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Justice for Survivors of ISIS: The Plight of Yazidi Women

by Emily Feldman October 17, 2018

This article was originally published in ELLE.

The killings began before dawn the morning of August 3, 2014.

As the convoys of men closed in on Hala’s Iraqi village, fear coursed through the 13-year-old’s veins.

Her family piled into her father’s car and sped north, across an arid plain, through clouds of dust kicked up by an exodus of tires and pounding feet. At first, no one noticed the black flags rising up from the cars ahead: the symbol of ISIS militants who had spent the summer terrorising Iraq.

By the time Hala’s father realised his mistake and slammed on the breaks, masked men—more than a dozen of them, armed and dressed in black—emerged from their cars, and ordered Hala’s family to follow them to an abandoned house.

‘We were the first family there,’ Hala recalls. ‘But by night the house was full.’

The home was one of dozens of collection depots ISIS fighters were using in a genocide against members of Iraq’s minority Yazidi faith: Yazidi men, destined for execution, were sent into one room, while women and children destined for slavery, into another.

That night, the fighters bussed Hala, her mother and six siblings to the first of many makeshift human warehouses they’d be held in for the next few weeks, as ISIS systematised its slave trade.

They spent that time dizzy and sedated on drugs that Hala believes her captors mixed into everyone’s food to keep them compliant, while ISIS took stock of its human inventory: how many Yazidis they captured, how they should be distributed, how much money they should charge for each.

Soon, the transactions began.


‘Every day, men were coming to choose and take girls, and they would beat them if they cried or resisted,’ she says. The fighters used euphemisms for what they were doing. ‘We will take you to your husband,’ they would say. But it was clear to Hala that they were distributing Yazidi women and girls, not as willing wives, but as objects to be used and raped.


To save her daughter from selection, Hala’s mother hacked her daughter’s hair off and smeared grime and ash on her face.

‘From now on, you must act like you are crazy,’ her mother demanded. So Hala did, stumbling as she walked, flinging food, going silent in an effort to convince her captors that she was mute and undesirable.

Each time the men returned to round up women and girls, they overlooked her and eventually, deeming her useless, let her go.

But thousands of others—including Hala’s mother and siblings—remained behind and were eventually distributed throughout ISIS’s territory, which at its peak, spanned an area of Syria and Iraq the size of Belgium.

Governments and human rights groups estimate that ISIS killed more than 3,000 Yazidis and distributed between 5,000 and 7,000 more throughout its territory. Those who managed to escape have helped paint a surreal picture of the atrocities ISIS fighters committed against Yazidi women and children—and may still be committing today against thousands of Yazidis still unaccounted for.

Among the survivors are a 3-year-old whose ear was bitten off by his ISIS captor; a 15-year-old forced to attend an ISIS training camp for years and beaten so savagely that his sternum now protrudes from his chest; a 19-year old repeatedly raped while pregnant with her executed husband’s child and a 16-year-old abused not only by the ISIS militant who ‘owned’ her, but also by his wife and children.


Many of the people who did these things are known. Governments, lawyers and human rights groups have taken testimony from survivors, over and over again, about the ISIS members who tortured them.

ISIS also kept its own records. Besides publishing announcements in multiple languages about why it instituted slavery, the group kept marriage records as well as electronic photos and prices of Yazidi captives.

The most reckless or confident fighters even posted videos of themselves, unmasked, on Facebook, laughing and boasting about their ‘slaves.’

Despite this evidence, not a single person involved in these atrocities has been held accountable for crimes against the Yazidis or for any gender-based crimes, like rape.

However, over the years, justice groups and activists have been quietly working to collect and preserve evidence and build cases against fighters that they believe will one day be used in courtrooms to hold perpetrators of this genocide to account. Pari Ibrahim is one of them and the most prominent Yazidi woman leading the charge to put ISIS fighters behind bars for crimes against her people.

The fight, for her, is personal.

ISIS fighters killed or captured more than 38 members of her large extended family in her native Iraq. Ibrahim, who was 25 and living in Europe at the time of the attack, also knows that if her family hadn’t emigrated from Iraq to the Netherlands when she was a child, she might have suffered a similar fate.

‘ISIS was trying to eradicate the Yazidis because of their religion. To make sure no Yazidis were born anymore,’ she tells me.

Read full article here.

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