A number of Yazidi girls and women subjected to rape and sexual abuse by Islamic State (IS) militants have been driven to suicide or planned to kill themselves to escape the horrors of captivity, a chilling new report by Amnesty International has revealed.
The report, titled "Escape From Hell" and released on December 23, includes firsthand accounts from Yazidi women and girls from northern Iraq who escaped from IS captivity.
Islamic State gunmen abducted hundreds if not thousands of members of the Kurdish Yazidi minority in August, after taking control of the Sinjar region in northern Iraq. Since then as many as 300 captives, mostly women and children, have managed to escape. The 42 escaped women and girls Amnesty interviewed for its report testified that IS militants had subjected them and other captives to a terrifying regime of rape, torture, beatings, threats, forced marriage, and sexual slavery.
A number of the girls interviewed by Amnesty testified that they had either attempted suicide themselves or had witnessed girls taking their own lives during captivity as a result of the trauma.
Several escaped women and girls testified about the suicide of a 19-year-old, Jilan, who took her own life before being sold to an IS militant.
One escaped girl, named as Luna, told Amnesty that she and Jilan were part of a group of 21 girls, including two as young 10 and 12, held captive by IS militants in a single room. Shortly before Jilan took her own life, the captive girls were given clothes "that looked like dance costumes." Luna said she thought Jilan killed herself because "she knew she was going to be taken away by a man."
Amnesty interviewed another woman, aged 27, who said that she and her sister had tried to strangle themselves with scarves after a militant threatened that if they did not marry him and his brother, he would sell them.
'Those Who Resisted Were Beaten'
One young woman testified to Amnesty that IS militants threatened and beat the captive girls and women if they resisted being taken away by men. Some of the girls were beaten with electrical cables, the woman said.
Another young woman testified that the militants separated out unmarried women and girls from older women and those with children, and concentrated on selling the younger girls first. However, even pregnant women or those with children were forcibly married and raped, according to the testimonies of escaped Yazidi women.
According to the testimonials of the escaped women and girls interviewed by Amnesty, most of the men involved in abducting and buying them were Iraqis and Syrians, while a few were from other Arabic-speaking countries or from outside the Middle East.
Four of the women and girls interviewed by Amnesty said that they had been held captive in the homes of two Australian militants. Not all the men who bought Yazidi girls were IS militants, however -- some were local businessmen, according to a Mosul resident.
The captive Yazidi girls and women were held in their captors' homes along with their wives and children, the interviewees said.
The girls and women who managed to escape from IS captivity are suffering the effects of trauma, and some are at risk of suicide, their relatives told Amnesty.
One 16-year-old girl, Randa, who escaped after being captured, sold, and raped by the militants said that her mother and younger sister were still being held captive in Mosul, while her 10-year-old brother and aunt were captives in Tal Afar. Randa said her mother gave birth while being held.
IS "has ruined our lives," Randa told Amnesty.
In its report, Amnesty says that the women and girls who escaped Islamic State are in a "situation of acute emotional distress." Not only do they have to contend with the trauma of their own experiences, but most have family members who are still in IS captivity. The escapees must also cope with living as displaced persons, the report found.
The relatives of abducted women also told Amnesty about the negative social consequences of the abductions and rapes for the victims, since according to Yazidi customs sexual relations outside marriage and marriage to people of other faiths is not acceptable.
Amnesty's findings reflect comments by Khalida Khalid, a Yazidi adviser to the speaker of parliament in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, who said earlier this month that there are concerns that escaped women could face discrimination or even violence from their families.
Khalid said that the Kurdish parliament was discussing measures to protect escaped women, including legal abortions for rape victims.
In its report, Amnesty called on the Kurdish regional government in Iraq and the UN to provide comprehensive medical care and support services, which should be physically, geographically, and financially accessible to victims. Such services should include trauma support and counseling as well as legal abortions, maternal health support, and other reproductive health care.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk