I. Daesh Strategically and Intentionally Targets Yazidi Women and Girls for Heinous Crimes on Ideological Grounds
Daesh continues to commit heinous crimes against women and girls, and, to date, has done so with impunity. Victims and witnesses who have fled Daesh control consistently describe being subjected to attacks that aim to terrorize and silence the population. But even in the context of Daesh’s blanket persecutions against ethnic minorities, Daesh has singled out the Yazidi religious and ethnic minority, and most notability Yazidi women and children, for particularly brutal treatment.
Further, its state-building strategy requires subjugation of women and control over their reproductive capacity to guarantee future generations for the so-called Caliphate. These policies, strategies and practices lead to and provide a perceived justification for Daesh fighters’ carrying out the horrendous crimes against Yazidi women and girls detailed below.
A. Capture, Murder, and Transfer
One repeated feature of Daesh’s attacks is the systematic capture and transfer of Yazidi women and girls. Upon capture, Daesh typically separates Yazidi women and girls into three groups: (1) married with children; (2) married without children; and (3) young women and girls. After separation, evidence suggests that Daesh has a practice of sequestering elderly women— presumably too old to be sold as sex slaves or used for forced physical labor—killing them and burying them in mass graves. The groups of younger women are transferred to different locations in Daesh-controlled territory. The manner in which they are transferred is methodical and deliberate. Dozens of women, even though kidnapped on different days and from different locations, have voiced similar descriptions of their capture, including the appearance of the bus that transported them, the placement of curtains to block the women inside and the manner in which they were transported and confined for days or even months on end.
Some victims have been transferred more than 10 times in a matter of months. These repeated transfers are apparently aimed at reinforcing Daesh’s control over the victims by instilling feelings of fear, insecurity and disorientation.
Daesh considers the Yazidi women and girls they capture to be spoils of war and systemically forces them into slavery. An article in Daesh’s Dabiq magazine entitled “The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour” acknowledges it was reviving enslavement practices under Sharia law. Further, in a document entitled, “Question and Answers on Taking and Capturing Slaves” published by Daesh’s Research and Fatwa Department, Daesh grants members permission “to buy, sell, or give as a gift female captives and slaves, for they are merely property, which can be disposed of.”
Under these practices, one fifth of captured Yazidi women and girls are sent to Daesh leadership as khums, a tax on war spoils, and those remaining are divided among Daesh fighters in accordance with Sharia.
As part of their enslavement and to prepare women and girl captives for sale, Daesh sets up holding areas with mattresses, food and water for hundreds. “Emirs” (local Daesh commanders) instruct Daesh fighters to inspect Yazidi women and girls, some as young as 11 years old. Daesh fighters accordingly inspect them to evaluate their beauty, perform full-body searches, force them to undergo examinations by gynecologists to determine whether they are virgins and force them to smile as Daesh fighters take their photographs. Daesh keeps track of female captives by numbering their captives or recording their names on lists.
While some captives are given as gifts, others are sold to local or foreign Daesh fighters. Witnesses privy to price negotiations between vendors and buyers have confirmed this practice.Victims describe Daesh fighters as behaving like “animals,” trading in Yazidi women and girls the way people buy and sell cars.
To date, as many as 3,000 Yazidis are still held in slavery, though the number is likely to be much higher based on information from local officials, service providers and community activists.
C. Forced Marriage
In some instances, emirs instruct Daesh fighters to choose girls for marriage or Daesh fighters forcibly marry Yazidi captives to avoid having to buy them. Victims recall being brought to houses, sometimes by the hundreds, and group-by-group being taken for forced marriage and slavery. One 16-year-old victim recalled: I was taken to Mosul and kept there all the time . . . We were about 150 girls and five women. A man called Salwan took me from there to an abandoned house. He also took my cousin, who is 13-years-old; we resisted but they beat us. He took me as his wife by force. I told him I did not want to and tried to resist but he beat me. My nose was bleeding, I could not do anything to stop him.
Daesh fighters seek Yazidi women for marriage—as opposed to other Christian, Jewish or Muslim captives— to purify them. Another victim stated, “The other girls with me [told the Daesh fighter] it’s forbidden to marry a married women . . . He replied, ‘But not if they are Yazidi women.”
Once married, Yazidi women and girls are removed from public life and placed entirely under the control of their new male relatives. Women and girls over the age of 10 may not appear publically without being entirely covered and may not travel without a male relative.26 It is impossible for women whose husbands have died or are otherwise gone to leave their homes for any reason without risking punishment.
D. Sexual Violence, Rape, and Torture
While in captivity, Yazidi women and girls are often subjected to sexual violence. A local doctor treating females in Dohuk told Human Rights Watch that of the 105 women and girls she examined, 70 appeared to have been raped in Daesh captivity and several consequently attempted suicide. Daesh leaders “elevate and celebrate each sexual assault as spiritually beneficial, even virtuous.”
Some victims report being raped multiple times by multiple Daesh fighters. One 16-year-old victim said a European foreign terrorist fighter raped her for a month and then gave her to an Algerian for another month. Another victim stated that her captor showed her a document published by Daesh that stated if 10 different Daesh fighters rape a captured woman, she will become Muslim.
