My presentation on “The struggle for democracy in thailand and its impact on ASEAN” is now online.
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INTERVIEW: THESE YEZIDI GIRLS ESCAPED ISIS. NOW WHAT?
By Amy Braunschweiger
Last August, the world watched in horror as the extremist armed group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, attacked Iraq’s Yezidi community. Thousands fled without food or water into the nearby Sinjar mountains, but ISIS fighters waylaid many, executing men and abducting thousands of people, mainly women and children. Rumors of forced marriage and enslavement of Yezidi girls and women swirled, and were later confirmed as a trickle of women and girls – now numbering into the hundreds – escaped. Human Rights Watch researchers Samer Muscati and Rothna Begum interviewed 20 of these women and girls and shared their findings with Amy Braunschweiger.
Samer: The Yezidis live in Iraq’s Nineveh province on land claimed by both the Kurdistan regional government and the Iraqi central government. They practice an ancient monotheistic religion, and Yezidis say they have been persecuted for hundreds of years because many consider them “heretics.” Violent attacks against Yezidis by Sunni Arab extremists escalated after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. On August 14, 2007, four simultaneous truck bombings killed more than 300 Yezidis and wounded more than 700 in Sinjar district communities. Some Yezidi activists also faced intimidation and threats from Kurdistan government forces. Kurdistan authorities consider Yezidis to be Kurds and, therefore, Yezidi lands part of the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Thousands of Yezidi families have fled to Syria, Jordan, and elsewhere. Since 2003, but before the latest attack by ISIS, their numbers in Iraq had dropped from about 700,000 to 500,000. There are probably fewer now.
No one knows how many Yezidis have been killed by ISIS – they’re still uncovering mass graves. Very little information comes out of ISIS-controlled areas. Every family has been affected, has had a husband or son killed, a daughter abducted, or has had to flee. We visited informal settlements and the main camp, Khanke, near Dohuk, which houses more than 18,000 Yazidis, mainly from around the city of Sinjar, about a two-and-a-half hour drive away. The Yezidis are living in a virtual sea of displaced person tents and nearby unfinished buildings, which lack doors and heat, perched on windswept hills. The views from the hilltops are stunning on a sunny day, but there’s little to protect the people there from the cold.
In the camps you interviewed women and girls who escaped ISIS and made their way back home. What happened to them at the hands of ISIS?
Rothna: We heard stories of abuse ranging from being forced to wait on ISIS members hand and foot, to beatings, rape, electric shocks, forced marriage, and sexual slavery.
Samer: One girl said ISIS members, wanting to find out who “desecrated” their Quran, handcuffed and blindfolded her and two other girls, beat them with a cable, and then fired a gunshot into the air. Apparently, the girl told us, one of the many cats in the house had ripped the Quran.
Most of the girls we spoke with said they were transferred from one place to another, ultimately living in big houses or halls with between 5 and 60 other girls. During the course of the day, ISIS fighters would come in, pick a girl to take, and if she refused, she’d be slapped or beaten.
What happened to these girls when they returned home, especially considering the moral weight placed on their virginity?
Rothna: Virginity is a huge issue across the region. There is a stigma attached to the abducted women because they could have experienced sexual violence from the ISIS fighters – and it extends to their families. We know that in conflicts around the world, communities retaliate against women who are victims of sexual violence. Husbands leave wives, families abandon daughters. One of our biggest concerns was, would these women be treated violently after returning home?
That’s not what we found – in part thanks to the Yezidi religious leader, Baba Sheikh, who instructed the community to welcome back and not harm those who were abducted, forced to convert, or raped. Because of this, most families have welcomed back their female relatives. We didn’t interview Baba Sheikh, but we spoke with another religious leader, Baba Chawish. He welcomed us, and spoke calmly and with dignity, despite the chaos surrounding him. He told us how, over centuries, Yezidis have had to flee numerous attacks. This was just another crisis, he said, and his goal was to keep the community together as much as possible and, frankly, to survive.
The families we met just wanted to be reunited. They already had so many family members killed or abducted by ISIS, they just want their families back.
How are these girls doing?
Samer: It’s difficult for them, they’ve endured terrible abuses. For me, the hardest part was when they talked about their missing parents, or about how ISIS men separated them from their sister, and where could she be? It’s terrible to be a young girl and be abducted and endure horrific abuses, but then to also lose your family on top of that? One of the most common sentiments I heard was that their biggest wish is to be reunited with their families, as they don’t know how to be whole without them.
As a group, these were among the worst cases I have ever documented for Human Rights Watch, and that says a lot as I’ve documented a wide range of abuses for years in war-plagued Iraq – everything from torture in secret prisons to abuses against people displaced by the fighting.
