Remarks of Under-Secretary-General

Pramila Patten

Free Yazidi Foundation Panel on Genocide and Recovery for the Commemoration of the Sinjar Massacre of 3 August 2014

Six years ago, Sinjar was the scene of tragedy: a genocidal campaign of killings, rape, enslavement and abductions, which triggered a massive displacement of civilians. We all recall how within days of the attack, reports emerged of Da’esh committing unimaginable atrocities against the Yazidi community: of men being killed or forced to convert; of women and young girls sold at markets and held in sexual slavery by Da’esh fighters; and of boys being ripped from their families and forced into Da’esh training camps.

For the women and girls, a different horror awaited. Captured Yazidi women and girls were deemed the property of Da’esh; openly termed “sabaya” or “slaves” and sold, traded between fighters, or forcibly married. Da’esh fighters held slave auctions both in markets and online, circulating photos of captured Yazidi women and girls, with details of their age, marital status, location and price. Yazidi women and girls were subjected to brutal sexual violence.

I am grateful for the invitation to this panel to commemorate this dark moment in Iraq’s history. The extreme brutality waged by Da’esh against the Yezidi community, especially its women and girls must never be forgotten.

Today, we remember those thousands of Yazidi women, men, and children who lost their lives, those who are still missing, and those whose lives have been devastated by Da’esh. This day is also the occasion to salute the courage and resilience of all those who faced these atrocities with bravery.

As we focus our discussion on recovery, the voices of Yazidi people especially its women cannot be muted. The primary way to ensure the recovery of the Yazidi people is through their full participation in Iraqi society at all levels.

I would like to recall how in  2016,   the Government of Iraq signed a Joint Communiqué with the United Nations in which it  pledged to ensure accountability for sexual violence crimes as well as the provision of services, livelihood support, and reparations for all survivors including  children born of sexual violence.

Although that pledge was made between the United Nations and the Government of Iraq, that Communiqué can and must also be used by Iraqi victims and civil society to advocate for its full implementation including budgetary and reconstruction resources to be devoted to their recovery.

In addition, since the signing of the Joint Communiqué, the Security Council has enacted two important resolutions that directly bear on the issue of recovery.

In resolution 2331, the Security Council acknowledged that sexual violence and trafficking in persons was used by Da’esh as a serious international crime. The Council noted that all survivors of sexual violence and trafficking in armed conflict are legally entitled to “assistance and services for … physical, psychological and social recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration ….”.

The Security Council   reaffirmed that the full recovery of sexual violence survivors, including sexual violence committed by Da’esh, is necessary for the restoration of peace and must be backed by the full resources of Member States and the international community.

Last year, in April, the Security Council adopted resolution 2467 in which it spelt out the importance for all Member States and the United Nations to adopt a survivor-centered approach to addressing sexual violence in conflict. It further stated that survivors of sexual violence must have an active role in decision-making in transitional justice, economic, and political life.

These resolutions of the Security Council are binding legal obligation in settings like Iraq. These resolutions cannot and are not intended to be mere words on paper. I strongly urge you to use these resolutions to promote the recovery of your community.

Recovery will also not be possible or sustainable without justice.  Under Iraqi Criminal Code, Yazidi people have   the legal right to file a complaint for sexual violence committed against them and seek restitution from their perpetrators. Similarly, under Iraq’s Law on Combatting Trafficking in Persons of 2012, those who were trafficked and sexually exploited by Da’esh have the legal right to access specialized doctors; legal services; privacy and dignity; financial assistance and shelter; rehabilitation, work opportunity, training and education. If these legal provisions are not implemented, there is an urgent need for robust joint advocacy with both the Government and the international community. Today, as you discuss justice processes, you need to examine whether all the laws that give rights to Yazidi victims to assist in their recovery, are actually being used to its fullest extent.

For example, there is a specific reparations fund for victims of terrorism that Yazidi survivors must have access to. In addition, the President of Iraq has also proposed a law on reparations for Yazidis. The draft law still requires extensive work. It is critical that the Yazidi community   be fully engaged in the process of elaboration of this important legislation.

That is why through the UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict network, I have funded, through our partner agencies, programmes to aid in recovery and reparation.

Reconciliation will also not be possible without robust efforts to look for the thousands of missing Yazidis and members of other Iraqi communities and reunite them with their families. The Independent Investigative Mechanism for crimes committed in Syria announced in February to the General Assembly that the evidence it collects on international crimes, will also be used where possible to help support the search for the missing in the Syria conflict. We should expect no less in Iraq. Your community too has the right to know what has happened to their family members and the world must know the truth of what happened to your community.

Lastly, we must guarantee that these crimes never happen again. One of the ways to do so is to amend Iraq’s legislation on sexual violence. It is unacceptable that under Iraqi law, it is a defense to a charge of rape when the perpetrator marries his victim. This provision must be repealed on behalf of not only the Yazidi women who suffered sexual violence but for all Iraqi women.

The reality is that much remains to be done.  Yazidi women have been at the forefront of efforts to galvanize international support for the fight against Da’esh. Now that Da’esh has been defeated, they cannot go back to the margins of society. Their courage and sacrifice must be honored through their full and equal participation in the public and political life of Iraq. This is the only way a reconciled, democratic Iraq based on the rule of law, can be rebuilt for the future.

I would like to conclude by reaffirming my determination to work with the Yazidi community, and all components of Iraqi society, to support them in their path to recovery and their fight for justice and redress.

Thank you.