Ruth Sherlock, Telegraph, April 15, 2015
Yazidi girls–some of them as young as eight–were raped by jihadists and then sent back to the “market” to be resold. Those that were not, watched helpless as the men dragged away their mothers and their sisters.
This is just some of the harrowing detail gathered in a Human Rights Watch investigation into the fate of thousands of Yazidi women and girls abducted by the extremists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
The interviews, which took place in northern Iraq with 20 Yazidi women and girls who have managed to flee and with the aid workers and doctors trying to help them, provide the most vivid account yet of what has become of Yazidi females whose minority sect was ethnically cleansed by Isil extremists last summer.
Escapees described how the hostages have become victims of a mass programme of sexual slavery, with girls as young as eight years old being traded between the jihadists or given as “gifts”.
Twelve-year-old Jalila, whose name has been changed for her own protection, told of being separated from her mother and sister and taken to a house in an Isil-controlled part of Syria that had become a “market” of Yazidi women.
“The men would come and select us,” she said. “When they came, they would tell us to stand up and then examine our bodies. They would tell us to show our hair and sometimes they beat the girls if they refused. They wore dishdashas [ankle length garments], and had long beards and hair.”
Jalila told of being repeatedly raped, and then passed or sold to seven Isil fighters before she managed to flee.
Dilara, 20, whose name has also been changed, said she was held in a wedding hall in Syria with 60 other Yazidi female captives: “From 9:30 in the morning, men would come to buy girls to rape them.They were like animals.
“Once they took the girls out, they would rape them and bring them back to exchange for new girls. The ages ranged from 8 to 30 years–only 20 girls remained in the end.”
The interviews collected by Human Rights Watch support the findings of aUnited Nations investigation at the end of last year, which reported the jihadists giving the captured Yazidi women “price tags for the buyers to choose and negotiate the sale”.
The eyewitness testimony given by the women and girls points to one of the most large-scale instances of sexual slavery in the 21st century.
The jihadists attacked the northern Iraqi province of Sinjar last August, overrunning the towns of the Yazidi ethnic minority, whom the jihadists have labelled as “devil worshippers”.
After killing hundreds of the men, the jihadists rounded up the women in the villages, taking them hostage and sending groups to different towns and cities under their control in Iraq and in Syria.
As many as 3,000 people, mainly Yazidis, remain in Isil captivity according to the UN.
Of the 11 women and 9 girls Human Rights Watch interviewed that escaped, half–including two 12-year-olds–said they had been raped. Nearly all of them said they had been forced into marriage; sold, in some cases a number of times, or given as “gifts.” The women and girls also witnessed other captives being abused.
A local doctor treating female survivors in Dohuk told Human Rights Watch that of the 105 women and girls she had examined, 70 appeared to have been raped in Isil captivity.
The interviews are grim confirmation of the story boasted by Isil in Dabiq, its English language magazine, last October.
The article, entitled “The Revival of Slavery before the Hour” tries to provide theological justification for the practice of making the “apostate” Yazidi women the “concubines” of Isil fighters.
The group also circulated a document to its fighters announcing that 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. It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty.”
Many of the girls that have escaped the jihadists now live in makeshift refugee camps in Kurdish-controlled parts of northern Iraq. Some of the girls have returned pregnant from their ordeal.
Abortion in all circumstances is illegal in Iraq. There is also almost no psychosocial support for the Yazidi victims, Human Rights Watch said.
And, living in a conservative society, where the victims of rape can be looked upon with shame, many of the women have felt unable to come forward for what medical help is available.
“Yazidi women and girls who escaped Isil still face enormous challenges and continuing trauma from their experience,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch “They need urgent help and support to recover their health and move on with their lives.”