One 12-year-old girl really stood out to me. Her shy disposition reminded me of my 12-year old cousin. The man who abducted her told her not to worry, that he’d treat her as he’d treat his own daughter. Then he drugged her and she woke up to see blood between her legs.
Tobe search in YouTube
Islamic State Captives in Iraq: Prisoners Forced to Convert, Girls Forced to Marry
ISIS Holding Yezidis Captive in Iraq
Was it difficult getting the girls to share their experiences? Samer, was the fact that you are an Iraqi Arab man an impediment?
It wasn’t helpful – many of the ISIS fighters there are Iraqi Arabs. But we worked with local activists who already knew the women and girls, which put everyone at ease. We are also extremely sensitive and careful not to re-traumatize survivors.
Had any of these girls become pregnant?
Rothna: We spoke to one who was pregnant at the time she escaped, but there are others that we heard of, and there will be more cases as more women and girls escape. Abortion is illegal in Iraq, but it’s allowed in certain circumstances, such as when a woman’s life is at risk. The law should be interpreted to cover cases of pregnancy as a result of rape. If the women choose to have the children, there should be a plan for them to keep the baby or not.
Now that they’ve returned to their community, what would you like to see for these girls?
Rothna: We want everyone who comes back to receive adequate medical and psychosocial treatment, as well as schooling for girls and employment skills training for women.
Additionally, doctors need to be better trained in examining women who have been sexually assaulted. The purpose of the examinations needs to be explained to the women and girls to get informed consent from them, and doctors should ask for consent both before and during the examination. Otherwise, the exams could be harmful and humiliating for women and girls, and make them feel like they have no control over their bodies – which is what they felt when they were abducted by ISIS.
Samer: We also found some nongovernmental organizations and journalists with no experience interviewing trauma victims documenting their stories. Some recorded their statements on video, which leads to the risk of them being identified publicly.
Rothna: One girl I spoke with, we call her “Noor,” seemed so much better adjusted than the others – despite being the only child left in her family. She smiled, joked around with us, and talked to us about her future. But she had an awful story. She was abducted at 15, and after being moved from place to place she lived in a house with other girls who were forcibly married off or sold one-by-one. She and a friend attempted suicide together – she showed me the scars on her wrists – but an ISIS member caught them and stopped them. When her friend was picked to be taken by an ISIS member, the girl begged the men to take her too, so she could stay with her friend. They agreed and took both girls to another house. There, two other men told them, “You are sold to us.” They then beat and raped them for five days until they escaped, breaking through the door while the men were away fighting.
When she first came to the camp, she looked like a ghost, people told us. She was reunited with her parents, who were traumatized after their only son, Noor’s brother, was executed in front of them. But Noor had her parents’ support. She said that she’d been to the hospital a few times, is receiving regular counseling, and is taking a sewing class. Her friend that she escaped with lives in a separate camp, and her father has taken her there to visit. Sometimes NGO activists take her out of the camp for social activities like going to the mall. She says she still has nightmares, but she’s healing. She’s going to be someone who can identify herself as a survivor, not just as a victim.
In some ways, Noor has come back to life.
Yes. And life in general is taking shape in the camps. You can see market stalls selling chewing gum, and you see the lengths people have to go to make these tents feel like home with rugs and pillows. Keeping their spaces clean. They’d survived the winter and were dealing with cold rains. It’s likely they’ll be there for months or even years to come.
Why haven’t all the girls received the same type of treatment as Noor?
Rothna: Of the 300 women and girls who have returned, only 100 have been identified by health authorities. The other 200 or so, their families likely don’t know these services are available. People need to get the word out.
The Yezidi camps are in Iraqi Kurdistan, and they are protected by Kurdistan’s forces. The local Kurdistan officials we spoke with have been trying to help get women and girls treatment and to aid those who escaped to return home safely. They told us that they want expert help in handling rape cases and trauma, and they need expert assistance and training, particularly in psychotherapy. They want to know how to help.
Samer: The Yezidis stopped dominating the news six months ago, but the crisis still exists. Needs are going unmet. And there is an enormous number of people that need help – especially as more and more women and girls escape ISIS.
This 47-page report profiles 17 Syrian women who are now refugees in Turkey. Through written and photographic portraits, the report documents ways in which the conflict impacts women in particular. Women profiled in the report experienced violations by government and pro-government forces as well as by armed groups opposed to the government such as Liwa’al-Islam and extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS). Some female activists and humanitarian aid providers said they had been threatened, arbitrarily arrested and detained, and tortured by government or armed opposition forces. All six former detainees profiled in the report experienced physical abuse or torture in detention; one woman was sexually assaulted multiple times. Other women said they had been victims of discriminatory restrictions on their dress and movement. Several women were injured or lost family members in indiscriminate attacks on civilians by government forces.
