'I wished I was killed': Yazidi ISIS slave shares her harrowing story
CBC, July 25, 2016
August marks the second anniversary of a brutal chapter in the ongoing story of ISIS. In August 2014, fighters with the extremist group carried out a massacre in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq. Thousands were killed, thousands more girls and women were kidnapped as sex slaves, and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee.
'He raped me and used me for a couple of days.'
- Nadia Murad Basee Taha held captive by ISIS
Most of those affected were Yazidi. Nadia Murad Basee Taha is a young Yazidi woman who now lives in Germany. Her life took a horrific turn in 2014 when ISIS fighters arrived in her village. She shares her story of trauma and escape with The Current's host Laura Lynch.
"We were separated from our families and taken to Mosul. At that moment we knew we were being taken to be used for rape and to be sold."
Iraqi Yazidi Nadia Murad Basee Taha has been calling on Canada to help Yazidis with the immigration and asylum process. She says 'our people have been suffering for the past two years and they must be helped.'
Taha explains what she had to endure as a captive of ISIS, "He took me. He raped me and used me for a couple of days. This is what they would do. They would keep the girls for a day or two days a week then they would pass them to a different one."
' I wished they had killed us all.'
- Nadia Murad Basee Taha
Yazidis are an ethnic minority group in Iraq that practice an ancient religion. They are considered "devil worshippers" by supporters of ISIS and treated like property, exchanged as "gifts."
"I wished I was killed, or starved, or died on the mountain like the other Yazidis instead of being someone with no value to be used by the terrorists whatever way they wished to use us." Taha tells Lynch.
"I wished that when they killed our brothers, our mothers, I wished they had killed us all as well."
The United Nations has called the 2014 massacre a genocide. Taha spoke to the UN Security Council about her horrific time as a slave to ISIS.
"After I was freed I thought that the world would bring justice to us. That the world would be fair to us. But nothing has happened. We still have 3,000 people in captivity," Taha tells Lynch.
In Ottawa, advocates and Opposition MPs have asked the Canadian government to allow for the resettlement of five to 10,000 of the most vulnerable Yazidis. On July 19, Taha was in Ottawa and shared her story to a Parliamentary Committee studying how Canada's immigration system deals with particularly vulnerable groups like the Yazidis.
It's not known how many Yazidi refugees have been resettled in Canada since 2014 because the federal government does not track the race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity of refugees. But Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel claims that only nine cases have been processed.
Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.
This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson.
Angelina Jolie visits Syrian refugee camp
The Spec, Sept 10, 2016
Angelina Jolie has visited a Syrian refugee camp.
The 'By the Sea' hitmaker met refugees in Azraq, Jordan where she urged world leaders to help sort the current crisis.
She said: "This is not a problem of Jordan's making, or that Jordan should be left to bear alone. They have been warning for years that they would reach a point where they on their own could do more. The world has known about the situation in the Berm for months, but no solution has yet been put forward.
"This is symptomatic of the wider problem. For all the good intentions, extraordinary efforts in the field, and the generosity of host communities, it is impossible to say that we, as an international community, are using all the tools at our disposal, or that we have even come close to doing enough to help the Syrian people ...
"So my message to world leaders, as they prepare to gather at the UN General Assembly in 10 days' time, is to ask that the fundamental root causes of the Syria conflict, and what it will take to end it, are put at the center of the discussion."
During her visit, the 41-year-old actress met with a family who had suffered imaginable loss.
In a statement released through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), she added: "This is my fourth visit to Jordan since the conflict in Syria began. It is almost impossible to fathom what the last five years have meant, in the lives of refugees in Jordan and elsewhere in the region.
"Not a single family in this camp of 60,000 people has not suffered loss and trauma. I met a family this morning, who fled Daesh in Raqqaa, and then moved twenty times, trying to find safety inside Syria. In that time, the mother suffered repeated miscarriages, and her two brothers and one sister were killed in an airstrike."
Yazidi Girl on ISIS Genocide: ‘Everyone was Dead,’ I Looked at the Dead Bodies of My Father, Brother, and 4 Uncles
By Michael W. Chapman | September 14, 2016 |
(CNSNews.com) -- In a video about the Islamic State’s genocidal attacks on the Yazidi people in Sinjar, Iraq, a girl who survived said that after the invasion “everyone was dead,” and she found herself looking at the dead bodies of her father, brother, and four uncles. When her brother and sister saw their dead father, they fainted.
The Islamic State, or ISIS, invaded Sinjar in northern Iraq in August 2014. According to the U.N. Human Rights Council, more than 3,200 Yazidi women and children are still held by ISIS, many of them bought and sold as sex slaves, and “thousands of Yazidi men and boys are missing. The genocide of the Yazidis is ongoing.”
