ISIS abused girls as young as nine, UN says

Head of Unitad Christian Ritsche says terrorist group must be held accountable for crimes in Iraq

Yazidi victims discovered in mass graves dug by ISIS are reburied. Some of the terror group's crimes have been revealed in a UN report. Photo: Nadia Murad
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The UN’s ISIS investigation team has found evidence the terrorist group was abusing girls as young as nine.

In its report into sexual violence by ISIS against Yazidi and ethnic minority groups in Iraq, the UN's Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by ISIS (Unitad) reveals the group encouraged its fighters to marry young girls and subject them to abuse.

The team found a catalogue of sexual abuse committed against women and children in Iraq.

Unitad was created in 2017 to investigate war crimes and genocide committed against the Yazidis and other groups following Isis taking control over part of Iraq in 2014.

The report catalogues abuses committed by the group between 2014 to 2017 and is calling for the group to be held accountable.

“With this report, Unitad reaffirms its steadfast commitment to pursuing justice for the heinous crimes committed by ISIS against various Iraqi constituencies," said Christian Ritscher, special adviser and head of Unitad.

"Our dedicated thematic unit investigating the sexual crimes against women, men, boys and girls remains at the forefront, rigorously working with a trauma-informed approach to unveil the breadth of ISIS’s brutality in Iraq, while adhering to the highest international standards.

“We are grateful for the support of the Iraqi authorities, which have facilitated our investigations, and we remain indebted to the brave victims, especially women and girls, who came forward and spoke up, sharing their heart-wrenching accounts and witness testimonies to ensure that ISIS perpetrators are held accountable before competent courts and that justice is served to all those victims and survivors.”

Investigators have been providing evidence to 18 countries to bolster the prosecution cases of more than 300 ISIS members and the UN Security Council this year voted to extend Unitad's mandate until September 2024.

The report reveals children brought from abroad by their parents who had joined ISIS were also targeted.

"Unitad holds solid evidence demonstrating the use of rape by ISIS members against women and girls as young as nine," it says.

"Women and girls, including Sunnis, were also subjected to rape and sexual violence through forced marriages. This includes children brought to Iraq and Syria from abroad by their parents upon joining ISIS.

"Under ISIS’s rule, girls as young as nine could be, and were effectively, married off and raped by their husbands.

The report added: "Child and forced marriages were not only tolerated but actively encouraged and perceived as desirable, regardless of the inherent violations of human rights. ISIS set the minimum age for girls to get married at nine, de facto legalising child marriage.

"The enslavement of Yazidi women and children and the sexual slavery inflicted on women and girls more specifically are well established by the available evidence."

Iraq this week criticised Unitad for delays in providing evidence to investigate potential war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by ISIS, saying it was holding up prosecutorial efforts in Iraqi courts.

However, Unitad says despite overwhelming evidence there is still a lot of work to be done and has called for more people to come forward.

"Although many aspects of ISIS’s sexual and gender-based crimes have been unearthed, much work remains to be done in investigating and documenting the full scope of crimes committed," it says.

"In particular, sexual crimes against the Christian, Shia Turkmen, Kaka’i and Sunni communities require additional investigation. In this respect, Unitad remains committed to its mandate through continuing to collect, analyse and further assess evidence on the crimes committed by ISIS in Iraq."

Updated: December 05, 2023, 12:13 PM