Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
We meet today with the knowledge that reparations are what survivors of conflict-related sexual violence request most, and yet still receive least.
In 2019, the Security Council adopted resolution 2467, which called for a survivor-centered approach to inform all prevention and response measures, including holistic survivor-centered transitional justice, which addresses root causes and provides for transformative reparations.
Today, we also celebrate the passage of the Law on Yazidi Female Survivors which represents a watershed moment in efforts to address the legacy of ISIL crimes against Yazidis and other minority groups by officially recognizing acts of genocide against them and establishing a framework for the provision of financial support and other forms of concrete reparations and redress: livelihoods support; education; rehabilitation, land, and pensions to survivors, victims, and their families.
In 2014, Daesh unleashed genocidal atrocities against religious minorities: Yazidis, Christians and others. The horrific accounts of sexual violence committed by Daesh against the Yazidis and other minority components sent shock waves around the world. We all recall how Daesh publicized and glorified its acts of abduction, rape, sexual slavery, and forced marriage along with other grave crimes. An estimated 7,000 Yazidi women and girls were held in sexual slavery; they were repeatedly sold, gifted, or passed around among Daesh fighters. Some remain missing to this day.
In 2018, I met many survivors of sexual violence during my visit to Iraq and the Kurdistan region and I recall how they all shared with me their plight, their destitute lives in the camps, their daily struggles with little support. I still recall their thirst for justice and reparations.
With the Yazidi Survivors law, the potential for change looms on the horizon for many survivors. In focusing institutional attention on female survivors of conflict related sexual violence, the new piece of legislation places Iraq among the first countries in the Arab World to recognize CRSV survivors and take steps to redress their grievances in line with international standards.
This law represents one concrete step taken by the Government of Iraq in the implementation of the Joint Communiqué on the Prevention and Response to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence signed in 2016, which calls for the provision of services, livelihood support and reparations for survivors of sexual violence.
This work to accompany the government was an important project sponsored in 2019 by the UN Action Against Sexual Violence Network. That Network of twenty UN entities which I chair sponsored a project that was implemented by IOM and UNAMI to increase knowledge and awareness about survivor-centered reparations models for CRSV survivors with Iraqi actors and acted as a catalyst for further work.
Similarly, I am happy that my mandate’s Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict was able to contribute with advice and technical support to what is an Iraqi led and owned process to create a victims’ assistance and reparation law. Along with its UN partners, the Team of Experts has also provided technical support in the design of the by-laws to assist the Government of Iraq with the challenging task of implementing the law in an efficient and survivor-centric manner.
Last but not least, I must pay tribute to the tireless advocacy of a range of organisations including the Coalition for Just Reparations in Iraq and other civil society actors and survivors that led to the passage of the law.
Regrettably, the Yazidi Female Survivors Law has failed to address the needs of children born as a result of sexual violence by ISIL members, or the needs of their mothers. Although some Yezidi women chose to separate from their children born of sexual violence, we all know that many others have been forcibly separated – and are desperate to be reunited.
The Iraqi authorities must address the plight of these women and children by specifically including children born of sexual violence in reparations and taking all necessary actions to ensure these women and children can live together in safety.
However, the enactment of the Yazidi Female Survivors Law is still a remarkable achievement. With its holistic and comprehensive package of reparation measures, it has the potential to become the gold standard for future reparation schemes, setting an example for other governments in how to honour their obligations to survivors.
To achieve that, though, the law must be transformed from words into reality. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to take this opportunity to make three recommendations on the way forward for implementing this law.
First, the Iraqi government and its international partners must ensure that it heed the voices of survivors and civil society from all impacted groups throughout the implementation process. This Law is survivor-centered, and its implementation must be as well. For example, the application process to receive support from the government must avoid re-traumatising survivors. Eligibility for assistance and support should not rely on any invasive methods of investigation or require mandatory disclosure of sexual violence. Survivors’ testimonies that they were harmed by Daesh that are clear, consistent, and coherent must be accepted.
Second, applications for reparations under the law, must be accessible to all eligible survivors including those in third countries. That means there must be maximum flexibility with options to submit applications in person, online, or with the assistance of a third party or organization. Applications must be determined efficiently with a speedy delivery of benefits.
Third, the Iraqi government must allocate a defined budget for this law in its new budgetary cycle after the Federal election. Iraq must commit to making this Law a vital part of Iraq’s reconstruction and Iraq should be fully supported by international donors in this regard. I am aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched national budgets and international resources, but delivering assistance to victims of genocide, which included widespread and systematic sexual violence, is a solemn, moral obligation for the global community.
Today, let us recommit ourselves to providing support to all survivors, their families, and communities that were devastated by Daesh seven years ago. Let us also recommit ourselves to an Iraq where every woman, girl, man and boy, of every community, has dignity and equality under law.