In a video made by Dr. Hawar Moradi, a medical doctor who has worked as a volunteer in the refugee camps in Kurdistan, several families – mostly older women and children – recounted the horrific actions of ISIS.
“We were by the temple and I fell asleep,” says one Yazidi girl in the video. “I heard bullet fire. I asked my sister what it was. She said they’ve killed a man and a woman. They’re burying them over there. I was scared.”
A boy said, “We were by the temple under the tree and heard shots coming from the mountain. A woman and a man had gone out for a walk. They shot the man here and the woman here. We saw it.”
Another Yazidi girl, around age 13, said, “We went out and saw that everyone was dead. I looked at the dead body of my father. I looked at the dead body of my brother. I looked at the dead bodies of my four uncles.”
“I looked at all their dead bodies,” she said. “My sister here and my brother Pasha fainted over the dead body of my father.”
The actions by ISIS against Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities have been declared “genocide” by the U.S. government, Canada, Britain, and the United Nations.
In its June 2016 report, “They Came to Destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis,” the U.N. states, “ISIS has committed, and continues to commit, the crime of genocide, as well as multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes, against the Yazidis.”
“ISIS has sought, and continues to seek, to destroy the Yazidis through killings; sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, and forcible transfer causing serious bodily and mental harm; the infliction of conditions of life that bring about a slow death” and “the imposition of measures to prevent Yazidi children from being born,” states the report.
Amal Clooney to act for Yazidi women victims of Isis
by Anthee Carassava, Athens
September 13 2016, The Times
The celebrity lawyer Amal Clooney is seeking to represent scores of women who have fled to Europe to escape sexual slavery, rape and genocide by Isis militants in Iraq.
The London-based international human rights lawyer is already representing the Nobel Peace Prize nominee Nadia Murad, who escaped after being raped and kept for three months as a sex slave by more than a dozen Isis jihadists. Mrs Clooney has been in Greece in the past few days looking to represent more women who have suffered at the hands of the terrorists and have fled to Europe, officials said.
'They beheaded our children with axes' ISIS prisoners ordered to convert to Islam or DIE
A YAZIDI family said that twisted ISIS soldiers beheaded children after sexually abusing young girls in a chilling description of the genocidal horrors under the Islamist terror group
By Oli Smith, Sep 15, 2016 |
The family who escaped the torturous clutches of ISIS have revealed the horrors at the heart of the terror group.
In a tearjerking story, a young girl from the Sinjar province in Iraq recalled coming across "the dead bodies of my father, brother, and four uncles".
The horrifying first-hand account was captured by Dr. Hawar Moradi, a medical doctor who works in the refugee camps with those who have suffered at the hands of ISIS.
The young Yazidi girl told Dr Moradi: “We were by the temple and I fell asleep.
"I heard bullet fire. I asked my sister what it was. She said they’ve killed a man and a woman.
"They’re burying them over there. I was scared."
Another Yazidi girl, around age 13, continued: "We went out and saw that everyone was dead. I looked at the dead body of my father. I looked at the dead body of my brother.
"I looked at the dead bodies of my four uncles. They were all dead."
ISIS continue to commit an ongoing genocide against the Yazidi people, according to the US and British governments.
The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking religious minority who number around 700,000 people.
But ISIS refers to the Yazidis as "devil worshippers" – and have made it their goal to erase them.
Approximately 5,000 Yazidi women and girls remain hostage as sex slaves, while an estimated 400,000 have fled their homeland seeking safety.
The terror group are systematically killing men, raping women while brainwashing children.
Just last week, liberating forces of Iraqis and Kurds discovered at least 72 mass graves where the Islamic State terror group is feared to have slaughtered thousands of people, mostly Yazidis - but the discovery is thought to be "just a drop in the ocean".
The numbers of known victims who have been buried range from 5,200 to more than 15,000
A Yazidi mother who fled from the jihadi group said that the twisted militants "took women by force and cut off the heads of children".
While breaking down in tears, she said: "People were talking about children dying of thirst, hunger and being beheaded by ISIS. They abused our girls and women."
The mother said that terrorists kidnapped young girls for sex and filmed the abuse before sending the video to the girls' families.
Her husband became "so helpless" that he committed suicide.
She asked: "How can any religion ever accept these actions? They have their religion and we believe in ours. Why dishonor our religion?"
Another survivor of the ISIS brutality said that the jihadists ordered them to "convert to Islam or die".
A young woman said: "You have no choice’ they told us, you must convert to Islam."
The horrific ordeal comes as the US mulls over whether to send more Special Operations forces to help Iraqi forces to retake Mosul from ISIS.
On top of this, the US could also team up with Turkey to vanquish the Islamic State headquarters in Raqqa.
