands of men and elders were executed and younger boys taken to fight for IS.
Accounts from escaped girls describe a bartering system where captured women and girls are sold first at ‘slave’ auctions. After these initial “marriages” to fighters, women were sold “like cattle” numerous times to men in countries including Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Algeria using online forums.
Abducted women and girls are subjected to daily rapes and extensive violence and are refused medical assistance, while escapees returned to captors face severe punishment.
The ethno-religious Yazidi community has faced historical persecution in the region. IS justifies the attack on Yazidis by their being a mushrik (pagan) religious group, reflected in reports of women and girls being insulted as “devil worshippers” in captivity.
Now, 85% of the community are displaced across Syria and Iraq after the Sinjar district was systematically targeted by IS fighters, who destroyed many Yazidi religious sites and villages.
The violence inflicted on the Yazidi community has been formally recognised as genocide by the United Kingdom, France, Canada, the United Nations and European Union, among other states. However, there has been no action to bring any member of IS to the International Criminal Court and little has been done to offer solutions to the complex needs of returning women.
In April 2016, UK Parliament unanimously passed a motion declaring that religious minorities in Iraq and Syria are “suffering genocide at the hands of Daesh”, calling to “make an immediate referral to the United Nations security council with a view to conferring jurisdiction … so that perpetrators can be brought to justice”.
Yet more than a year later there have been no attempts to act on the motion, whilst Yazidi women and girls, following the liberation of areas including Mosul, are returning to their families in such extreme “shock and psychological upset” that many are in an “unconscious” state.
In light of the psychological trauma and sexual abuse that girls have sustained by IS, a swift response is key. As the New York Times reported, given the prolonged time in captivity, there have been recent unprecedented cases of girls displaying high levels of “indoctrination”; in one account, sisters aged 20 and 26 refer to their captors as “martyrs”, and “husbands”. These women and girls desperately need psychological help and support to rebuild their lives – including receiving asylum when returning to families is not possible.
The violence is ongoing, with around 3,000 women and children still held in captivity or unaccounted for.
Crimes committed against Yazidi women need to be understood within the context that gender plays in genocide – crimes that historically have not been prosecuted. Perpetrators of the extreme violence women and girls have experienced should be brought to justice by an international investigative commission to set a precedent going forward.
Nadia Murad, leading Yazidi human rights campaigner and ex-IS sex slave, has said that ‘it is not just my dream to bring them to justice; it is the dream of all Yazidis”.
KMEWO urges the UK government to oppose the lack of response so far from the United Nations, and from Iraqi and Kurdish governments, and calls for the immediate release of all Yazidis in captivity.