Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, this is a day to express our deepest solidarity with the Yazidi people who, seven years ago faced a genocide by Daesh. The attacks that began on 3 August 2014 resulted in thousands being killed. Yazidi men who refused to convert to Islam were executed and dumped in mass graves; many boys were forced to become child soldiers. An estimated 7,000 Yazidi women and girls, some as young as nine, were enslaved and forcibly transferred to locations in Iraq and eastern Syria. Held in sexual slavery, survivors were repeatedly sold, gifted, or passed around among Daesh fighters. So many Yazidis went missing that the enslavement of women did not immediately come to international attention. More than 3,000 women are missing to this day.
Today we remember the individuals lost to that genocide; those who remain missing; and all those who have experienced the most profound trauma imaginable.
I thank the Free Yezidi Foundation for this invitation and commend their important work in advocating on behalf of the Yazidi community and supporting those who are most in need. Today, like us, many are pausing to remember what happened 7 years ago and to recommit to “never again.” But while remembrance is critically important, it is not enough. Yazidis deserve more than remembrance. Seven years after the genocide, hundreds of thousands of Yazidis are still displaced and living in harsh conditions. The trauma of genocide is continuously compounded by poverty.
The COVID 19 pandemic has made matters worse. As countries focus domestically on the pandemic, those on the periphery of protection – the displaced, conflict-afflicted and survivors of sexual violence – are pushed further into the margins. The impact manifests in increased vulnerability to contracting COVID and a sharp decline in mental health. It is reported that in the first 16 days of 2021, 11 young Yazidis took their own lives. Clustered cases of suicide have been surfacing in IDP camps since the 2014 genocide.
Yet, every Yazidi survivor I have met with, over many years have articulated very clearly what they need. What they want most is justice and reparations-for Courts to prosecute ISIS perpetrators and hold them accountable for their crimes of sexual violence and genocide. They unanimously highlighted the criticality of livelihood support and underlined that psychological therapy is not a remedy for lack of income, clean water, education, and healthcare. Many stressed how livelihood opportunities generate hope and replace the despair that has settled in their hearts. They also demand peace, to return to their homes to live in safety and dignity as well as the reunification of families.
Security Council resolution 2467(2019) emphasized that to restore peace and security in the aftermath of sexual violence crimes, there must be holistic survivor-centered justice and reparation.
After seven years, we must call on the Government of Iraq to design and implement a comprehensive and survivor-centered transitional justice strategy, with the full support of the United Nations and international community.
This transitional justice strategy must uphold the rights of survivors of Daesh’s sexual violence under Iraqi and international law:
- To participate in political processes of the Iraqi federal and Kurdistan regional government, especially in matters that directly impact their future.
- To safe, dignified, and voluntary returns to their homelands, with economic livelihoods in these areas being paramount.
- To know the truth of what happened to each survivor individually and collectively to their families and communities. The Government of Iraq, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and the international community must commit to locating the thousands that remain missing from the Yazidi and other communities with dedicated resources and ensuring reunification when possible.
To criminal accountability for the crimes committed against survivors and victims from the Yazidi community and other Iraqi components for sexual violence offences. Although there has been absolutely no shortage of evidence from the very start of this crisis, in Iraq, there has not been a single conviction of a member of Daesh for sexual violence crimes. The recent and fourth conviction by a German Court, of ISIS members, for crimes against humanity against Yazidis is one such step in the right direction. But more needs to be done in Iraq where impunity reigns and most of those responsible for the atrocities, still walk free.
- As part of accountability, we must engage in a broader programme of legal reform. The provisions of the Iraqi Criminal Code on rape and other forms of sexual violence are now over half a century old. Legal reform on sexual violence is necessary to ensure that sexual violence will not be tolerated against any individual in Iraq as a guarantee of non-repetition for these offences.
Further, survivors must have the right:
- To reparation and other forms of victims’ assistance. The Yazidi Survivors Law enacted in March 2021, which provides support to those impacted by Daesh’s crimes from the Yazidi, Turkmen Shi’a, Shabak and Christian communities, is a landmark piece of legislation whose bylaws are currently being drafted. My mandate continues to stress to the Iraqi Government that these bylaws need to be as flexible as possible to reach the largest number of beneficiaries from these communities given the scale and sensitivity of the crimes involved. Further, the international community must support Iraq in effectively implementing this law both from a technical and financial perspective, as a vital part of Iraq’s reconstruction.
- And finally, survivors must be able to live free of shame and stigma. While, the Yazidi Spiritual Council has accepted the return in the community, of survivors of sexual violence, the children born to Yezidi mothers from the rape of Daesh members, are not welcomed as part of the Yezidi-community.
- I remain concerned about the plight of both the children and their mothers. Women bear the burden of the trauma of enslavement and rape, along with stigma and shame of wishing to care for their ‘Daesh’ children. While these are difficult cultural and religious matters, both these mothers and their children are entitled to full civil, political, social, and economic rights.
My mandate continues to support projects in Iraq pursuant to the Joint Communiqué signed between the Government of Iraq and the United Nations to Prevent and Respond to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence of 2016.
And to conclude, my message to the Yazidis community is that I am with you. I will continue to advocate for you and will continue to do so until you are safe; until you get justice and until you have what you need to heal and to flourish.