Yazidi women and girls: a story of violence and neglect Photo: Seivan M. Salim

Yazidi women and girls: a story of violence and neglect

IS is trying to destroy the Yazidi population in Syria and Iraq, targeting women and girls through sexual slavery and other crimes. The international community should intervene to ensure them a better future and bring their perpetrators to justice.

The Human Rights Council has just concluded its 33rd Session and one of the major outputs of the session was the extensive discussion on the human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, focusing in particular on violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law perpetrated by ISIS and other terrorist groups.

ISIS’ abuses, enslavement and enforced disappearances have been conducted to subordinate and humiliate minorities such as Shi’ites, Alawites, Christians and above all Yazidis from the Mosul area.

The most visible aspect of ISIS’s violence translated into sexual violence against Yazidi women, comparable to the abductions perpetrated by the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda.

According to a report issued by Human Rights Watch, approximately 1,800 women and girls have been held in slavery by ISIS since its rise in 2014. Following interviews with Sunni Muslim women from the Hawija area of Iraq and the Yazidi minority ethnic group, it emerged that the abuses included forced conversion to Islam and forced marriages with ISIS militants, human trafficking, rape and solitary confinement without access to food and water, leading to a breach of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment.

Evidence of such breaches has also been put forward by the same ISIS. In December 2014, the Research and Fatwa Department of the Islamic State released a pamphlet on the capture, punishment and rape of female non-believers. Written in the form of questionnaire, it clarifies that, according to ISIS’s interpretation of Islamic law, it is permissible to have sexual intercourse, to beat and trade Al-Sabi (non-Muslim slaves, including young girls, captured by ISIS militants). The pamphlet makes clear that it is possible to “buy, sell, or give as a gift female captives and slaves, for they are merely property, which can be disposed of”.

Many of the abuses documented by Human Rights Watch, not only amount to torture, sexual slavery and arbitrary detention, but have also been considered war crimes if committed in the context of the armed conflict, or crimes against humanity if part of ISIS strategy during attacks on the civilian population.

Moreover, in June 2016, the independent international Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic issued a report in which ISIS’s actions towards Yazidi women were qualified as amounting to genocide. Besides the call for the Syrian and Iraqi governments to ratify the Rome Statute which gives jurisdiction to the International Criminal Court, the most striking part of the report concerns the countless testimonies of atrocities gathered by the Commission thanks to its direct access to victims.

Since the attacks on northern Iraq’s Sinjar region on 3 August 2014, some of these women and girls have managed to escape from ISIS. However, the violence they have been subjected to had devastating physical and psychological effects on the women, some of whom even had suicidal thoughts. Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International Senior Crisis Response Advisor, has reported interviews with some of them in a document called “Escape from Hell: Torture and Sexual Slavery in Islamic State Captivity in Iraq”. The report describes Yazidi’s fear of rejection and the stigma of tarnished “honour” the women and girls experienced after they returned to their families as well as the negative social consequences of the abductions on their future rebuilding. One survivor, Nadia Murad, who survived 4 months’ captivity and sexual slavery at the hands of ISIS has been appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking, in the hope that this will lead the international community to take action on the situation.

Even if the responsibility for the failure to prevent and respond to those violations lies on States, at the present time, Syria and Iraq are not able to provide for such help and support. To remedy the situation, a range of health services have been provided by other national authorities, UN agencies, nongovernmental organizations and some private initiatives have been started in Western countries. For instance, the German psychologist Jan Ilhan Kizilhan has been counselling Yazidi women helping them rebuild their lives as part of a programme funded by Germany. The World Health Organization has endorsed these initiatives by stating that mental health and psychological support are essential elements to take care of the survivors of sexual violence.

Despite the above, reactions of the international community to the situation have not proved to be as strong as expected. By 2030, the ambition for gender equality enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals should become reality and countries are called upon to work towards the elimination of disadvantages and discrimination borne by girls everywhere in the world. Looking at their indifference to the Yazidi human rights abuses, it seems that the achieving this goal will be more difficult than estimated. Hope springs eternal, but in the near future States are strongly encouraged to take some more concrete measures to help Yazidis and ensure they have a better future than the hell they have been through – and many continue to live – today.


Hakimi Abdul Jabar

Even back when the ICC was non-existent, a UN International Criminal Tribunal was swiftly set up for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Hence, Nadia Murad's simple request for referral to the ICC or the setting up of an UN sanctioned ICT relates to past incidences. The Genocide Convention itself is quite clear. The International Community can even look into the consistency of state practice and outright clear evidences of customary international law from decisions of the ICTY, ICTR, STSL, ECCC .