Yazidi girl who escaped ISIS: Militants 'sang happily' as they entered Sinjar to massacre thousands
by Carey Lodge Christian Today Journalist 13 September 2016
Fahima Hassan Saleh was 22 years old when ISIS overran her hometown in Sinjar, northern Iraq, in August 2014. As the militants closed in she and her family fled in their car, cramming their neighbours in to the already overflowing vehicle.
They eventually made it to Kurdistan, and are now living in a camp in Zakho, Dohuk, along with thousands of other displaced people – Yazidis, like Fahima, but Muslims and Christians too. Hundreds are orphaned children.
Speaking to Christian Today through an interpretor, Fahima recalled the day the militants came. She was sitting at home with her family when someone told them that ISIS forces had entered their village.
"There was no way to escape," she said. "Only the mountain, if you wanted to survive."
"We heard shooting in the streets, and Daesh [ISIS] forces entered with their cars and they were singing happily that they would capture us all.
"We were terrified so we tried to escape."
All seven members of Fahima's family squashed into their small car, and on the way saw their neighbour and his son, travelling on foot. They picked them up and drove to the bridge that links Sinjar Mountain with Kurdistan in the north of Iraq.
But when they got there, the army at the border refused to let them through. "They said, 'There is no problem, why are you escaping?'" Fahima recalled. "Then they heard the news that 5,000 women were missing, most of the men were killed, and they believed there was a very big danger, so they opened the borders and let us enter Kurdistan."
UN researchers have confirmed that as ISIS militants took over the Sinjar region, up to 5,000 Yazidi men were killed in a series of massacres that forced more than 400,000 people like Fahima to flee. Thousands of women were taken captive and disturbing accounts of have emerged from those who have since managed to escape. Women and children have been brutally raped and abused; bartered and sold among jihadists for pennies.
In the weeks following the insurgency, 40,000 people – mostly Yazidis, a religious minority considered "devil-worshippers" by ISIS – were stranded on the Sinjar mountainside without food, water or shelter. Food and water drops were made by international agencies, but at least 300 people, most of them children, perished in the blistering temperatures.
Among the women who went missing was Fahima's aunt. She and her son were captured by ISIS and haven't been heard from since, though news has filtered through that the son – Fahima's cousin – was taken away from his mother to be trained as an ISIS fighter.
A close friend of Fahima's from college was also captured along with her sister, and her father and brother killed. She was raped 10 times before managing to escape. She is now in Germany receiving medical treatment.
In total, the General Directorate of Yazidi Affairs believes that 3,625 women remain in ISIS captivity, two years on from the capture of Sinjar. Of the 5,000 that were taken, the rest have either escaped, or committed suicide, among them two of Fahima's neighbours in Sinjar. The only daughters in a family of 31 people, they were captured by ISIS while all their male relatives were killed, leaving just their elderly mother, who now lives alone in the Zakho camp.
The daughters were raped by militants before committing suicide. "They preferred to die," Fahima said.
She urged world leaders to do more to help the Yazidis and other minorities still suffering in Iraq. "Only the troops who are fighting Daesh try to help us... the international community only says sorry. Why?" she said. "Why?"
Fahima was in the UK as part of a delegation supported by the AMAR International Charitable Foundation. During a conference on religious persecution held at Windsor Castle this week, she told delegates that not enough had been done to support victims of genocide in the Middle East.
30 mass graves have been discovered in liberated areas to the north of Sinjar Mountain.
"The crimes and violations against humanity of the terrorist organisation ISIS are still being perpetrated," she said. More than 800 Yazidi children have been abducted and recruited to fight, 44 Yazidi shrines have been destroyed and 30 mass graves discovered in liberated areas to the north of Sinjar Mountain. More are expected to exist in the southern part still under ISIS control.
"Despite all these crimes against the Yazidis and other minorities, the Iraq government is remaining silent and unresponsive. This fact clearly shows the very little sense of responsibility towards the Yazidis, the Christians and also toward the other communities living in Iraq. Many are exposed to the religious and ethnic targeting and nothing is being done," Fahima said.
"Despite all these attacks against humanity we are still living a tragedy and many countries are now aware of our situation and do have sympathy for us. Two years on now however any realistic action has [not] taken place."
She continued: "All we ever wanted is to live peacefully with all the different Iraqi communities, without discrimination... we have the strong feeling that can we not live without any urgent international protection.
"We are one of the people who suffered the most genocide in the world. I am here on behalf of my people, and in the name of humanity, to ask you to please help us to get rid of the terror that we are living continuously."
AMAR has launched an appeal called 'Help Yazidis Home' which aims to raise money to rebuild health centres, schools and community centres in villages destroyed by ISIS. For more information, click here.
The refugee crisis is a feminist issue. We can’t just sit by and watch
As the global refugee summits draw nearer, world leaders need to be pressured into alleviating women’s suffering
by Helen Pankhurst, 19 September 2016
The current refugee crisis is one of the gravest humanitarian disasters to unfold across the world in modern times. Among a multiplicity of universal horrors, this crisis presents specific threats and challenges to the millions of women who are refugees; and,like all feminist issues, the resolution of this one depends on solidarity.