Boko Haram Violence against Women and Girls in Northeast Nigeria
OCTOBER 27, 2014
This report is based on interviews with more than 46 witnesses and victims of Boko Haram abductions in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states, including with girls who escaped the April 2014 abduction of 276 girls from Chibok secondary school. Their statements suggest that the Nigerian government has failed to adequately protect women and girls from a myriad of abuses, provide them with effective support and mental health and medical care after captivity, ensure access to safe schools, or investigate and prosecute those responsible for the abuses.
Dr Chia Thye Poh is a Singaporean former political prisoner. Detained under the Internal Security Act of Singapore for allegedly conducting pro-communist activities against the government, he was … Wikipedia
SINGAPORE/WORLD: Declaring Dr. Chia Thye Poh as a Singaporean hero is
a better way to commemorate the death of Lee Kuan Yew
Many, including President Barack Obama, have been paying glowing
tributes to Lee Kuan Yew since the announcement of his death this
morning, 23rd March 2015. However, recalling what Lee Kuan Yew did to
Dr. Chia Thye Poh and many other persons who aspired for multi-party
democracy and respect for the freedom of expression in Singapore is a
better way to remember Lee Kuan Yew. It is the least that can be done
to fight back against the terrible legacy he has bequeathed.
Singapore is one of the very few countries that have not even ratified
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Lee
Kuan Yew saw civil and political rights as a threat to his power. He
pursued a one party state model with all his passion. To achieve this,
he arbitrarily used all legal provisions, often deciding these laws by
himself in order to give himself more power and strangulate democracy.
The notorious Internal Security Act (ISA) of Singapore, which, among
other things, gave Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister the power to keep a
person in detention without trial, merely on the basis of a detention
order signed by Lee. Many became victim to this terrible law. Another
one of his diabolical tricks was to file bankrupt proceedings against
his political opponents, knowing fully well that, as long as he lived,
Singapore Courts would give orders as per his wishes.
The best-known victim to Lee’s arbitrary rule is Dr. Chia Thye Poh,
a political activist and a member of the Parliament of Singapore, who
remained in detention for a period of 27 years. Dr. Chia Thye Poh
suffered the longest term in prison as a political prisoner.
The People’s Action Party (PAP) of Singapore advocated and effected
a one party system of government. To achieve this, Lee Kuan Yew tried
all manner of tricks, including imposing severe restrictions on the
freedom of assembly. In Singapore, it is still illegal to hold any
outdoor meeting attended by more than five persons without
authorisation from police authorities. Those who defy this law have
been imprisoned or subjected to fines. Lee also had innocent persons
arrested from time to time, accusing them of treason and of attempting
to illegally overthrow his government. In 1987, for example, he
arrested and detained a group of young Christian workers, accusing
them of plotting to overthrow his government. They were denied trial,
but were kept in detention.
Lee Kuan Yew believed that man lives by bread alone and that freedom
and human rights are cultural values alien to Singaporeans and Asians.
While the World Conference on Human Rights was being held by the
United Nations in Vienna, Austria, in June 1993, he famously advocated
this “Asian values” theory, characterising human rights as based
on western values alien to Asians.
Today, Singapore is a modern nation that still has not experienced
freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, right to fair trial, and
the right to free and fair elections. Now that Lee Kuan Yew has
passed, it is to be hoped that Singaporeans will come to learn more
about the stories of those who suffered for their political opinions
under Lee Kuan Yew.
It is time to recognise persons like Dr. Chia Thye Poh, who are large
in number, as Singaporean heroes. It is also to be hoped that
Singapore will become a respected member of the international
community by ratifying the International Covenant ICCPR and all other
UN Conventions on human rights. Present and future generations of
Singaporeans have a right to know the truth that Lee Kuan Yew managed
successfully to suppress for many long years. It is to be hoped that
doors of freedom will open in Singapore and the draconian laws that
Lee introduced will be replaced with more democratic laws.
The late, legendary British Barrister, Sir John Motimer Q.C. described
the hypocrisy of Singapore’s legal system under Lee Kuan Yew in the
“We have every reason to be proud of the fact that our judicial
system has been adopted in so many different parts of the world. At
the heart of it is fairness to everyone who holds views with which the
government doesn’t agree, and judicial independence. Without these
ingredients, the wearing of wigs, the humble submissions and the
quoting of House of Lords authorities become a meaningless parade of
archaic customs and costumes.”
It is to be hoped that soon the draconian legal system Lee Kuan Yew
created will become a thing of the past and that his style of
governance will be abandoned; instead, it is hoped that Singaporeans
will be able to establish a civilized system based on the rule of law.