Why is Isis abusing women

Iraq: IS refugees describe systematic rape

(New York) - The extremist group Islamic State, or IS for short, has committed systematic rape and other forms of sexual violence against Yazidi women and girls in northern Iraq, according to Human Rights Watch. In January and February 2015, Human Rights Watch conducted research in Dohuk City, interviewed 20 women and girls who escaped IS captivity, and reviewed IS statements on the issue.

Human Rights Watch documents the systematic use of rape and sexual assault, sexual slavery, and forced marriage by IS troops. These acts constitute war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. Many of the women and girls are still missing. The survivors now in the Iraqi Kurdistan Autonomous Region are in need of psychosocial support and other help.

"ISIS troops have committed organized rape, sexual assault and other horrific crimes against Yazidi women and girls," said Liesl Gerntholtz, head of women's rights at Human Rights Watch. "Those who escaped need treatment to cope with the unimaginable trauma they have suffered."

According to Kurdish officials and representatives of the Kurdish community, IS troops captured several thousand Yazidi civilians in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh in August 2014. Eyewitnesses reported that young women and adolescent girls were systematically separated from their families and other prisoners and moved from one location to another within Iraq and Syria.

The eleven women and nine girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch fled ISIS violence between September 2014 and January 2015. Half of them, including two girls aged twelve, reported that they had been raped - in some cases several times and by various IS fighters. Almost all of them reported that they were forcibly married and - in some cases repeatedly - sold or "given away". They also had to watch as other prisoners were molested in front of their eyes.

Human Rights Watch also interviewed more than a dozen international and local organizations, health workers, Kurdish officials, representatives of the Kurdish community and activists who confirmed these statements. A doctor based in Dohuk who treats survivors told Human Rights Watch that of the 105 women and girls she examined, 70 were apparently raped while in IS detention.

All women and girls interviewed showed signs of acute psychological distress. Many continue to be separated from their relatives and families because they are still held captive or have been killed by IS troops. Some of the respondents reported that they had witnessed suicide attempts directly while in captivity or had attempted suicide to avoid rape, forced marriage or forced conversion.

In October 2014, the IS confirmed in its publication Dabiqthat captured Yazidi women and girls were divided among the fighters as "spoils of war". IS justifies sexual violence by claiming that Islam allows non-Muslim "slaves", including girls, to have sex, to beat them, and to sell them. These statements are further evidence of this widespread practice and the systematic nature of ISIS, Human Rights Watch said.

ISIS commanders should immediately release all detained civilians, reunite children with their families, and put an end to forced marriages and conversions. They should take all necessary measures to end rape and other forms of sexual violence by IS fighters. International and local actors who have the necessary influence should urge IS to implement these steps.

In 2014, the Kurdish regional government took in more than 637,000 displaced persons from the province of Nineveh alone and made considerable efforts to provide medical care for Yazidi women and girls who were able to flee from IS captivity. But there were also deficits in health care: some of the respondents stated that they had been examined by a doctor, but had not been informed about the reason for the examination or the results.

Dohuk's general director of health told Human Rights Watch that local authorities have identified fewer than 150 women and girls who have escaped ISIS violence and that only about a hundred have received medical attention. According to the Directorate for Yazidi Affairs of the Kurdish regional government, a total of 974 Yazidis had fled ISIS violence as of March 15, 2015, including 513 women and 304 children.

The women and girls need trauma treatment and long-term psychological care, Human Rights Watch said. Not all had immediate access to injury treatment, emergency contraception, safe and legal abortion, including access to sexual and reproductive health interventions, and psychosocial support.

The Kurdish regional government should work to address shortfalls in medical care and psychosocial support for Yazidi girls and women and ensure that doctors inform survivors of the test results and the services available to them, Human Rights Watch said. In addition, the Kurdish regional government is to draft a plan to support children who have emerged from rape in order to ensure adequate care and protection for them and their mothers. In addition, the Kurdish regional government is to invest in vocational training and programs to secure a livelihood in order to make it easier for women to reintegrate into everyday life.

"The Yazidi women and girls who were able to flee from the violence of IS continue to face enormous challenges and their traumatic experiences," said Gerntholtz. "They urgently need help and support to get well again and to get on with their lives."