This week’s Global Summit on Refugees and Migrants is a key moment for feminists to call upon world leaders with the age-old rallying cry: deeds not words.
While the world looks the other way, Care International and Women for Refugee Women have been working together in advance of the summit, to give refugee women a platform to tell their own stories – tales of grief and hardship that shed light on the fact that this crisis is very much a woman’s crisis.
Take Nadia. Forced to flee her native Iraq when she was four months pregnant, she sought relative safety across the border in Syria. How desperate must a person be to regard the crossing into Syria as the lesser of two evils? In Nadia’s case, she was driven by the sight of a car full of fellow Yazidi girls being burned alive by extremists, a fate she feared awaited her own family.
After a desperate spell in Syria, Nadia made the journey to Greece in an unseaworthy, leaking boat when nine months pregnant. Her unborn child died on the journey, the inevitable result of malnutrition and stress.
On arrival in Greece, Nadia was given a hurried caesarean. She recalls: “They didn’t even let me see my baby. They just took him away and buried him in a mass grave … I cried and cried for days. I cannot even visit my son’s grave.” When Care and Women for Refugee Women call out for the dignified and fair treatment of refugees, it is for women such as Nadia.
When a woman’s situation is so desperate that she is forced to engage in 'survival sex', that’s a feminist issue
As another woman, Dana, summarised: “In Syria, you can die one day from a bomb, but on this journey you die every single day.” Dana – a mother of two – currently lives in a refugee camp in Serbia. She arrived carrying few possessions, but a weight of misery that no woman, no human, should have to bear.
And stories like these are 10 a penny across Europe right now. When a woman’s situation is so desperate that she is forced to engage in “survival sex” to secure a male protector for her journey, that’s a feminist issue. When a woman is forced to trudge for hundreds of miles on foot, heavily pregnant and with malnourished children in her arms, that is a feminist issue.
When young girls are being married off at a heartbreakingly young age because it’s seen as their greatest chance of survival; when women are miscarrying on the side of the road in an unfamiliar country; when mothers are forced to send their children unaccompanied on dinghies in the dark, unconvinced they’ll ever see them alive again; when women are reaching the UK and being abused and degraded, or detained while pregnant for the crime of seeking refuge: these are feminist issues. Urgent, desperate, outrageous feminist issues. And, as feminists, we must act.
Ahead of the global refugee summits, we are making some very plain demands of world leaders. First, ensure more support in developing countries for refugee women; second, secure safe, legal routes for vulnerable refugee women so that they don’t have to take dangerous journeys at the hands of smugglers; third, take action to protect women and girls from sexual violence and trafficking. And fourth, specifically to the UK government, give refugee women in the UK dignity and a fair hearing.
The refugee crisis is controversial, and in these turbulent times calls to offer added protection for refugees are increasingly met with opposition. But I look at the media’s portrayal of refugees – the objectification, the dehumanisation – and I see history repeating itself: the same history that sent my own ancestors fleeing for their lives. For I am the daughter and granddaughter of refugees. On the famous suffragette Pankhurst side, my grandmother Sylvia’s partner was an Italian anarchist who came to call the UK home; and my mother originally came from Romania in 1938, fleeing the rise of fascism.
Wherever in history we see vast swaths of people forced out – or worse, wiped out – you can guarantee it’s accompanied, somewhere, by propaganda insinuating that these lives are disposable. As a country we were on the right side of history when fascism and nazism took hold. We must ensure the same applies today.
The shame of this crisis will not be whitewashed in the history books; it will scar our collective conscience for generations. We have an individual and collective responsibility to act now.
ON SALE TO RAPISTS
ISIS is trafficking dozens of sex slaves ‘to be sold in horrifying auctions to UK ally Saudi Arabia’
The terror group has been accused of the sick trade before
BY SAM WEBB, 20th September 2016
SEX slaves captured by ISIS terrorists are being sold at sickening auctions in Saudi Arabia – a key UK ally – Sun Online has been told.
The horrifying discovery was unveiled when a jihadi was killed in fighting at the town of Al-Shirqat, which was taken over by the terror group in 2014.
Members of the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Units, a state-sponsored militia fighting to liberate the town, recovered his mobile phone and claimed to have found horrifying images of the sickening trade.
The Arab nation is part of the international coalition fighting Islamic State alongside the UK and US but wealthy Saudis have been accused of sponsoring the terror group for years.
Britain also sells weapons to Saudi Arabia, despite concerns the hardline Muslim nation is committing war crimes in Yemen – and it “seems inevitable” they involve UK weapons according to a report leaked earlier this month.
