Yazidi female survivors of ISIL crimes have yet to find justice


Sharya, Iraq – On a hot weekday, Hilwa Ibrahim, 50, sat patiently next to a few other Yazidi women in the office of the NGO Emma Organization for Human Development, in the town of Sharya, about 15 km (9 miles) south of Duhok.

Wearing a dark purple full-body garment and sandals, and a light blue hijab, she smiled briefly and walked into the room. Her tired and old appearance was an indication of the ordeal she had endured.

“My husband was killed by ISIL [ISIS]” were the first words she uttered.

She recalled August 2014, when ISIL moved through the northern Iraqi Yazidi-majority district of Sinjar, where she is originally from, launching what has been described as genocide against Iraq’s ethnic-religious Yazidi minority.

At that time, Ibrahim and all her relatives, along with dozens of others, were captured and taken to Tal Afar, about 50 km east of Sinjar.

Ibrahim tells her story and explains how the abductees were segregated by gender, with the men being killed and the women and girls forced into sexual slavery.

She was sent to what would become two years and four months of IS captivity while her husband was shot dead.

“She [ISIL] has done the worst things to us women,” Ibrahim told Al Jazeera, without going into details.

“Younger boys were taken from their parents, indoctrinated, trained to fight and forced into ISIL ranks,” she added.

For example, her son Hamadi, who would now be 23, was forcibly recruited. Her brother Sabry and her cousin Daham are also missing. Like many Yazidis, she does not know whether her relatives are dead or alive.

‘I have no lighting. I’m still looking for justice,” Ibrahim said.

“As survivors, we don’t want our rights and those of our loved ones to be denied… We die inside because we see that nothing is being done.”

Ibrahim has been living with her seven children in a modest housing unit in Sharya since 2017. Other Yazidis survive in camps or informal settlements scattered throughout Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

“Nobody helped us,” lamented Ibrahim. “I really don’t know if I’ll ever get justice.”

Lack of implementation

On March 1, last year, the Iraqi parliament ratified the Yazidi Survivors Law, which provides reparations to Yazidi women and other survivors of ISIL crimes, including financial compensation, rehabilitation, medical treatment and economic opportunities. However, to date, the legislation has not been fully implemented and sufficient resources have not been allocated to support it.

“There is no real will from the Iraqi government to effectively implement the law,” Bahar Ali, director and co-founder of Emma Organization, told Al Jazeera. to agree on a new government, funding was not forthcoming.

Ali said the only steps taken so far were the appointment of the head of the Survivors’ Directorate and the opening of a temporary office in Mosul to house this body.

“Delaying or not properly applying the law means prolonging the trauma of the survivors and increasing their hopelessness,” argued Ali, adding that the effect is widely felt among Yazidi victims who lack jobs, education opportunities and services. .

As a women’s organization dedicated to helping Yazidi survivors, Emma advocates the prosecution of the perpetrators of the crimes. It also calls for the establishment of an international court to prosecute crimes committed by ISIL.

Sold three times

Eman Abdullah entered Emma’s office, looking calm and serious.

The 20-year-old had a hardened look in her eyes, a sign that she was about to share details about the darkest period of her life.

Abdullah was held captive by IS for a year, and was captured in the summer of 2014.

“I was only 13 at the time and didn’t know such cruelty could exist,” Abdullah told Al Jazeera. “An ISIL group kidnapped me with six members of my family and many others; I was put in the trunk of a car – next to me was the body of a decapitated man.”

After driving to Mosul, Abdullah says she was held in a building with 500 other Yazidi women before being transferred to another block. When ISIL found out that her father was a police officer, Abdullah says she was beaten so hard that she still feels pain from her injuries.

Abdullah explains that the names of unmarried women and girls were then written on paper and pulled from a box so that they could be distributed among ISIL fighters.

“One man picked three of us. He came to the room where I was laid, tied my hands with a rope on the bed and raped me,” Abdullah said. “That was the first time I was forcibly married to an ISIL member.”

The then-teenager explains that she was enslaved for five days before being sold in the ISIL slave market to another fighter, with whom she stayed for three days, before being sold again.

“The third ISIL man also forced me to convert to Islam,” recalls Abdullah. “I memorized 101 pages of the Quran so that I could be released.”

In the end, the Kidnapped Yazidi Rescue Office (KYRO) was able to free Abdullah and other imprisoned relatives.

The family spent seven years in the Sharya internally displaced persons (IDP) camp and was displaced again last June. They now live in a rented three-room house in Sharya.

Abdullah has actively called on the Iraqi federal authorities, the Kurdistan Regional Government, the United Nations and the international community to bring justice to the Yazidi survivors.

An estimated 7,000 Yazidi women and girls fell victim to ISIL’s campaign of kidnapping, rape and slavery, with more than 3,000 still missing.

So far, only one member of ISIL has been convicted of genocide against the Yazidi minority in a criminal trial in Germany.

“It is clear to everyone in the world what we need. And yet, after eight years, we have done nothing,” Abdullah said. “We haven’t seen anything for us victims of the genocide yet, but it has had a profound impact on our lives as each of us has affected at least one family member.”

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