Press Release: UK team in first legal action for redress for victims of ISIL foreign fighters

London, 28th February 2019 - A team of international lawyers and The Lotus Flower, a British-based non-profit for displaced women, are bringing the first civil action to gain compensation for the gross violations of human rights by a foreign ISIS fighter.

The move is aimed at finally securing some redress for victims of Islamic State foreign fighters. Thousands of Yezidi women and girls in Kurdistan Region of Iraq endured rape, torture, trafficking, enslavement and violence at the hands of jihadists during the atrocities of 2014-2015. While this issue has received considerable international attention, there has been little in the way of tangible justice, and no reparations for these female victims.

The decision to pursue a civil case first began two years ago, when founder of The Lotus Flower, Taban Shoresh, began piecing together the sheer scale of female suffering – and the impact such brutalisation was still having on women years later.

Through its specialist centres at camps in the areas where the atrocities took place Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Shoresh’s non-profit supports female survivors through a series of diverse projects – including education, livelihoods, mental health, human rights, peacebuilding and wellbeing.

Taban Shoresh, Founder

A child genocide survivor herself during Saddam Hussein’s regime, London-based Shoresh says: “Over the past two years, we’ve worked very closely in supporting Yezidi women and girls, many unable to move forward over the crimes committed against them by ISIL. Despite widespread international condemnation of such acts of terror, nobody has established a route to bring redress or justice for them. The women and girls feel like they have been forgotten.”

Shoresh has joined forces with the pro bono practice at international law firm Hogan Lovells to instigate legal proceedings. A team of international lawyers is acting for a small group of women who are willing to give evidence, with initial hearings imminent.

The action will focus on ‘home-grown’ ISIS fighters – identified by the women – from western countries, including Australia. Susan Bright, Regional Managing Partner – UK and Africa at Hogan Lovells, says: "The Australian justice system provides an opportunity for the victims of crimes to seek redress. We are asking for the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which is part of the Australian justice system, to recognise the unique situation of our clients, who are part of a community that was systematically subjected to gross violations of human rights law by an Australian ISIS fighter. This legal action seeks redress and reparations for the victims, a principle recognised in international law but which, in our view, should also be available in practice."

Shoresh believes “There is a gap between the moral imperative to bring justice to victims of the depravations committed by foreign fighters who joined ISIL, and available legal avenues for reparations. We are working hard on this, but we need leadership from Australia, UK, indeed all Governments. Australia, with its strong rhetoric and clear policies on the need for justice could use its established victims of crime compensation scheme to show the world that these victims are not forgotten. And ultimately, these reparations need not be at the cost of our taxpayers - surely compensating those enslaved and abused by ISIL and its foreign fighters is the best to use funds seized or frozen from them".

A recent report from the International Federation for Human Rights highlighted the ‘refusal’ of international authorities to repatriate and prosecute foreign fighters. In 2015, up to 31,000 ISIS recruits were believed to have come from as many as 86 different countries – including an estimated 850 British nationals.

Andras Vamos-Goldman, the former Executive Director of Justice Rapid Response, the intergovernmental facility that provides the international community with trained professionals to investigate the kinds of crimes that ISIL’s foreign fighters are reported to have committed, believes that providing compensation to survivors of such atrocities is an essential, yet largely missing element in the global community’s response. “By itself, bringing perpetrators of the worst crimes known to humanity to account will not end the cycles of violence around the world that breed such atrocities – surely our ultimate goal. The victims of these crimes need to feel that justice has been done – and redress, even if nominal, is an important component of this. Only then can we expect them to embrace the “rule of law”, in place of the “rule of the gun”, reducing the number of recurring cycles of violence."

Ultimately, the group hopes that this action will encourage the Australian government to lead the way, becoming the first country in the world to provide redress and justice to Yezidi survivors. Chris Crewther MP, Australian Federal Member of Parliament for the electorate of Dunkley, says "I have long supported efforts in the Australian Parliament to highlight the situation of the Yezidi women and I support The Lotus Flower’s efforts to seek redress for them."

“There is inevitably a focus on the foreign fighters and their wives and individual names attract attention in the media but for us it is about the principle of accountability of all foreign fighters” Shoresh says. “There must be some accountability to the victims and they should not be forgotten.”

Although the compensation sums are unlikely to be large, Shoresh adds: “It is less about the amount of money, and more about formally recognising what these women have been through, in a realistic and dignified way. Of course it will never take away their pain, but we believe compensation will bring them a sense of closure, while showing that the world has not simply abandoned them.”

For more information about The Lotus Flower and the Supporting Survivors Initiative, please contact us through this form.