Christians & Jews of various nation-states are vociferously clamouring for International Justice for the Yazidis and other victims of IS as throughout the Old and New Testament, the call to do justice is clear. “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute,” (Psalm 82:3). “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and please the widow's cause,” (Isaiah 1:17).

Yet, the superficial voices of leaders and their followers and even potentates and their clerics of a particular belief do not loudly call for the maintenance of International Justice for the Yazidis despite “the Lord hath commanded justice (Quran 7:29) ?

Nadia Murad & her fellow victims of atrocity crimes are merely reiterating their Article 8 UDHR right of Access to Justice, right to obtain legal help and access the International Justice System as their rights have not been respected.


Hakimi Abdul Jabar

5 years ago, I had posted a commentary on Leiden University's Leiden Law School's Leiden Law Blog on the Rights of Yazidi victims of the Islamic State to access to justice at the international levels.

Hours ago, I had posted another comment on ending impunity for conflict-related sexual violence & systematic rape for the Yazidi victims etc. by referring to examples given by Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and one of his 4 righteous successors the khulafak ar-rasyidin, Caliph Umar (r.a.) as complementing toward extensive support for IHL and IHRL.

The Prophet had said that after him, his community/ummah must follow the 2 after him, Abu Bakar and Umar.
Riwayahs : Imam Ahmad (23245), al-Tirmizi (3662), al-Hakim (4516) and al-Baihaqi (10056).

The Prophet had also stated that his community must follow his sunnah, and the sunnah of his 4 righteous successors, i.e. the caliphs - khulafak ar-rasyidin.
Riwayahs : Imam Ahmad (17144), Ibn Majah (42), Abu Daud (4607) and al-Tirmizi (266).

One of the caliphs - khulafak ar-rasyidin, Umar was reported to have ordered the man who captured an enslaved bride/girl and had sex with her to be stoned to death for this crime, for he took the enslaved girl unjustly.

Hence by narrated account, Baghdadi the SLIMEBALL and his fellow Islamic State SCUM, in accordance with Umar's sentencing - should have been Stoned To Death!

The above further support the International Community & the UN towards the punitive criminalization of the crimes of Systematic Rape and Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in the International Legal Justice System as Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes and nation-states in criminalizing and enforcing punitive sentencing for rape in the municipal legal systems.


Hakimi Abdul Jabar

5 years ago, I had posted a comment right here.

In November 2017, I had written a published opinion article regarding ending impunity for conflict-related sexual violence & systematic rape. I had noted in my article that it is the begining for Yazidi victims of ISIS in getting the wheels of International Justice turning. It is a well-known fact that Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) & one of his righteous successors, Caliph Umar had prohibited & criminalized rape & even upheld justice for the rape victim as accounts had reported for the latter.

Systematic Rape & Conflict-Related Sexual Violence were apparent by the criminal conduct of the umayyad monarch Yazid Muawiyah's army in the tragedy of Harra & none of the criminals based on historical record were penalized or punished by the then monarchy. Impunity flourished & was even sanctioned!


Hakimi Jabar

The right of access to justice at the international levels constitutes a basic cornerstone of the international protection of human rights and conforms a true right to the Law. It amounts, lato sensu, to the right to the realization of justice. In such understanding, it comprises not only the formal access to a tribunal or judge, but also respect for the guarantees of due process of law, the right to a fair trial, and to reparations (whenever they are due), and the faithful execution of judgments. The right of international individual petition, together with the safeguard of the integrity of international jurisdiction, constitute the basic foundations of the emancipation of the individual vis-à-vis his own State. This is a domain that has undergone a remarkable development in recent years. It is submitted that the right of access to justice belongs today to the domain of jus cogens. Without it, there is no legal system at all. The protection of the human person in the most adverse circumstances has evolved amongst considerations of ordre public. Such recent evolution has been contributing to the gradual expansion of the material content of jus cogens. Furthermore, the very notion of “victim” (encompassing direct, indirect and potential victims) has been the subject of a considerable international case-law. Victims have had their cause vindicated in situations of utmost adversity, if not defencelessness (e.g., abandoned or “street children”, undocumented migrants, members of peace communities in situations of armed conflict, internally displaced persons, individuals in infra-human conditions of detention, surviving victims of massacres).

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