Conflict & Justice

Some of Islamic State’s worst crimes are against women, UN report says

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Iraqi Kurdish protesters denounce the Islamic State threat to Yazidi women and girls during a demonstration outside the UN offices in the city of Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, on August 24, 2014. Hundreds of thousands of people across northern Iraq have fled violence, which has seen members of minority groups face kidnapping and death, after the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group spearheaded a militant offensive that has overrun large areas of the country.

Credit:

SAFIN HAMED

Beatings, forced marriage, imprisonment and rape – these are the fates of women at the hands of the Islamic State, according to an Oct. 2 report by the United Nations human rights office in Iraq.

The 26-page document, which details abuses committed by the Islamic State (IS) from July 6 to Sept. 10, reveals – amid a litany of human rights violations and possible war crimes – the targeting of women for capture and mass enslavement.

“[W]omen and children who refused to convert were being allotted to [IS] fighters or were being trafficked as slaves in markets in Mosul and to Raqqa in Syria,” according to the report, which relies partly on testimonies from survivors and from prisoners who managed to contact the UN.

In one instance, IS herded more than 150 unmarried girls and women, mostly from Christian and Yazidi families, from Tal Afar to Syria, where they were given as rewards to members of IS or sold into slavery, according to the report. An office in the al-Quds area of Mosul coordinates the sale of women and girls, who are brought to the city with price tags that buyers could use for negotiation.

GlobalPost's Tracey Shelton reported this week that the day IS took the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, 15-year-old Sara was loaded into a truck and taken to a camp where she was forced to convert from her Yazidi faith to Islam. Sara was then given as a “gift” to an old man who, among other abuses, beat her and forced her to watch videos of Yazidi men being beheaded.

“They didn’t feed us much. I used to pass out a lot, but I would make trouble for him as much as possible and fight when I could,” Sara told Shelton. “Many times I thought of suicide but I kept thinking of my family and my brother. I lived only for them.”

Even married women who convert are not exempt. According to the report, IS militants told them that Islamic law does not recognize their previous marriages and so they, too, will be given to IS fighters as wives.

Still, it is not just women who have suffered. The UN report charges IS with “attacks directly targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, executions and other targeted killings of civilians … forced recruitment of children, destruction or desecration of places of religious or cultural significance, wanton destruction and looting of property, and denial of fundamental freedoms.”

In the past year, more than 8,000 civilians have been killed and at least 15,700 injured in Iraq as a result of hostilities between the Iraq Security Forces (ISF) and IS. Of those casualties, more than 11,000 occurred between June 1 and Aug. 31, when IS mounted its military assault. More than 1.8 million Iraqis are now refugees because of the violence. The number of people who have died from lack of food, water and medicine remains unknown.

In its efforts to establish a caliphate – a religious state headed by a “caliph,” or successor of the prophet Mohammad – IS has also targeted ethnic minorities, according to the report. In July, IS fighters ordered Christians in Mosul to either pay a tax, convert to Islam or leave to avoid “death by the sword.” In August, the militants forced thousands of Yazidis – an ancient Iraqi religious minority – out of their homes, executing men and abducting women and children.

"The array of violations and abuses perpetrated by ISIL and associated armed groups is staggering, and many of their acts may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity," Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.

The UN report concludes with recommendations to allow humanitarian aid into conflict areas and to respect and protect relief workers and facilities.

It also calls on the Iraqi government to resolve the crisis as soon as possible, as well as to investigate “any allegations of violations or abuses of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law, and … [to] prosecute those who are responsible for such acts.”