Excellencies, fellow panelists, distinguished delegates, honorable guests,
I would like to thank the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect and the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers for organizing this event and inviting me to speak.
3 August 2018 marked the four-year anniversary of the launch by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) of a widespread and systematic campaign of abduction, rape, sexual slavery, human trafficking, and other crimes against the Yazidi community and other Iraqi components, including Turkmen Shi’a, Christians, and others living in northern Iraq.
If we are to demystify ISIL, we must proclaim ISIL for what it truly is: not simply a terrorist organization conducting jihad, but a criminal organization that has conducted itself in abhorrent and repulsive ways, including using rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage and pedophilia as a core part of its ideology that can never be justified.
ISIL enshrines a theology of rape. ISIL’s formal introduction of systematic sexual slavery dates to 3 August 2014, when its fighters invaded the villages on the southern flank of Mount Sinjar. ISIL didn’t come to kill the women and girls, but to use them as spoils of war and as objects to be sold. They generate revenue from sex trafficking, sexual slavery, and extortion through ransom.
Indeed, sexual violence was so systemized by ISIL that its commission was formally regulated and entrenched in its ideology. An ideology in which women were traded like livestock at an auction or farmer’s market to be sex slaves and where people were killed based on gender alone.
ISIL sent shock waves around the world with the publication in October 2014, of a feature article in its flagship magazine, Dabiq, entitled “The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour” in which it laid out the fact that they had enslaved these women and explained in granular detail the theological justification for taking the Yazidis on the grounds that they are infidels and nonbelievers.
Earlier this year I travelled to Iraq and Germany where I met with survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. During my interaction with survivors, I heard horrific stories that should shock the conscience of humanity. The template of their experience was unbelievable cruelty. There were no bounds to what was sexually permissible with child rape explicitly condoned. They all shared information on the organized nature of the sex trade with a network of warehouses where they were held, viewing rooms where they were inspected and marketed. They all described an intricate bureaucracy surrounding their captivity, with their status as a slave even registered in a contract. Several victims told me: “When they put us in the building, they said we had arrived at the “Sabaya Market” (meaning “slave market”).
In my interactions with survivors, I heard loudly and clearly from women and girls who escaped ISIL captivity, including members of the Yazidi community, the desire that ISIL perpetrators be held accountable not only for terrorism but the sexual atrocities they committed. What better way to demystify ISIL than to create a full and fair judicial record of the sexual violence crimes they committed.
To this end, my Office through the United Nations Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict has been working with survivors, the Government of Iraq, and others to hold perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence accountable. The visible and consistent prosecution of sexual violence as a self-standing crime is vital for precedent-setting, deterrence and, ultimately, prevention. The Team of Experts’ work complements efforts of the Investigative Team established under Security Council resolution 2379 to collect, preserve, and store evidence, as well as efforts by the Government of Iraq and others to strengthen existing legislation to better address the full nature and extent of the crimes committed by ISIL.
I express my gratitude to those Member States that have contributed financially to these ongoing efforts to bring ISIL perpetrators to justice for sexual violence crimes. Since the Team of Experts is funded exclusively through voluntary contributions, these Member States are matching words with action.
However, the efforts of my Office at supporting accountability are not enough. Nor is it enough to defeat ISIL on the battlefield. We must also win the battle of ideas. Justice and support to the survivors must infuse all our reconstruction efforts in Iraq in the wake of ISIL. The international community must mobilize to support efforts to rebuild Sinjar and resettle all ISIL survivors, including by reconstructing the homes and schools that have been destroyed, removing the landmines left behind by ISIL, assisting survivors in their physical and emotional recovery, and protecting the rights of all religious minorities in Iraq.
It is important to recall that reconstruction does not only mean rebuilding infrastructure, but fundamentally rebuilding trust, within and between, communities in Iraq. There is still much work to do on transitional justice in Iraq and providing safe conditions for the return of components of Iraqi society to their homelands and their equal political participation, including the participation of women.
To be successful in rebuilding trust within and between communities, we must call upon political, religious and traditional leaders to confront ideologies that promote violent extremism and terrorism; address topics that religious extremists monopolize; provide counter narratives to those attracted by or who are part of violent extremist and terrorist groups; build the resilience of communities and of youth, in particular, to violent extremism; and contribute to the creation of an alternative youth identity and sense of belonging. We must use their influence to redirect stigma and counter the narrative being perpetuated by ISIL.
Last but not least, I would like to mention that at present there are approximately 3,000 Yazidis still missing. This does not count the thousands of others, such as from the Turkmen Shi’a community, who are also unaccounted for. We must extend every effort to find the missing and that requires cooperation both within Iraq and the Kurdistan region, and internationally.
Today, and every day, I stand with the survivors of ISIL’s sexual violence crimes and pledge that I will continue to fight to ensure that every woman or child held in captivity is released, that families are reunited, that survivors are supported, and that every perpetrator is held to account for the grave violations of international law. But even more, we must all seize every opportunity to show the world the true nature of ISIL with the aim of preventing such events in the future.