The kingdom has also faced numerous accusations of human rights abuses, including torture, degrading punishments and savage executions.
A spokesman for the PMU told Sun Online: “Our investigation officer was appalled at the set of images involving what we believe to be an Iraqi Yazidi (an ethnic minority in the region) woman taken as sex slave.
The horrific reality of daily life in Saudi Arabia caught on camera
"Images were of the auction in Saudi Arabia of the woman and sexually explicit materials of the fighter and the woman in a hotel.
"Location data was observed on the image file as enabled by default on many smart phones.
"Further images involved ISIS members in Iraqi areas occupied by ISIS including Mosul and Baiji which indicates this fighter has been with ISIS for a long period of time as Baiji was liberated by us months ago."
ISIS is believed to have kidnapped thousands of Yazidi women
The fighters are now desperately trying to track down the woman's family and launch a rescue attempt.
"We are engaging with our Yazidi members to find the family of the woman, location and health status," the spokesman added.
"We hope to liberate her and all Iraqi women taken as sexual slaves by ISIS within Iraq or outside of Iraq as their basic human rights are being denied.
Shocking video of Daesh Prison in Syria where women were kept as sex slaves by ISIS
"We cannot allow this, as the force dedicated to the defence of Iraqi citizens."
Sadly, it is not the first time the accusation that ISIS sells rape victims to Saudi Arabians has emerged.
An 18-year-old Yazidi sex slave who escaped ISIS claims she was sold in an international auction.
The teenager, Jinan, was abducted from her village in Northern Iraq last year when ISIS troops stormed her village and took her prisoner before torturing and sexually abusing her and the other captives in the terror group’s stronghold of Mosul.
She said said dozens of women were being held in a large room, and it was not only Iraqis and Syrians trading women but also Saudis and Westerners, whose actual nationality was not clear.
Potential buyers, she wrote in her book 'Daesh's Slave' would inspect the women "like livestock".
The Saudi Ministry of Justice has been approached for a comment.
Rescued Yazidi sex slaves will face no stigma, leader says
by Lin Taylor, World News | Wed Sep 21, 2016
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Yazidi women who have been raped, enslaved or married off to Islamic State militants in Iraq will be welcomed back into the community, the leader of the minority group said on Wednesday, in a gesture to help remove the stigma of rape.
Speaking at an event in London, Prince Tahseen Saeed Ali urged the international community to rescue Yazidi women and children still enslaved by Islamic State, also known as ISIL.
"The Yazidi community would provide all the mental and health support for these girls until they recover from the atrocities and what they have been suffering," he said through a translator.
"Every woman who comes back, we respect her. If they get married (to an Islamic State militant), everything is ok," he said at the event organized by the AMAR Foundation, a UK-based charity providing education and healthcare in the Middle East.
Islamic State militants have killed, raped and enslaved thousands of Yazidis since 2014, accusing them of being "devil worshippers" and forcing more than 400,000 of the religious minority to flee their homes in northern Iraq.
According to the United Nations, the Sunni militants enslaved about 7,000 women and girls in 2014, mainly Yazidis whose faith blends elements of Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Islam, and is still holding 3,500, some as sex slaves.
The United States, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe have all described the Islamist militant group's actions as genocide.
British politician Emma Nicholson, the founder and chair of the AMAR Foundation, said the Prince's remarks were "unique" and would allow many rescued Yazidi women to move on from their trauma and find acceptance within their community.
"Being raped is the most atrocious stigma. In many nations, the family won't have you back again," she told the London audience.
"What the Prince is saying is a unique statement: what happened to you under ISIL didn't happen. That means babies who are ISIL babies can be brought back (into the community), and this has opened up the doors for everyone to have normal lives."
Prince Tahseen's comments come just days after Yazidi campaigner Nadia Murad Basee Taha was appointed a U.N. goodwill ambassador for human trafficking victims.
Taha said she was abducted by Islamic State militants from her village in Iraq in August 2014, and taken to the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, where she and thousands of other Yazidi women and children were exchanged by militants as gifts.
She was tortured and raped repeatedly before she escaped three months later.
Moved by Taha's plight, international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney said she would represent Yazidi women who have been victims of sexual slavery, rape and genocide.
Clooney, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers in London, aims to prosecute the Islamist group through the International Criminal Court for their crimes against the Yazidi community.
(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Jo Griffin; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, global land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, women's rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories)
War crimes tribunal for IS detainees lacks support
by Desmond Butler and Lori Hinnant, Associated Press, September 24, 2016
WASHINGTON (AP) — War crimes investigators collecting evidence of the Islamic State group's elaborate operation to kidnap thousands of women as sex slaves say they have a case to try IS leaders with crimes against humanity but cannot get the global backing to bring current detainees before an international tribunal.
