(CNSNews.com) – Yazidis are “very angry” because although they are victims of genocide at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) they see no indications of accountability, the U.N. special envoy for sexual violence in conflict said Wednesday.
Zainab Hawa Bangura was speaking at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on strategies to respond to the sexual violence committed by ISIS against Yazidis and other minorities in Iraq and Syria.
“When are we going to have accountability? How are we going to have accountability?” she asked. “The Yazidis are very angry, I have to say, because they are saying nobody is paying attention to it. Genocide crimes have been committed against them and they don’t see any indication of any action of accountability.”
“It’s a crime against humanity,” Bangura said of sexual violence that is taking place.
She said human rights lawyer Amal Clooney was now involved in a campaign to seek accountability for ISIS’ crimes.
Clooney, who is representing ISIS sex trafficking survivor Nadia Murad, “is trying to work to actually have a commission of inquiry or something by the U.N. on the issue of crimes against the Yazidis because already the U.N. – the high commissioner for human rights – has described it as a genocide.”
“We’ve been working with the Iraqis and saying to them, even within your own country you should start doing something. You should start putting together a team of legal minds to start saying, what are the things that are committed?” Bangura said.
She described having spoken to International Criminal Court officials, but described them as “very reluctant to deal with this,” given expected difficulties with getting the U.N. Security Council to refer the matter to the ICC.
ICC deputy prosecutor James Stewart acknowledged early this year that the court’s hands were tied because ISIS leaders were individuals from Syria and Iraq, not nationals of countries that are parties to the ICC’s Rome statute. Stewart said that had created “a constraint on the prosecutor’s ability to react.”
Last March, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) called for an “ad hoc regional tribunal,” dismissing the notion of ICC action as a “non-starter.”
He noted that neither Iraq nor Syria – nor the United States, for that matter -- had ratified the Rome statute, adding that “it would be a waste of political and moral energy to try to get an ICC referral.”
Bangura outlined an agreement her U.N. office struck with Iraq last month which she hoped “will help to catalyze greater support from the international community to help those in Iraq who are already working to put an end to conflict related sexual violence.”
The agreement calls for the documentation and collection of evidence of sexual violence crimes, strengthening the Iraqi legal framework to enable it to better address the problem. The agreement also provides for victim’s compensation.
“The social, cultural shame and stigma can easily turn victims into outcasts,” Bangura said. “This means that after all they have endured many abducted women, especially those who return home pregnant or with children, face additional heartbreak of being shunned by their own family and community.
The joint agreement addresses the “need for services including psychosocial support and reproductive healthcare as well as livelihood support for survivors.”
Bangura said it also emphasizes “the critical role of civil society, including religious and traditional leaders, who can help to shift the shame and stigma of sexual violence from the victims to the perpetrator.”
That “can make the difference between survivors being welcomed, accepted, and re-integrated into their communities rather than being rejected and re-victimized.”
Bangura said that the agreement also placed special emphasis on “ensuring that the protection and empowerment of women is central to all strategies to combat” ISIS.
As the offensive to liberate Mosul from ISIS gets underway, she said, it will be crucial to ensure that the anti-ISIS forces regard “women and girls held as sex slaves and any children they have as first and foremost victims, and not affiliates of this group.”