Hundreds, possibly thousands, of women and girls — many of them as young as 12 — belonging to Iraq’s Yazidi community were “systematically” raped, tortured and beaten by militants of the Islamic State group who sold them to sexual slavery, Amnesty International said in a report issued Tuesday. And, as a result of the horrors they faced in captivity, many women of the persecuted minority community were driven to suicide, the international human rights group said.
The report, titled “Escape From Hell”, was compiled from interviews conducted with over 40 Yazidi women and girls who had managed to escape ISIS’ captivity. It said that while up to 300 of those initially abducted by the militant group had escaped, the majority continue to be held at various locations across northern Iraq and Syria.
“Hundreds of Yazidi women and girls have had their lives shattered by the horrors of sexual violence and sexual slavery in IS captivity,” Amnesty’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser Donatella Rovera said in a statement.
“IS fighters are using rape as a weapon in attacks amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Rovera added.
The Yazidis, who belong to an ancient religion that predates Islam and Christianity, have suffered intense persecution at the hands of ISIS, which has accused the former of being “devil worshippers.” Since August, it is believed that hundreds of Yazidis have been killed and tens of thousands have been displaced after being forced to flee their homes in the Sinjar mountains in Iraq’s north.
It was unclear how many Yazidi women were abducted, but Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry put the number in the “hundreds.” Amnesty reports said the number is “possibly thousands.”
Systematic abuses endorsed by ISIS policy
The report said the captives, including girls aged 10-12, faced torture, rape, forced marriage and were “sold” or given as “gifts” to IS fighters or their supporters in militant-held areas in Iraq and Syria. Often, captives were forced to convert to Islam.
According to the BBC, which conducted their own interviews with escaped Yazidi women in northern Iraq, captive women who converted were often subjected to forced marriage, while those who did not convert would end up “being passed around a number of fighters.”
In one interview, a woman who had been held captive by ISIS and then sold to a fighter for 15,000 Iraqi dinars, the equivalent of $13, recounted how girls would be brought back “beaten [and] injured”, and then sold off again once they had recovered.
“The IS has not tried to hide or deny its crimes. On the contrary, more than any other group, it has gone to great efforts to publicize gruesome details of the atrocities perpetrated by its members against captured soldiers and civilians alike, giving them ample resonance through videos and statements widely distributed on social media, often in multiple languages,” Amnesty said in the report.
Indeed, ISIS has even published a pamphlet with instructions on the proper “use” of women and girls as sexual slaves, which is permitted and even encouraged by official ISIS policy. According to the BBC, the pamphlet says that “Christians, Jews and Yazidi women can all be taken as slaves,” and that women can be “bought, sold, and given as gifts” and “disposed of as property if a fighter dies.”
Above, a Q&A section in an ISIS pamphlet details how taking women as sexual slaves is part of ISIS policy.
The pamphlet’s Q&A section also includes the following:
Question: Is it allowed to have intercourse with a female captive immediately after taking possession of her? Answer: If she is a virgin, her master can have intercourse with her immediately after taking possession. But if she is not, you must make sure she is not pregnant.
Question: Is it allowed to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty? Answer: You may have intercourse with a female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse. However, if she is not fit for intercourse, it is enough to enjoy her without.
The BBC notes that, although the report is “well-researched with Koranic verses and hadiths, or reports of what the Prophet Muhammad said or approved,” the content is “at odds with mainstream Islam.”
Firsthand accounts detail horrors of captivity
According to the report, many of the girls held by ISIS as sexual slaves and subjected to daily violence had been driven to suicide. A former captive interviewed by Amnesty recounted an incident where a 19-year-old woman named Jilan killed herself to “escape the horrors of captivity and sexual violence.”
“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,” the woman, identified in the report as Luna, told Amnesty.
Fifteen-year-old Arwa, who has 62 relatives still in ISIS captivity, told Amnesty about her experience at the hands of her captors alongside a group of other girls:
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.
The report also said that those Yazidi women who manage to escape captivity face further stigma when they return, and don’t tell their families they have been raped for fear their “honor” will be tarnished. Unfortunately, Amnesty said, many of these women and girls are not receiving the help and care they urgently need.
“Survivors of sexual violence should be proactively sought out and provided with adequate and timely medical care and support services,” Amnesty said in the report. “The KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) and the UN agencies and humanitarian organizations that are providing or putting in place such services should ensure that they are physically, geographically and financially accessible.”