The decapitated heads of 50 Yazidi women who had been held in sexual servitude by ISIS fighters were found by international forces in the Syrian town of Baghuz this week.
The women had been held captive by ISIS fighters who perpetrated the gruesome murders before fleeing troops from the Syrian Democratic Front (SDF). The SDF, backed by Western militaries including British SAS, are advancing on ISIS’s last strongholds in Eastern Syria.
Since August 2014, thousands of Yazidis have made their home in Australia under the humanitarian migration program. They have joined regional communities across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
When ISIS took control of their towns and villages across Syria and Iraq, thousands of men were killed, boys were forced to convert and become child soldiers, and thousands more women and girls were kidnapped and sold into sexual servitude.
Freeing the captive women and girls was not part of the operational plans to retake the major cities of Mosul or Raqqa. The Yazidi community feels like key activists have communicated the community’s need for justice and freedom to the UN and governments across the world, but little action has been taken, with around 3000 women still remain in captivity.
It is for these women that hundreds of Australians marched for in Wagga Wagga, Coffs Harbour and Toowoomba this week, calling on the international community to help free their sisters, daughters, cousins and friends. The Australian marches were held as part of simultaneous global protests.
Hundreds of people attended the event in Wagga Wagga for which the Yazidi community worked with politicians, the multicultural council, police and other community members. Deputy Prime Minister and local MP, Michael McCormack said “the Yazidis have come to call Wagga Wagga their home and, in turn, they have enriched our community with their culture and traditions.”
One of the event organisers, Rashed Shani Baqi explained it was one last plea for international security forces to “rescue as many Yazidi women from captivity as possible.” He said the Yazidi community knew the whereabouts of many captives and dreaded their being on sold or killed before more ISIS fighters flee.
Survivors like Delal who now call Australia home know what it’s like to suffer the life of a sex slave under ISIS. She was sold to the highest bidder in Iraq, brutally mistreated and tormented before fleeing and finding safety in Australia. Other women, who were held in servitude by Australians are seeking some sort of reparations for what they experienced.
They are entitled to justice under Australian law which prohibits sexual violence as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Yazidis, but so far not a single fighter has been prosecuted for these crimes.
The world watched when Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege received their Nobel Peace prizes “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict” but what both really want is an end to impunity.
The men and boys, women and girls who rallied for action across the country this week, are asking the international community to recognise the life of the women still held in servitude; to value that life; and to help return their freedom; and ensure they receive the ongoing support they need.
If the lives of these women are not convincing enough, perhaps dollars will. Recent figures from the UN Office of Drugs and Crime show during the height of ISIS’s territorial control, the market in sexual slavery could have contributed up to $USD21million to the caliphate’s economy.
At the moment it costs $USD20,000-30,000 for the community to buy back a former slave. With approximately 3000 remaining in captivity across the region, ISIS have the potential to earn up to $US90 million from buy backs. This is at a time when the organisation has low costs and overheads but a dire need for diverse income streams to maintain deadly terrorism attacks across the globe.
But to those who rallied across the world, these women and girls aren’t dollars; they’re friends, family and loved lives.