When Lamiya Haji Bashar, 23, was trying to escape Islamic State (IS) captivity, she lost her sight in a landmine explosion that also scarred her face.
Bashar was 16 when IS militants rampaged through the Iraqi town of Sinjar in 2014, killing thousands of Yazidi men and forcing young women into sex slavery. The United Nations has called the onslaught a campaign of genocide against the Kurdish religious minority.
Currently living in Germany where she is undergoing rehabilitation, Bashar has become a vocal advocate for Yazidi women and girls.
“Seven years have passed, and our demands haven’t yet been met,” Bashar told VOA. “Sinjar hasn’t been rebuilt to allow people to return. People have been tired of living in tent camps. Many of our girls, women and children haven’t been rescued from Daesh,” she said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
In 2016, Bashar won the Sakharov Prize, which the European Parliament awards to people or groups that fight for human rights.
Although IS’s so-called caliphate no longer exists, rights groups say there are nearly 2,600 Yazidi women and girls still missing.
Faiza Kamal Suleiman was only 12 when IS enslaved her in 2014. She was rescued from the terror group in Syria in September 2019 with the help of U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
“I suffered a lot under the rule of Daesh,” Suleiman, who currently lives in a displacement camp near the Iraqi city of Duhok, told VOA. “I was sold many times into sex slavery.”
Suleiman said seven members of her family, including a younger sister, are still missing.
There are about 200,000 Yazidis still displaced across northern Iraq, many of them living in overcrowded camps.
Knox Thames, who previously served as the special adviser for religious minorities at the U.S. State Department, says “seven years is too long of a time for these people who are targeted for genocide to continue to live in tent camps.”
“We’ve got to do better, and we need the entire international community to partner with the Iraqi government to see change happen,” he told VOA.
Thames, now an analyst at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), said the United States and European governments should encourage the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities “to take those steps that are necessary to bring justice, to bring security, to let people go home and help them rebuild their lives.”
Last year, the central Iraqi government reached a deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over the security of Sinjar town. But observers say the agreement has not been implemented yet.
Since the military defeat of IS, many groups have been competing to claim the Yazidi town, including Iraqi forces, Kurdish Peshmerga, Shiite militias and armed groups affiliated with the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Yazidi Female Survivors Law
In an attempt to alleviate the suffering of Yazidis, Iraq’s parliament this year passed a law recognizing the IS campaign against Yazidis as genocide. The Yazidi Female Survivors Law requires the government to compensate Yazidi women who have survived IS atrocities.
Many survivors, however, say little has been done to address their concerns.
“Every year we hear the same promises, but nothing changes for us,” said Hala Safeel, a 23-year-old Yazidi woman who was rescued from IS captivity in 2017.
“They say Daesh is no more. If that’s the case, then where are our missing ones? The parliament passed a law about Yazidi survivors, but where is its implementation? We need action,” she told VOA.
Safeel said the “Yazidi genocide continues because we still have many missing people and most of us still reside in displacement camps.”
Experts say holding the perpetrators of crimes against Yazidis accountable should be the first step for bringing justice to the Yazidi victims.
“Within Iraq, the mechanism for a meaningful prosecution that tells the Yazidi community and other survivors of these atrocities that ‘we recognize what was done to you and to your community, and we’re holding those individuals to account’… that’s an important element that hasn’t yet been addressed,” said Jeremy P. Barker, director of the Middle East Action Team at the Religious Freedom Institute.
“It’s important that the appropriate mechanisms and clear steps are taken to act on the evidence that’s been collected and the testimonies that have been submitted to turn [them] into to meaningful prosecution,” he added.
VOA Kurdish Service’s Salam Balay contributed to this story from Duhok, Iraq.