Two years after the IS onslaught in northern Iraq, the investigators, as well as U.S. diplomats, say the Obama administration has done little to pursue prosecution of the crimes that Secretary of State John Kerry has called genocide. Current and former State Department officials say that an attempt in late 2014 to have a legal finding of genocide was blocked by the Defense Department, setting back efforts to prosecute IS members suspected of committing war crimes.
"The West looks to the United States for leadership in the Middle East, and the focus of this administration has been elsewhere — in every respect," Bill Wiley, the head of the independent investigative group, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, told The Associated Press.
Officials in Washington say that the Defense Department and ultimately the administration were concerned that court trials would distract from the military campaign. But the diplomats say that justice is essential in a region whose religious minorities have been terrorized. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue.
The U.S. has no legal obligation to take on the genocide of the Yazidis, but President Barack Obama has said that "preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America."
Stephen Rapp, who stepped down as the administration's ambassador at large for war crimes last year, says the administration should have moved early to help secure evidence of IS atrocities and push for the creation of special Iraqi courts to try war crimes.
"The priority for the U.S. government is to win the war against the Islamic State and destroy them," Rapp said. "It's been profoundly disappointing, because the idea of accountability has been such a low priority."
Rapp is now the chairman of the advisory board of the commission, whose investigators in Iraq work with the Kurdish regional government to formally document the IS group's crimes, including those against the Yazidi minority group. They have built a case implicating the entire IS command structure in a plot to kidnap Yazidi women and girls and establish a sex-slave market.
The plan was executed by an organized bureaucracy at every step along the way, from the temporary sorting facilities — including a prison, schools and a curtained ballroom where the Yazidis were divided by age and willingness to convert to Islam — to the waiting buses that would haul them by the dozens across the border to Raqqa. The Islamic State group's Shariah courts soon stepped in, to settle contract disputes and ensure that its finance hierarchy got its cut of the sex slaves proceeds.
"You have members of IS who were engaged in ensuring that this system continued and that it functioned well," said Chris Engels, the American lawyer who is leading the commission's legal investigation. Without a legal documentation of their identities from the top down, many could "slide into refugee streams" and disappear.
Though there are at least dozens of Islamic State extremists in custody in Iraq, there have been no prosecutions for the crimes against humanity that the U.S. — among many others — insist have taken place. On Tuesday, the Obama administration's envoy for the coalition to counter Islamic State, Brett McGurk, tweeted that he "pledged full accountability" for Islamic State crimes against the Yazidis, whom IS militants consider infidels because of their religion.
In 2012, Obama stood at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to announce what he called a comprehensive strategy to prevent and respond to war crimes with the establishment of an atrocities prevention board, noting that "as president I've done my utmost to back up those words with deeds."
But in fact, though the U.S. has backed limited efforts to secure evidence of Islamic State atrocities in Iraq, there have been few tangible steps toward prosecution. In a recent investigation the AP found that even in territories liberated from IS militants by Kurdish forces, dozens of mass graves have been left unsecured.
"It's a tragedy that we are not getting in there and securing these sites where we can and doing things like collecting DNA evidence," said Rapp.
A measure by the House that calls on the U.S. to fund precisely the kind of court envisioned by the investigators is unlikely to advance anytime soon in an election year. With full international backing, the war crimes commission says it would need about $6.6 million and about six months to get the trials going.
"If the administration was committed to criminal investigations of perpetrators, then it would be robustly funding criminal investigations of perpetrators. The failure to fund shows a failure to hold responsible parties accountable," said Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who sponsored the bill.
The State Department said the U.S. was promoting accountability, and spokesman Mark Toner specified that the administration is "supporting ongoing efforts to collect, document, preserve and analyze evidence of atrocities for transitional justice processes." He provided no specifics.
"Our focus right now is on supporting the efforts of national authorities in Iraq to hold the perpetrators of Da'esh's atrocities to account," Toner added, using an Arabic name for the extremist group.
Rapp and other critics say that the commission is the only organization that has built the kind of legal case necessary for a genuine tribunal, but the group said none of its work in Iraq is funded by the U.S. Neither the U.S. nor Iraq is a party to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, which is a court of last resort when national judicial efforts have failed.
The war crimes commission's file, painstakingly and often perilously gathered since 2014, is ready for a court that does not yet exist. The private organization has pored over hard drives, leaked documents, phone records and interviews with captured Islamic State fighters — in addition to monitoring the Islamic State group's own voluminous propaganda.
As head of the group, Wiley's frustration with coalition governments and well-meaning humanitarian NGOs is palpable. The goal is not to advocate, or make promises, but "transforming that evidence into criminal prosecution," he told the AP in a recent interview in his office, as he and his staff laid out the case against the extremists. The hope, they said, is to build an existing court in Erbil, the Iraqi Kurdish capital, into an internationally backed court for Islamic State defendants.