Often times these rapes are carried out with other forms of brutality and torture. Victims report being raped as many as six times per night, beaten, handcuffed, fastened to a bed, given electric shocks and denied food. One victim recounted that an emir wrote the names of 14 girls on small pieces of paper which were picked out of a pile at random by two Daesh fighters. The emir had the two men call out the names on the pieces of paper and the 15- and 18- year-old girls whose names were called were taken by the fighters into another room. The victim who witnessed this episode said the emir laughed when he heard the girls screaming in the other room. After roughly 20 minutes, the girls were both brought back into the room with the witness, who said they were in shock, had blood on their trousers, and told her they had been raped. Another woman who managed to escape Daesh reported that she lived in constant fear that she would be dragged away like so many Yazidi women and girls before her: From 9:30 in the morning, men would come to buy girls to rape them. I saw it in front of my eyes Daesh soldiers pulling hair, beating girls, and slamming the heads of anyone who resisted. They were like animals . . . Once they took the girls out, they would rape them and bring them back to exchange them for new girls. The girls’ ages ranged from 8 to 30 years . . . .
Daesh targets girls of all ages for sexual violence. In an officially issued question and answer document, Daesh states, “It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse.” Many victims are 14 or 15 years old, with others as young as nine and six years old.
Notwithstanding that Daesh officially states that a slave’s “uterus must be purified” before a fighter may rape her, pregnant women are not spared from rape and sexual violence. One woman reported: They were very cruel with us: in spite of the fact that I was pregnant they hit me and raped me over again. If I didn’t accept to have sex with the men of the family, they would force me . . . I stayed [at one house] for one month and a half. I moved again, to another city, where my baby was born. I was raped there too, despite the fact that I had just given birth.
Many of the victims who have escaped and were subjected to or witnessed sexual violence while in Daesh captivity show signs of trauma. One victim said she “can’t sleep at night because I remember how they were raping me. I want to do something to forget about my psychological problems. I want to leave Iraq until things get better, I don’t want to be captured again.” Another victim tried to commit suicide when her Libyan captors forced her to take a bath, which she knew was typically a prelude to rape: I went into the bathroom, turned on the water, stood on a chair to take the wire connecting the light to electrocute myself but there was no electricity. After they realized what I was doing, they beat me with a long piece of wood and with their fists . . . They took my out of the bathroom, brought in [my friend] and raped her in the room in front of me.
Even Yazidi women and girls who said they had not been raped say they endured constant stress and anxiety when witnessing the suffering of other women, fearing they would be next. One of these victims stated: Men came several times to take away some of the girls. Those who resisted were beaten and pulled away by the hair. Some were beaten with electrical cables. I was not afraid of the beating, but could not bear the thought that they could attack my honour. We were constantly told that we would be forced to marry or sold to some men.
E. Forcible Impregnation
Daesh fighters forcibly and intentionally impregnate Yazidi women and girls. Daesh fighters told a group of about 60 Yazidi female captives, “Forget about your relatives, from now on you will marry us, bear our children, God will convert you to Islam and you will pray.” A Yazidi teenager recounted how she was sold into slavery as a virgin, raped daily by Daesh fighters and consequently became pregnant. Daesh fighters view lineage as being passed on by the father and a child cannot be Yazidi without two Yazidi parents. In fact, Dabiq makes explicit that “the child of the master has the status of the master.” Thus, by separating Yazidi women from Yazidi men and forcibly impregnating women, Daesh fighters prevent another generation of Yazidis from being born.
F. Forced Conversions
Women and girls held captive by Daesh are also forced to convert from Yazidism to Islam. Daesh views Yazidism as blasphemous and considers those who practice it to be devil-worshipers. Many girls report similar experiences in their forced conversion, including being brought by the group to a single room with an Daesh religious leader, hearing they are infidels, being forced to repeat the shadada [Islamic creed] or read from the Quran, and collectively being told they were converted.
G. Forced Abortions
In addition to forcing Yazidi women and girls to convert to Islam, Daesh forces women and girls pregnant with Yazidi children to have abortions. Doctors forcibly and invasively examine women to determine whether they are pregnant, and women found to be pregnant are forced to have abortions. Witnesses reported that a doctor conducted abortions on two women in a school in Ba’aj, Ninewa, who were two and three months pregnant respectively. Prior to the abortion, one witness reportedly heard an Daesh fighter stating: “we do not want more Yezidis to be born.” Both women received an injection and were made to take pills.59 A week after the abortion, both women were sold. A 19-year-old pregnant woman told the UN’s Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights that she had been repeatedly raped by a “doctor” for two and a half months. According to the woman, the doctor sat on her stomach, aiming to kill her unborn child, saying, “This baby should die because it is an infidel; I can make a Muslim baby.”
H. Violence against Children
Throughout all of these practices, Daesh has instrumentalized and abused children on a massive scale. Daesh has a rigid practice of capturing Yazidis in groups, separating children—typically between the ages of eight and 15—from their mothers and transferring them to different locations in Iraq and Syria, whereupon they are sold into slavery, forcible marriage and/or forced to convert to Islam. Girls who have managed to escape report being held in rooms by the hundreds, isolated from their families, converted to Islam in groups and then forcibly sold or married. One 13-year-old recounted how she was held captive in a house in Mosul with girls ages 10 to 15: When they came to select the girls, they would pull them away. The girls would cry and faint, they would have to take them by force. They made us convert to Islam and we all had to say the shahada [Islamic creed]. They said, ‘You Yazidis are kufar [infidels]. You must repeat these words after the leader.’ They gathered up all in one place and made us repeat after him. After we said the shahada, he said you have now been converted to our religion and our religion is the correct one.
Girls report being registered by name then sold or given four or five at a time to Daesh fighters. Daesh has publically acknowledged this practice, stating in its online English magazine, “Unlike Jews or Christians, there [is] no room for jizyah [non-Muslim resident] payment . . . it is permissible to buy, sell, or give as a gift female captives and slaves, for they are merely property which can be disposed of.”
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