During a Webinar today marking Religious Freedom Day, and the coming launch of the Declaration of Humanity, David (Lord) Alton highlighted the persecution of Yazidis and other minorities in Northern Iraq:
Six years ago, on 3 August 2014, Daesh (also known as the Islamic State or ISIL) launched a violent attack against Yazidis in Sinjar, Iraq.
Daesh fighters killed hundreds, if not thousands of men. As part of the same campaign, Daesh fighters abducted boys to turn them into child soldiers and women and girls for sex slavery. During a visit to Northern Iraq a few months ago I heard first hand accounts of the horrors inflicted on this peaceable ancient community – and met with the Baba Sheik, the venerable spiritual leader of the Yazidis who has recently died.
A few days after the attack on Sinjar, Daesh also attacked the Nineveh Plains and forced over 120,000 people to flee for their lives in the middle of the night.
The abducted women and girls have been subjected to rape and sexual violence, forced marriages, forced labour, forced abortions and many more.
As Nadia Murad – whom I have met -testified to the UN in 2015 and I wish to quote her words as paraphrasing will not do them justice:
‘The Islamic State didn’t come to kill the women and girls, but to use us as spoils of war, as objects to be sold with little or to be gifted for free.Their cruelty was not merely opportunistic. The IS soldiers came with a pre-established policy to commit such crimes. (…)
The one who took me asked me to convert, I did not, he then one day asked me for “marriage”, I told him I am sick, most of the captive women there had their menstrual period due to the fears. Then he one day forced me to dress for him and put on make up, I did, and in that black night, he did it.
He forced me to serve his militant squad, he insulted me by forcing me to dress improperly. And I was unable to bear more rape and torture, I decided to escape, but I failed and I was captured by on the guards.
That night, he beat me up, forced to undress, and put me in a room with 6 militants. They continued to commit crimes to my body until I became unconscious.
After three months of abduction, finally I was able to escape.’
Remember these words. And remember that many of the abducted women and girls faced similar fate.
Remember that many of them were not able to escape, and continue to be enslaved over six years later, and their fate unknown.
Over the years further information has come to light that simply adds to the horrific stories we have heard from the girls who escaped.
In 2016, I was shown a document, dated 16 October 2014, listing the prices for the purchase of Yazidi and Christian women and girls. The prices ranged from 75,000 Iraqi Dinar (about $64) for a thirty- to forty-year-old woman, to 200,000 Iraqi Dinar (about $170) for a girl between one and nine years old. Overall, the younger the girl or woman was, the higher the price to be paid.
In 2016 it came to light that Daesh has forced enslaved girls and women to take contraceptives, or to undergo forced abortions if they become pregnant – this all to maintain the supply of ‘sex slaves’ as they referred to the women and girls.
Again, thousands of the abducted women and girls are still missing. If alive, this is the fate they are facing.
Responding to such atrocities is crucial. However, once they occur, even we stop the atrocities from continuing, there is a part of the lives of the women and girls will not be able to get back. This is why we need to do more to prevent them. Rape and sexual violence in conflict (but also outside of conflict situations) must cease once and for all.
This is why I support the forthcoming launch of the Declaration of Humanity and call upon all religious and faith leaders – along with political leaders – to support it and to implement it. We owe it to Nadia Murad and many others – such as Leah Sharibu – abducted by Boko Haram, in Nigeria, forcibly converted raped and impregnated – who have suffered as they has suffered.