BEIRUT — Yazidi girls – some as young as eight – were raped by jihadists and then resold, a reportreleased Wednesday says.
The most harrowing account yet of what became of Yazidi females abducted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has been compiled by Human Rights Watch.
The rights group interviewed 20 women and girls who managed to escape after their ethnic minority sect was targeted by ISIL last summer.
They described how the hostages became the victims of a mass program of sexual slavery, with girls as young as eight being traded between the jihadists or given as gifts.
Jalila, 12, whose name has been changed for her own protection, told of being separated from her mother and sister and taken to a house in an ISIL-controlled part of Syria that had become a market for Yazidi women.
“The men would come and select us,” she said. “When they came, they would tell us to stand up and then examine our bodies. They would tell us to show our hair and sometimes they beat the girls if they refused. They wore dishdashas [ankle length garments) and had long beards and hair.”
Jalila told of being repeatedly raped before she managed to flee.
Seven ISIS fighters “owned” her and four raped her on multiple occasions: “Sometimes I was sold. Sometimes I was given as a gift. The last man was the most abusive; he used to tie my hands and legs.”
Dilara, 20, whose name has also been changed, said she was held in a wedding hall in Syria with 60 other Yazidi female captives.
“From 9.30 in the morning, men would come to buy girls to rape them,” she said.”They were like animals. Once they took the girls out, they would rape them and bring them back to exchange for new girls. The ages ranged from eight to 30 years – only 20 girls remained in the end.”
Narin, 20, said that when a fighter named Abu Du’ad brought her to his home, his wife left in protest. He brought a religious judge to perform a marriage ceremony but Narin refused to participate.
Abu Du’ad persisted by trying to get permission from Narin’s family and called her brother in Germany. “But [my brother] said no to the marriage and offered to pay $50,000 for my release,” Narin said. “Abu Du’ad said no.”
Rashida, 31, managed to speak to one of her brothers after her abduction by secretly using a fighter’s phone. She told her brother that ISIS fighters were forcing her to convert and then to marry. He told her he would try to help her but if he couldn’t, “I should commit suicide because it would be better than the alternative.”
“Later that day they [ISIS fighters] made a lottery of our names and started to choose women by drawing out the names. The man who selected me, Abu Ghufran, forced me to bathe but while I was in the bathroom I tried to kill myself. I had found some poison in the house, and took it with me to the bathroom. I knew it was toxic because of its smell. I distributed it to the rest of the girls and we each mixed some with water in the bathroom and drank it. None of us died but we all got sick. Some collapsed.”
Leila said she saw two girls try to kill themselves by slashing their wrists with broken glass. She also tried to commit suicide when her Libyan captors forced her to take a bath, which she knew was typically a prelude to rape:
“I went into the bathroom, turned on the water, stood on a chair to take the wire connecting the light to electrocute myself but there was no electricity. After they realized what I was doing, they beat me with a long piece of wood and with their fists. My eyes were swollen shut and my arms turned blue. They handcuffed me to the sink, and cut my clothes with a knife and washed me. They took me out of the bathroom, brought in [my friend] and raped her in the room in front of me.”
Leila said she was later raped. She said she tried to commit suicide again and showed Human Rights Watch the scars on her wrists where she cut herself with a razor.
The interviews collected by Human Rights Watch supported the findings of a United Nations investigation last year, which reported the jihadists giving the captured Yazidi women “price tags for the buyers to choose and negotiate the sale”.
As many as 3,000 people, mainly Yazidis, remain in ISIL captivity, according to the UN. The jihadists attacked the northern Iraqi province of Sinjar last August, overrunning the towns of the Yazidi ethnic minority, whom ISIL has labelled as “devil worshippers”.
After killing hundreds of the men, the jihadists rounded up the women in the villages, taking them hostage and sending groups to different towns and cities under their control in Iraq and in Syria. Of the 11 women and nine girls interviewed, half – including two 12-year-olds – said they had been raped.
Nearly all said they had been forced into marriage, sold, in some cases a number of times, or used as gifts. The women and girls also witnessed other captives being abused.
A local doctor treating female survivors in Dohuk told Human Rights Watch that of the 105 women and girls she had examined, 70 appeared to have been raped in ISIL captivity.
The interviews are grim confirmation of the boasts by ISIL inDabiq, its English language magazine, last October in which it attempted to provide theological justification for the practice of making the “apostate” Yazidi women the “concubines” of ISIL fighters.
The group also circulated a document to its fighters saying it was “permissible to buy, sell, or give as a gift female captives and slaves, for they are merely property, which can be disposed of.”
It also said it was “permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty”.
Many of the girls who escaped from the jihadists now live in makeshift refugee camps in Kurdish-controlled parts of northern Iraq.
Some of the girls have returned pregnant from their ordeal. Abortion in all circumstances was illegal in Iraq and there was also almost no psychological or social support for the Yazidi victims, Human Rights Watch said.
Liesl Gerntholtz, the group’s women’s rights director. said: “Yazidi women and girls who escaped ISIL still face enormous challenges and continuing trauma from their experience.
“They need urgent help and support to recover their health and move on with their lives.”