Conflict & Justice

The Islamic State's slave market

BEIRUT, Lebanon — “Today is the slave market day,” says one of the men with a smirk. “Today is distribution day, God willing. Everybody takes his share.”

“Where is my Yazidi girl?” says another, laughing.

“The price differs if her eyes are blue,” says the first man, according to a translation by journalist Jenan Moussa.

The men are said to be fighters belonging to the Islamic State (IS), the same group that captured up to 2,500 Yazidis, mostly women and children, during its offensive on Mount Sinjar in August.

While the authenticity of the video cannot be verified, it appears to show the fighters discussing the buying and selling of the Yazidi women captives.

The dramatic rescue of thousands of Yazidis from Mount Sinjar in early August captured the world’s attention and arguably set the course for Western intervention against IS, also called ISIS or ISIL.

But while the story of their perilous flight has been well documented, the fate of those left behind is less clear.

Separate reports from the United Nations and Human Rights Watch released in recent weeks detail a litany of massacres, enslavement, and executions carried out by IS against the Yazidi community, a minority sect whose adherents are viewed as heretics by the militant group.

Both investigations reveal a familiar pattern in the areas overrun by IS fighters: The men are killed, while the women and children are abducted.

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Testimony from Yazidi civilians who escaped the clutches of the militant group talk of hundreds of women being taken as slaves, subjected to sexual assault, forced marriage and conversion, and being separated from their children.

Local sources told the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq that IS had abducted up to 2,500 civilians, “predominantly women and children, but also some men from Sinjar, Tal Afar, the Ninewa Plains and Shirkhan.”

“Married women who converted were told by ISIL that their previous marriages were not recognised in Islamic law and that they, as well as unmarried women who
converted, would be given to ISIL fighters as wives,” the report says.

A woman named Naveen cited by Human Rights Watch said she escaped IS captivity in early September with her children after a month in captivity.

“I saw them take all of them, about 10 young women and girls [on different days]. Some were as young as 12 or 13, and up to age 20. Some they had to pull away with force. Some of the young women were married but without children, so they [Islamic State] didn’t believe they were married,” she told HRW.

A 15-year-old girl named Rewshe, who also escaped from the group, claimed to have been bought by a fighter for the sum of $1,000.

The few who have managed to speak to the outside world about their captivity describe mass rape, imprisonment and forced marriage. 

A woman named Adla, interviewed by the BBC, said she saw her friends being beaten and raped.
“At first I was taken to a big house in Mosul. It was full of women,” she told the BBC. “They locked all the windows and doors and surrounded it with guards.”

“Every day or two, men would come and make us take off our headscarves so they could choose which of us they wanted. Women were dragged out of the house by their hair.”

While there had been many reports of Yazidi women being taken as slaves by IS fighters in the immediate aftermath of the Sinjar offensive, the group’s supporters on social media denied the reports. And as journalist Matthew Barber points out over at Syria Comment, many analysts were skeptical.

Those doubts faded with the release of the latest issue of the Islamic State’s propaganda magazine, Dabiq.

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In article titled ‘The revival of slavery,’ the group admitted for the first time that it had captured and enslaved Yazidi women, and attempted to justify the practise by invoking a fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia or Islamic law.

“After capture, the Yazidi women and children were then divided according to the sharia amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations,” the article said.