By Géraldine Boezio, 10 July 2018
After the rise of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)/Da’esh in 2014, the Government and people of Iraq have suffered from the impact of one the decade’s worst conflicts, which involved the widespread commission of violations of international law by the terrorist group, including conflict-related sexual violence. Now that major combat operations against ISIL in Iraq are at an end and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over ISIL in 2017, Iraq is now beginning the process of transition and reconstruction. Yet thousands of families are still living in internally displaced people (IDP) camps due to the destruction caused by ISIL and thousands of women, men and children are still missing. Women and girls who return from captivity also remain vulnerable to stigma or being treated as affiliates rather than victims of the terrorist group. Further, although numerous terrorism trials of suspected ISIL members have taken place in Iraq, there has yet to be a conviction of any ISIL member for the use of rape or sexual slavery anywhere in the world.
Nada is a young Yazidi survivor of ISIL’ sexual slavery and captivity from the Sinjar region in northern Iraq. She managed to escape from ISIL with her daughter after a year of slavery. “I do not know where my husband is. I believe he is still in the hands of ISIL”, she says.
Like many other Yazidi women, she was held as a sex slave and was sold and re-sold several times, each time to a different ISIS fighter. She was raped, beaten, and forced into servitude.
“Having escaped from ISIL, I sought refuge in Sharya Camp, near Dohuk, in the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq. There, I tried to forget my past and start a new life with my daughter. The community in the camp accepted me. While there were rumors about what happens to women in captivity, I did not want community members to know that I had been raped – because of the stigma I would face if people found out…” she adds.
One day a man in the camp started threatening her and claimed that if she did not engage in sexual relations with him, he would tell everyone about her rape under ISIL. Nada felt unsafe and did not want to leave her tent nor interact with the others anymore. All progress made in her recovery was rapidly undone.
“It took me a lot of courage but eventually I decided to ask for help at the legal aid centre in the camp. I spoke to a police officer from the Directorate for Combatting Violence Against Women [of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq] and I told him about the man threatening me. I was very scared”, she says. The police officer followed-up on her case. He interrogated the man and told him that further action would be taken against him, should he bother Nada again.
Through the UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict (UN Action) funding, several legal aid centres, like the one Nada accessed, were established and run both by UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and NGO implementing partners in different camps in Iraq providing free legal and psychosocial assistance.
Among the activities organized in the centre, Nada also had the opportunity to attend awareness raising sessions on CRSV issues as well as counselling sessions to help her regain confidence both as a woman and a mother. Eventually, the centre also referred her to a livelihood programme for female-headed households, where she undertook a two-month course in hair-dressing, and it helped her find a job. “I now work as a hairdresser in a beauty salon in Duhuk. I am so happy!” she says.
Launched in March 2007, UN Action represents a concerted effort by 14 UN entities to improve coordination and accountability, amplify advocacy, and support country efforts to prevent sexual violence and respond more effectively to the needs of survivors. Legal aid centers, psycho-social assistance and referrals such as those supported by the UN Action Multi-Partner Trust Fund and UN Action members can help young female survivors of ISIL sexual slavery and captivity like Nada build a better future for themselves and their family. Now Nada is once again hopeful about what her future holds.