"Through a scrupulously fair trial, you illustrate that these guys are not soldiers of Mohammad," Wiley said. "These are the leaders of a criminal syndicate."
But whether the courts of Iraqi Kurdistan, where most IS prisoners are kept, are ready for the complexities of international criminal law is an open question. U.S. officials worry that backing a special court in Iraqi Kurdistan raises sticky questions of sovereignty with the Iraqi central government in Baghdad, which is suspicious of Kurdish independence efforts.
The war crimes commission is best known for collecting evidence against Syrian President Bashar Assad but quietly branched out to document atrocities committed by IS and other extremist groups. The office, based in Europe, has changed cities four times since it was founded in 2012, and security is paramount: No sign on the door, no Wi-Fi, no website. In order to speak to the AP, they requested that their current location be withheld.
The commission has a staff of 20 in Iraq split into three teams, collecting court-ready evidence analyzed at the group's main offices. It says its legal file is the answer to multiple calls for Islamic State extremists to face justice beyond coalition airstrikes, which Wiley said is the sole focus of questioning.
"The intelligence gathering is geared almost entirely toward targeting," he said.
A Kurdish security official, speaking on condition of anonymity to release sensitive information, knew of dozens of detainees directly linked to Islamic State militants. At least some, Wiley said, could be prosecuted as soon as a court could be up and running.
But the Kurdish government is bankrupt and riven by internal struggles. The Erbil-based Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs, which is named in memory of Saddam Hussein's devastating 1988 campaign against the Kurds, has taken up the cause to try extremists.
"Because we believe in the rule of law and in human rights, and we think these people must be tried properly, following international standards, under international supervision, not just in a security court," said Mahmud Haji Salih, head of the ministry.
The word "symbolic" arises frequently when Wiley and his colleagues discuss possible prosecutions. No one harbors any expectation that the Islamic State group's leadership will ever face a judge. But he thinks the charges of crimes against humanity would serve a tangible purpose, even beyond jailing those responsible for the horror against the Yazidi people.
"You have to show that the guys dying for IS, they may think they're dying for Mohammad but they're not," Wiley said. "They're definitely not."
Hinnant reported from Paris. Balint Szlanko in Erbil, Iraq, and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.
Kurdish fighters in Tal Hamis, Syria, after it was freed from Islamic State control last year. Credit Massoud Mohammed/Barcroft Media, via Getty Images
When Women Fight ISIS
by Meredith Tax, August 18, 2016
Two years ago this month, the Islamic State attacked the Yazidis, a Kurdish religious minority who live around Sinjar Mountain in Iraq.
The militants came down on unprotected villages like Byron’s wolf on the fold, slaughtering the men and taking away thousands of women and children to be sold as sex slaves.
Any Yazidis who could escape fled higher into the mountains without food, adequate clothing or even, in some cases, shoes. They remained trapped there for days, in harsh conditions and with little international support. Those who had originally promised to protect them, the pesh merga soldiers of Masoud Barzani’s political party in Iraqi Kurdistan, had melted away in their hour of need.
It was Kurdish guerrillas from Syria and Turkey who eventually fought their way over the mountain through Islamic State territory, opening a corridor to bring Yazidi survivors to safety in the self-declared autonomous area of Syria called Rojava, the Kurdish word for west.
Many of these guerrillas were women, for a basic principle of the decades-long Kurdish liberation movement is that women cannot wait for others to defend them, but must themselves fight to be free.
Indeed, some of these women say that they fight for other women, because they know what horrors await those captured by the Islamic State.
In Rojava’s war against the Islamic State, women can be found not only in the ranks but also in command of guerrilla units. After their rescue from Mount Sinjar, some Yazidi women decided to follow this example, and started their own militia, the Women’s Protection Unit-Shengal (another name for Sinjar).
Similarly, in Iraqi Kurdistan, Yazidi women rescued from sexual slavery have formed their own brigade.
Though female guerrillas have fought in national liberation struggles in places from China to Vietnam, Cuba to Nicaragua, Mozambique, Angola, Iran and the Palestinian territories, mainstream global feminist organizations have tended to follow the lead of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, founded during World War I, which holds that the solution to women’s victimization in wartime is, first, to oppose war and, second, to make sure women are at the negotiating table when wars end.
The Kurdish liberation movement’s approach, on the contrary, emphasizes self-defense in both military and social terms. Female guerrillas are meant to be seen as exemplars who show that female leadership is crucial in every sphere of society.
In Rojava’s system of autonomous democracy (the area is within Syria’s borders), there are strong mandates for the participation of women in governance, and all organizations are led by both a man and a woman. Committees of women have real authority over problems like forced marriage and domestic violence.
But it is the female warrior in particular who offers a powerful counterimage to that of the raped and dishonored victim who is considered a source of shame to her family and community.
