Children of the Yazidi religious and ethnic minority, who survived brutal Islamic State (IS) captivity in Iraq, have been left to fend for themselves whilst suffering from lasting trauma and health complications, according to a new Amnesty International report published on 30 July 2020.
The report, titled: Legacy of Terror: The Plight of Yezidi Child Survivors of ISIS, details how almost 2,000 Yazidi children living in the Kurdish regional government area of Iraq have been “effectively abandoned”, six years after IS overran their homeland.
Many of these children now suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, uncontrollable anger and have persisting health problems.
Speaking on the release of the report, Matt Wells, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Deputy Director for Thematic Issues, said:
“These children were systematically subjected to the horror of life under IS, and now they’ve been left to pick up the pieces. They must be given the support they desperately need to rebuild their lives as part of the Yezidi community’s future,”
The 57-page report reveals the “extensive challenges” now faced by these children and the families who care for them. The report also addressed the “urgent need to end the enforced separation of women and their children born of sexual violence by IS members.”.
Between 2014 and 2017 the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Yezidi community in Iraq. A UN Commission of Inquiry concluded in 2015 that IS committed acts against the Yezidi community that amount to genocide.
– Amnesty International
In 2014, IS launched a genocidal campaign against the Yazidi religious minority in northern Iraq. The Yazidi group attempted to flee to Mount Sinjar, but many were killed.
Some 7,000 women and girls were seized and enslaved – many were raped. Amnesty report that a large number of girls have been left unable to have babies, while enslaved Yazidi women have been left to care for babies of IS fighters without support.
According to a doctor quoted in the report “almost every girl she had treated between the ages of nine and 17 had been raped or subjected to other sexual violence”.
Thousands of Yazidi boys were also captured, starved, tortured and forced to fight by IS. Some of these boys have lost limbs in battle. The Amnesty report highlights how child soldiers are especially likely to suffer from serious health conditions or physical disabilities.
The lasting impact and need for change
Almost every family and caregiver interviewed for the Amnesty report felt that the “health needs of child survivors are not currently being met, particularly with regard to long-term, serious health conditions and injuries”.
This led Matt Wells to state:
“While the nightmare of their past has receded, hardships remain for these children. After enduring the horrors of war at an extremely young age, they now need urgent support from the national authorities in Iraq and the international community to build their future,”
Many of these child survivors are left with debilitating long-term injuries, illnesses or physical impairments. The most common mental health conditions include post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression.
Further from this, children often suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, and severe mood swings. This in turn leads many to withdraw from social situations all together.
Child survivors have also been deprived of a formal education as a result of their captivity. A lack of awareness or “excessive bureaucracy” has also meant they often miss out on subsequent available programmes for accelerated learning.
Amnesty also fears that the “challenges faced by these children and their family members are only likely to increase as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic”, as NGOs and charities are forced to discontinue or pause their programmes.
UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie cited the Amnesty report in front of the UN Security Council on July 17 2020 saying:
“If we are not able to live up to our promise of a survivor-centred approach for Yezidi children, who make up just one relatively small group of survivors, then how many more children and young adults are suffering in silence at the global level?”
“We have to be prepared to admit where we have failed, and do the hard work to support survivors, change laws and attitudes and bring perpetrators to account, over many years…These are all promises that must be kept.”
What can be done?
The report made a number of recommendations, aimed at different actors.
Amnesty recommended the Iraqi central government: Take urgent steps to identify missing Yazidi children, women and men and increase funding to agencies carrying out such work; bring justice in fair trials that preclude the death penalty; and amend Iraqi law to “incorporate grave violations of international law including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide”.
Two years ago, the United Nations established an Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh (UNITAD). Special Advisor Karim Khan has worked with UNITAD to help the Iraqi authorities better understand Da’esh criminal networks.
In line with the Amnesty recommendation, Mr. Khan commended a draft law presented in November which would allow Iraq to prosecute acts committed by Da’esh as genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, saying:
“In my respectful view, this is critically important. If we don’t call it for what it was; if we don’t label the crimes correctly, we are doomed, or at least there is a real risk they may reoccur… I think in terms of giving confidence to the Yazidi community, the courage and the stamina of the international community to create that piece of legal architecture would go a long way.”
Amnesty also highlights the need for Yazidi survivors to have increased rights to education and the right to a legal identity.
A key recommendation made is to:
Ensure that all Yezidi women with children born of sexual violence are made aware of their rights to remain with their children, and cooperate with the UNHCR to identify these cases for urgent resettlement or humanitarian relocation
Adding, Yazidi women with children born of sexual violence should no longer forcibly separated.
To the United Nations, the international community and humanitarian, Amnesty stressed the need to provide technical support to Iraqi government and facilitate the participation of Yazidi children in any policymaking and discussions around accountability.
Statement by the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for #Iraq (SRSG) Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert on the 6th Anniversary of the genocidal campaign against the #Yazidi Minority (3 August 2020) pic.twitter.com/WrooiECI3x
— UNAMI (@UNIraq) August 3, 2020
Speaking on the sixth anniversary of the genocidal campaign beginning, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said:
“It pains me that six years to the day after Da’esh (ISIL) uprooted the Yazidis from Sinjar their ordeal is not over… we know full well that sustainable solutions are within reach. Stable governments and security structures are crucial foundations for the community to rebuild and thrive.”
“So, once again, I call on the governments in Baghdad and Erbil to urgently resolve this file, placing Sinjaris’ interests first and foremost.”