SHAFAQNA – The sexual enslavement of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Yazidi women held captive by Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq and Syria is detailed in a report to be released by Amnesty International today, which accuses the jihadists of committing war crimes.
Drawn from interviews with 42 Yazidi women who had escaped captivity since they were captured in early August, the Amnesty report — Escape from Tell: Torture and Sexual Slavery in Islamic State Captivity in Iraq — describes the fate of women and girls, some as young as 12 years old, being sold into slavery, given away as gifts or forced to marry Isis fighters.
Torture, rape and sexual violence were common threads in the women’s experience of captivity, and the report documented one case of suicide when a 19-year-old women killed herself rather than be sold as a slave.
“They took my three sisters away by force, one by one,” another young escaper told the human rights organisation. “They were all younger than me. One was only 13 and the others were 15 and 18. I wanted to kill myself, because I could not bear to think what would become of them and because I was afraid they would do the same to me.”
Between 3,500 and 5,500 Yazidi men, women and children were taken prisoner by Isis after the jihadists overran Sinjar mountain and surrounding villages on August 3. Especially vulnerable to Isis prejudice because of their non-Abrahamic faith, the Yazidis’ enslavement was publicly justified by Isis as early as October in the organisation’s online magazine Dabiq.
An article in the magazine cited the early historical practices of Islamic slavery as befitting those not of Abrahamic faith, and suggested that sex slaves, referred to as “concubines”, helped to preserve the spiritual purity of fighters.
“They [Isis] believe it is spiritually advantageous to revive the institution of slavery . . . [because it] will allow them to maintain sexual purity, whereas if they didn’t have the concubine slave available, they would be tempted to sleep with their hired maids or other women that they are forbidden to have intercourse with,” explained Matthew Barber, a scholar and advocate for Yazidi affairs from the University of Chicago.
By early December Isis had codified its slavery practices with a set of rules for its fighters, including definitions of legitimate sexual practice and punishment. Among 300 women and children known to have escaped from captivity, survivors have described a methodological plan by Isis under which young Yazidi females were segregated from other prisoners within hours of capture.
The Yazidi women were removed from the area around Sinjar in trucks to holding centres, where they were sorted according to age, education and marital status, before being allocated in batches to Isis commanders, who then sold or gave them among fighters.
Some women were raped on multiple occasions by different Isis fighters, who traded them among each other for sums as little as £15.
While the Amnesty report noted that Baba Sheikh, the Yazidis’ spiritual leader, had attempted to minimise the stigma for women returning to their community by instructing Yazidis to support them, among those interviewed some said they had never admitted the scale of their abuse to family members for fear of being ostracised.
The fate of the overwhelming majority of the thousands of missing Yazidis remains unknown, while Amnesty noted that the testimony of the escapers described Isis behaviour that clearly constituted both war crimes and crimes against humanity.