WASHINGTON - The Yazidi religious minority in Iraq is seeking to gain enough support in the Iraqi parliament for a draft law that provides support and rehabilitation for the community, particularly the female members who escaped Islamic State abduction.
The Yazidi Female Survivors Law was referred to the Iraqi parliament by the Iraqi President Barham Salih in March 2019, and was seen by the Yazidi leaders as an important step toward a secure future for the survivors, and so they could move on and rebuild their homes, which were destroyed by IS fighting.
Almost a year later, the Iraqi parliament is still debating the controversial draft law because critics say it focuses only on the Yazidis and not other Iraqi communities, which were also affected by IS.
Saib Khidr, a Yazidi lawmaker and a member of the legal committee that drafted the law, told VOA the Yazidi community agreed the law needed to be more inclusive of other IS victims, particularly other minority groups in Iraq. He said naming the law after Yazidi female victims, however, signifies the plight of the women who were taken as sex slaves by IS militants.
“We want at least to name the law the ‘Yazidi Female Survivors Law’ as a moral support to Yazidi women who faced atrocities by IS,” Khidr told VOA.
Khidr said the law aims to provide financial compensation for female survivors while also addressing other more sensitive issues, such as dealing with children who were the results of IS rape.
“While the bill is debated inside the Iraqi parliament, we will be holding workshops with Yazidi survivors and activists to improve different articles of the law,” he said.
If approved, the draft bill would provide Yazidis who survived the IS massacre with financial support, health care, work opportunities, education, rehabilitation, and reconstruction in their villages and towns. With the establishment of a special governmental department for Yazidi affairs, the bill would represent the first recognition in Iraqi history of the minority as a distinct group.
Yazidis are an ethno-religious minority of about 550,000 people, mostly residing in Sinjar, in northern Iraq. IS in 2014 attacked their communities, killing thousands of men and taking thousands of women and children, in an atrocity the U.N. said amounted to genocide. IS reportedly used the women and girls as sex slaves and brainwashed the boys to become suicide bombers.
Following the death of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October 2019, Yazidi female survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad urged the world to hold IS extremists accountable for their crimes against different communities, specifically atrocities against Yazidis and Christians.
Murad called for the creation of tribunals similar to the Nuremberg tribunals after World War II that brought Nazi war criminals to justice. However, Yazidi activists say no progress has been made in Iraq to establish such special tribunals to hold IS accountable. They say such an action faces obstacles such as legal implications for Iraq in dealing with the alleged war crimes committed by IS against Yazidis.
“The Iraqi law is not fully equipped with all the legal tools to deal with crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide,” Hussam Abdullah, executive manager of the Yazidi Organization for Documentation, told VOA.
Abdullah’s organization is collecting evidence of IS crimes, and works with legislative, executive and judicial authorities in Iraq to find a way to properly address the IS attacks against Yazidis and other minorities. In order to overcome the shortcomings in Iraq law, he said the best approach forward was to create an international mechanism to protect the dignity of the victims and their families.
“We document survivors’ testimonies to ensure justice in the future and to support the Iraqi government’s work, while protecting this file from being torn apart between political disagreements,” Abdullah said.
Finding the missing
IS's physical caliphate was defeated in March 2019 after the terror group lost its last stronghold in eastern Syria. The defeat was seen as a hope by the community that they will finally be able to reunite with their missing relatives and loved ones. However, rights organizations say about 3,000 of the kidnapped Yazidis remain missing.
For most Yazidis, the issue of tracking the missing is a top priority they hope the Iraqi draft bill can address. The religious community hopes the Iraqi government can bring home the missing people if they are still alive. If the missing are dead, for the government to retrieve their bodies and give them a proper burial.
Nesrin Murad, a female survivor currently living in Shariya camp in Duhok province in Iraqi Kurdistan, is one of the Yazidis still waiting to know about the whereabouts of her missing brother.
“My brother has been missing for five years. I still don’t know what happened to him. I want to know his fate,” Murad told VOA.
Murad was kidnapped during the IS attack on Sinjar in 2014. She was held captive by members of the terror group for almost four years.
She said many of the survivors want to know the fate of their relatives. She requested officials in Iraq also help rebuild the homes of thousands of survivors who are still living in the harsh conditions of refugee camps.
Yazidi activists say the draft law, if approved in the Iraqi parliament, would be a significant step to empower the displaced Yazidis in refugee camps. The activists said it is crucial to spread awareness among Yazidis in the camps and those who have returned home of their rights in post-IS Iraq.
Saeed Allo, executive director of the Springs of Hope Foundation, said it was important for Yazidi activists to closely work with their community to educate its members as the draft law enters the next stage at the Iraqi parliament. He said increased awareness among them on how to work as individuals and as a community will help enforce the minority group's rights.
“We can work on raising awareness among Yazidis; we can help female survivors get legal and social educations on their rights. Yazidis must understand the law and their rights so they can demand them,” Allo said.