Ancient, patriarchal ideas have made rape and sexual slavery a central strategy in genocidal conflicts, meant to destroy the very identity of the enemy. That’s how rape was used in Bosnia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (and earlier, in the partition of India and the liberation war of Bangladesh), and that’s how it is being used today in Iraq and Syria.
Women like the Yazidis who have been subjected to sexual violence on such a terrible scale cannot easily be reintegrated into old patterns, nor will they thrive if they are seen — and see themselves — as shamed victims.
Part of the process of rehabilitation has to involve challenging the stigma survivors face.
Of course, there are ways to do this without taking up arms. But the fact that some of the survivors in the refugee camps of Iraqi Kurdistan, which is still heavily patriarchal, have chosen this path indicates the influence of the radical Kurdish female guerrillas.
A women’s council formed last July by Rojava-influenced Yazidis went so far as to declare that the goal should not be to “buy back” abducted women and children, as is common when dealing with the Islamic State, but to liberate them and at the same time establish new traditions of self-defense.
That won’t be easy. Two years after their capture, thousands of Yazidi women and children remain in captivity. Many more are scattered in refugee camps in Turkey, Iraq or Rojava, while others have tried to flee to Europe, some drowning on the way.
But the epicenter of the Yazidi struggle remains Sinjar Mountain, the ancestral home to which many now in Iraqi refugee camps desperately want to return.
One barrier in their way remains the same Iraqi Kurdish forces of Masoud Barzani who abandoned them two years ago, and whose pesh merga have capriciously operated the checkpoint at the border crossing that leads to both Rojava and the north side of Sinjar Mountain, making adequate access to essential supplies and building materials difficult if not impossible. This has been done in cooperation with Turkey’s blockade of the Rojava Kurds.
Those of us moved by the plight of the Yazidis and the image of women fighting the Islamic State can, and should, do more than express admiration from afar.
We need to help the American government listen to its own ideas about gender equality, democracy and pluralism. The United States recently promised Mr. Barzani’s forces a generous amount of military aid.
The price tag for that aid must be freedom of movement for the Yazidis, so they can return to their homes and rebuild, hopefully with full involvement by women and survivors of the Islamic State’s sexual violence, and a permanent end to the blockade of Rojava, whose guerrillas have been some of the only forces capable of fighting the Islamic State — not in spite of their feminism, but because of it.
Meredith Tax is the author of “A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State.”
Who Will Save the Yazidis?
Mark S. Smith, Sept. 27, 2016
The United Nations took a historic step earlier this month, for the first time naming a victim of human trafficking as a goodwill ambassador for the dignity of survivors of such atrocities. Nadia Murad Basee Taha, a 23-year-old Yazidi woman who survived months of captivity as a sex slave of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, was appointed to the position at a ceremony at U.N. headquarters in New York. She gives an international voice to the brutalized young women and children of the Yazidi religious minority, the victims of barbarity and sexual enslavement in northern Iraq.
Murad’s new role provides some real hope that the U.N. will now be able to push the international community into action to help Yazidis. One of her top priorities will be to focus an international effort on securing the release of more than 3,200 Yazidi women and girls still held captive by the Islamic State. ...
Yazidi woman that greeted the Pope in Assisi: We are suffering a genocide but we will move forward
Leyla Ferman is a Yazidi and comes from Sinjar, an area in Iraq where ISIS terrorists, as recognized by the UN, have been committing atrocities leading to the genocide of the religious minority since 2014.
Central Council of Yazidi Associations
"Although for instance our community is facing very hard times, we still don't know how to overcome this genocide but although we are facing this hard times we still have hope. We are convinced that we will remain and will stay and this is the message also for me and my community and also for our friends.”
While in Assisi, Leyla had the opportunity to greet Pope Francis at the interfaith day of prayer for peace. Indeed peace is the greatest desire for this community that has been undermined by radical Islam.
At the moment, 30 mass graves with unidentified bodies have been found in the Sinjar Mountains. Despite these massacres, the Yazidis are a peaceful community that still believes in coexistence.
Central Council of Yazidi Associations
"Yazidis believe in peace and brotherhood. So this is very basic in all of our lives and these issues give us hope. We are sure, it is not just hope, that there will be other times for brotherhood and peace because this is the only alternative that we have.”
From the beginning, Pope Francis has been following this new crisis in Iraq closely. He held a meeting at the Vatican with the head of this community and thanked him for his concern and prayers. Yazidism is a religion rooted with pre-Islamic elements that date back to 2,000 B.C.
In total, Yazidis make up about 1.5 million people. Some 3,000 Yazidi women and girls of this religious minority are still abducted by these terrorists. They are used as sex slaves, sold, raped and battered for months without a possibility of escape. The United States, European Union and the UN have already called these massacres a genocide.