Yazidi women say law to provide compensation for ISIS crimes 'not enough'

Extremist group captured and enslaved about 7,000 women and girls from minority groups in northern Iraq

Sarab Essa, 21, a member of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, endured unspeakable atrocities at the hands of ISIS. Photo: Sarab Essa
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For Sarab Essa, a member of Iraq’s Yazidi minority that was enslaved and brutalised by ISIS, securing a monthly payment through a compensation programme is a small victory in a long and arduous journey towards healing and justice.

“The monthly payment is appreciated, but it’s not enough,” Ms Essa, 21, who spent five years in captivity, told The National.

“We need more than just financial compensation to rebuild our lives and reclaim our dignity.”

In March 2021, the Iraqi parliament approved a law that recognised the crimes committed by ISIS against Yazidi, Christian and Shiite Shabak and Turkmen minorities as genocide and crimes against humanity.

The Yazidi Female Survivors Law aims to provide “compensation, financially and morally” and to “secure a decent life” for survivors through rehabilitation and care.

It covers compensation and reforms for survivors, including monthly payments, the provision of medical and psychological care, the granting of residential land, the right to education without restrictions on age, as well as prioritising survivors when it comes to public sector employment.

The law also states that the government will continue to search for those still in captivity, co-ordinate steps to identify bodies in mass graves and ensure that perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity are held accountable.

Three years on, the main progress has been in the area of monthly payments, which have been disbursed to some survivors.

However, other crucial forms of compensations have not materialised, leaving Yazidi women such as Ms Essa continuing their fight for justice.

ISIS crimes

Ms Essa was about 12 when she and her two sisters were captured in mid-2014 by ISIS, which took control of about a third of the country. They were then sold into slavery.

Thousands of Yazidi women and children were enslaved by the extremists, along with others from Christian, Shiite Turkmen and Shiite Shabak communities.

ISIS took thousands of Yazidis captive from their ancestral homeland of Sinjar, near the Syrian border, and surrounding areas and proceeded to kill the rest.

Thousands of young women were forced into sexual slavery by the extremists while mass graves containing the bodies of thousands killed are still being uncovered.

Ms Essa was sold many times by the families of ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria, where the terrorist group also overran lands.

“They were the hardest days of my life,” she said, her voice trembling with emotion. “Every day passed as if it was a year. The living conditions were difficult and life was tough.”

I was a child and my whole life revolved around my childhood. Their brutality deprived me of the chance to live my childhood and made it a tough one
Sarab Essa, Yazidi survivor

“I was a child and my whole life revolved around my childhood,” she said. “Their brutality deprived me of the chance to live my childhood and made it a tough one.”

She was reunited with her family in July 2019 while her two sisters returned in 2016 and 2020.

Like others, Ms Essa applied for compensation under the government programme in September 2022, when the application portal was first launched.

She began to receive a monthly payment of 800,000 Iraqi dinar (about $530) from April last year. Her other two sisters are entitled to the same amount.

About 7,000 women and girls were captured and sold into slavery, according to estimates from Yazidi community leaders and NGOs.

More than half of them eventually escaped. The numbers for other minorities are not available.

As of last month, 1,651 survivors were approved to receive reparation payments, according to Iraqi government figures, which listed 847 female survivors, 784 children who were under the age of 18 when they were kidnapped, as well as 20 survivors of mass killings.

Most of the beneficiaries are Yazidis.

Iraq holds funeral for newly identified Yazidi victims of ISIS

Iraq holds funeral for newly identified Yazidi victims of ISIS

Mixed record

In its report to mark the third anniversary of the law on Friday, the Coalition for Just Reparations, an alliance of Iraqi NGOs, said the monthly compensation payments remained “one of the successes of YSL [Yazidi Survivors Law] implementations”.

“These payments have a tangible, material impact on the lives of survivors, the majority of whom reside in post-conflict affected areas or camps,” C4JR said in its report.

However, the monthly payment has become an obstacle preventing survivors from receiving priority status in public sector employment, as stipulated by the law.

This is because Iraqi legislation prohibits citizens from receiving a dual salary, C4JR said.

It called on the government to consider making an exception.

With regards to mental health and psychosocial support, C4JR said: “There is growing optimism regarding the potential for significant progress in the upcoming year towards achieving rehabilitation as a form of reparation within the YSL framework.”

It also recommended the dropping of extralegal investigation papers as a mandatory supporting document for the YSL framework and urged authorities to take into consideration other supporting paperwork available or invite applicants to be interviewed by the concerned committee.

On land distribution, the Iraqi government decided in late 2022 to grant Yazidis ownership of their land in 11 collective towns in Sinjar, offering a solution to historic ownership issues that previously prevented official recognition of Sinjar residents’ ownership of land and houses.

“This move set in motion the realisation of YSL entitlements in terms of the distribution of plots of land to the law’s beneficiaries,” C4JR said.

Last October, provincial authorities in Nineveh decided to allocate 250 plots of residential land in Sinjar and 12 in the town Tel Afar, each measuring 250 square metres, to an initial batch of beneficiaries.

The law entitles survivors to resume their studies, removing a legal age limit outlined by the Iraqi Ministry of Education that many survivors of ISIS violence had passed as a result of captivity.

According to the Education Ministry, any pupil who is absent for two years must attend evening classes at a public school while any pupil who has missed four years of schooling loses the right to enrol for either morning and evening classes.

While survivors are exempt from the age restrictions under the law, only a few have been able to return to school as adults.

The General Directorate for Survivors Affairs has taken measures to support the return of 17 female and eight male survivors, C4JR said.

Prominent Yazidi NGO Yazda is also providing educational rehabilitation support to 200 survivors as an interim measure until the state-sponsored system is functional, it added.

Ms Essa, whose family still lives in a camp, is still waiting to be covered by other reparative measures, mainly the one on education.

“They think that when we get that payment, we will need nothing,” she said. “All the articles are important, and all our rights are in that law.”

Updated: March 05, 2024, 3:30 AM