United Nations officials have reiterated the need to bring perpetrators of last year’s tragedy, in which militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attacked as many as 200,000 civilians – most of them from vulnerable communities – causing them to flee to Sinjar, to justice as well as to increase protection for women and girls from conflict-related sexual violence.
It was a year ago that the attacks took place on members of the Yezidi community, as well as members of the Shi’a Turkmen, Shi’a Shabak and Christian communities, causing them to flee to Sinjar. “In the days that followed, amidst horrific killings, ISIL hunted down and caught hundreds of women and girls from ethnic and religion minorities, instituting a pattern of sexual violence, slavery, abduction and human trafficking that continues to this day,” the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, said in a statement on the first anniversary of the tragedy.
She noted that first-hand accounts from internally displaced persons and refugees, some of whom she met during a visit to the Middle East in April, confirm systematic sexual violence, particularly against Yezidi women and children aged between 8 and 35 years. Young women are being “sold” in open markets, gifted to foreign fighters, trafficked for sex in the region to raise funds and increase recruitment among ISIL’s ranks, she stated, adding that women and girls are also used for forced procreation, to populate the desired new “Caliphate” with children who can be raised in ISIL’s own “warped image.”
“These appalling crimes of sexual violence in conflict, which may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and/or acts of genocide, will not be forgotten. The international community stands united in the goal of pursuing the perpetrators and holding them to account.” She reiterated her calls on the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL to include protection and empowerment of women and girls in their strategies to counter terrorism.
Also speaking out was the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, who strongly condemned ISIL’s continuous and deliberate terrorist strategy to target and exterminate entire communities on the basis of their ethnic background, religious beliefs or faith. “This is especially harrowing for women, girls and children who are treated with untold brutality. We demand and support the liberation of Yezidi and other women and girls held by ISIL in captivity, often sold and used as sex slaves,” Mr. Kubiš said in a news release.
He stated that the instigators and perpetrators of the crimes committed against civilian populations and on ethnic or religious grounds, some of which may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity, will sooner or later be brought to justice. Kubiš, who is also head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), also acknowledged the efforts and support of the Government of Iraq and of the Kurdistan Regional Government, assisted by the international community, to the affected minorities.
At the same time, he underscored that “a more forceful and coherent action on the protection of minorities must take place, including active steps to ensure zero tolerance to impunity for those committing crimes against any and all humanities.”