The Amnesty US report on the IS’ war crimes – for the DNA on 27th December
The Amnesty USA Report on “Torture and Sexual Slavery in Islamic State captivity in Iraq” makes for difficult and brutal reading. Amnesty spoke to some of the 300 women and girls, from the Yazidi community who had managed to escape the IS, and the accounts of systematic brutality, torture and rape of girls and women are laid out in a matter of fact manner, that makes it even more impactful.
Narrative after narrative focuses on the utter dehumanisation of prisoners and the treatment meted out to them.
A 15 year old girl Arwa, had this account :
“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. Another did not talk about what happened to her. The others were raped. The men were all Iraqis. They said that if we killed ourselves they would kill our relatives.”
A 16 year old, Randa, had this account:
“I was taken to Mosul and kept there all the time. First in a building which they called the maqarr (headquarters). We were about 150 girls and five women. A man called Salwan took me from there to an abandoned house. He also took my cousin, who is 13 years old; we resisted and they beat us. He took me as his wife by force. I told him I did not want to and tried to resist but he beat me. My nose was bleeding, I could not do anything to stop him. I ran away as soon as I could. Luckily they did not do anything to my cousin, did not force her to marry, and she escaped with me. I went to a doctor here, who said that I was not pregnant and didn’t have any disease, but I can’t forget what happened to me.”
Girls were raped, sold into slavery, sold into ‘marriage’ – the report is unclear as to what happened to the men. It is estimated that hundreds of men were killed in the battle, or forced to convert under the threat of death. The 300 women and girls who escaped, are the lucky ones. It is estimated that 1000’s of women and girls are still being held by the Islamic State and most are facing brutality and violence on an ongoing basis. Most of the women were taken captive in August 2014 when the IS invaded the Sinjar regions of North West Iraq. According to Amnesty, most of the families in this region have at least one family member missing.
The IS preferred women and girls who were ‘beautiful’, as they did girls who were virgins. One of the accounts by a girl who escaped : ““They kept bringing prospective buyers for us but luckily none of them took us because we are not beautiful and we were always crying and holding on to each other.”
Another escapee said, “My sister and I told them we were married but they said they would bring a doctor to examine us and those who were virgins and had lied about being married would be punished, so we admitted that we were not married. If we had known that they were going to kill us we would have continued to lie but we were afraid that we would be raped….”
However, being married was no protection from being raped or sold: “I had my little boy with me and my pregnancy was very visible already but one of the guards chose me to be his wife. He said that if I did not consent to marrying him he would sell me on to another man who would take me to Syria. I let him believe that I would marry him and managed to run away before he could carry out his threats ” is the testimony of 19-year-old Abla, who was pregnant when she was taken prisoner. Many of the young women committed suicide rather than face a life of sexual slavery. The accounts of their death are chilling.
“Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself. She was very beautiful. I think she knew that she was going to be taken away by a man and that is why she killed herself.”
Not all suicide attempts were successful. Wafa, 27, talks about her unsuccessful attempt at suicide: “The man who was holding us said that either we marry him and his brother or he would sell us. At night we tried to strangle ourselves with our scarves. We tied the scarves around our necks and pulled away from each other as hard as we could, until I fainted. Two girls who were held with us woke up and stopped us and then stayed awake to watch over us. When they fell asleep at 5am we tried again, and again they woke up and stopped us. I could not speak for several days after that.”
The women who escaped are so traumatised by their experience that relatives fear that they may never heal, and watch over them in case they commit suicide. The men who ‘purchased’ Yazidi girls and women, were Iraqis and Syrians and from other Arab nations. They were not necessarily fighters. And, the ‘marriages’ were registered at a shariah court. One of the escapees said of her husband’s family “His wife was very nice to us and felt sorry for us. She cried with us and wanted to help but she couldn’t.” This is a tragedy on so many levels that it is going to take generations of sustained work to restore some form of rights to women in the region.
While the world collectively wrings its hands and wonders what can be done, the IS is cutting a swathe through the region with tactics like this, that spread fear. And, if we believe that this is against just the Yazidi , we would be wrong. As the Amnesty report points out, the IS kills everyone who is not like it and doesn’t support the Islamic state – which means pretty much all sane people. IS “ carried out a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing in northern Iraq. It forced hundreds of thousands of members of ethnic and religious minorities, who had lived in the region for centuries – including Shi’a (who are a minority in northern Iraq),Assyrian Christians, Turkmen Shi’a, Shabak Shi’a, Yazidis, Kakai, and Sabean Mandaeans – to abandon their homes and villages”.
The report makes for hard reading. But, read it, we must, because if nothing else we owe it those who died, who are still in captivity, who are slaves in a modern world. What the IS has committed, is war crimes. But, how do you deal with a force that refuses to recognise the basic rules of the modern world, and is hell bent on burning and destroying everything that is not in the image of its own distorted view of the universe? In a world where most modern Nation States are bound by basic rules, which they may bend but not break, how do you deal with an entity that follows none? The more one reads on this, the great fear is that, the rest of the world has to sink to the same brutal levels to put an end to this