Situation and needs of Yazidis in captivity
Yazidis living in IS captivity
It is estimated that approximately 7,000 Yazidis were captured by IS as they attacked Sinjar in August 2014. The latest figures from the Directorate of Yazidi Affairs in the KRG (as of June 2017) shows that 3,048 people have been able to return to freedom from IS captivity over the last three years, of whom 1,092 are women and 334 are men, and 1,622 children; 819 female and 803 males. But as many as 1,636 abducted women and girls and 1,733 men and boys remain unaccounted for, and many more have died in captivity.
The captives’ treatment at the hands of IS militants is invariably brutal but differs based on the genocidal strategy employed against them: young women and girls were exploited as sex slaves, forcibly converted and in some cases forcibly married; boys who have not yet reached puberty were brainwashed and trained as child soldiers; and in some cases, men and older women who were forced to convert to Islam were relocated and used as forced laborers.
Yazidi women and girls in captivity
Widespread abduction and enslavement of Yazidi women and girls was planned in advance as a core strategy of IS’s genocidal assault on the Yazidi community. Enslavement, which continues to this day for thousands of women and girls, was intended to harm the victims both physically and psychologically, and cause long-term damage and stigma which would limit the ability for survivors to rejoin their community. It was also intended to contribute to the genocide by causing harm to the entire community, by separating family members, and even by deliberately tormenting relatives who were forced to witness or listen over the phone as their daughters and sisters were abused.
For three years now, these women and girls have suffered ongoing sexual violence and trafficking. They have been dehumanized and sold in slave markers (souk sabaya) organized by IS’s Committee for the Buying and Selling of Slaves, or traded among militants through online auctions – IS fighters often use encrypted Telegram messaging to circulate photos of captured Yazidis for sale. The sex trafficking system is highly regulated, with women registered as ‘slaves’ in a contract, sanctioned by an IS court. Various reports have found that women were transported and held in large buildings already set up, where they were separated and categorized systematically by age, marital status and virginity. In addition to sex trafficking, some Yazidi women and girls have been forcibly married to IS fighters, and subjected to forced pregnancy in some cases, and forced contraception or abortion in other cases. All of these tactics were accompanied by forced conversion, the forced abandonment of Yazidi customs, and name changes. Yazidi women and girls in captivity are subjected to constant verbal and psychological abuse, with severe punishments for speaking their own language or practicing Yazidi traditions. Insults are particularly directed at their faith – captives are accused of being “devil worshippers” and referred to derogatorily as ‘kuffar’ and told to forget their families and their God. They are also often taunted by IS fighters with references to their families having been slaughtered or to their ‘honor’ being tainted as a result of the rapes. Physical violence and inadequate living conditions are also commonplace for Yazidi captives. All of these strategies, endorsed by the highest levels of IS leadership and with supposedly religious justification, were genocidal in intent and evidence of this is contained in publicly available documents.
Yazidi boys held as child soldiers
As IS advanced over Sinjar in August 2014, Yazidi boys who had yet to reach puberty were considered malleable enough for brainwashing. They were therefore separated from their families and taken to military camps where they would be trained to become the ‘cubs of the caliphate’.
In these camps, young Yazidi children are taught IS’s extremist ideology and Quranic interpretations, and brainwashed to hate Yazidism, their own families and their community. They are trained to use weapons, including firearms and knives, and made to watch videos depicting decapitations of hostages and to practice this over dummies, or even human beings.
For some such children, this military training and indoctrination has led to a tragic epilogue: earlier this year, two Yazidi brothers called Amjad and Assad were sent to commit a suicide attack in Mosul on IS’s behalf. Other Yazidi boys have been brainwashed to such an extent that they refuse to escape captivity and return to their families, even when they have a chance to, or are unable to re-adjust to free life after they flee.
Yazidis forced to convert and exploited as forced laborers
Some men and older women who ostensibly accepted to convert to Islam were initially spared execution and relocated to abandoned Shia villages such as Qasr Mahrab and Qasr Qrio. They were forced to work for IS, including by laboring on construction projects, tunnels and farms. Yazidi men and boys were required to go to mosque for prayers and no one was allowed to leave the village to which they had been assigned, while IS militants would control all aspects of life in these enslaved communities.
After several months of forced labor, however, and in spite of their forced conversion to Islam, IS decided to dismantle these communities and emptied Qasr Mahrab and Qasr Qrio. While some captives were transferred to other areas under IS’s control, many of the men and older boys are feared to have since been killed, as their families suddenly lost all contact with them. An estimated 600 men among the captive community in Tal Afar and the two villages were separated from the rest of the Yazidis. It is presumed that these men were executed in nearby Tal Afar, however, no solid evidence has been found to date.