On August 3, 2014, ISIS began their attack on Sinjar and the surrounding areas in northern Iraq, an area predominantly inhabited by Yezidis, an ethnic and religious minority. ISIS seized Sinjar City and the nearby areas within hours, kidnapping and killing those who could not flee. Those who were able to seek refuge on Mount Sinjar were forced to stay for stays in suffocating heat of 50 degrees Celsius without food, water, or medical care.
The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry has labeled ISIS' violence against the Yezidis as genocide, as defined by the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It has been estimated up to 5,000 Yezidis have been killed, mostly men and the elderly, while over 6,000 have been kidnapped, mostly those determined to be of fighting age and women held as sex slaves.
While ISIS' incursion into northern Iraq brought international attention and the intervention of a US-led coalition, there remains years of suffering by those remaining in captivity and those seeking to rebuild their lives in refugee camps. Although ISIS has been mostly pushed out of Iraq with the liberation of Mosul in late 2017 and is facing the end of their last territory in Syria, it is imperative for the international community to seek legal justice for survivors.
Since 2016, The Lotus Flower has been operating women's centres for IDPs and refugees in camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. As a result, we have met and worked with many female ISIS survivors. We have supported them as they rebuild their lives and the lives of their children through education, livelihood training, and attending to their physical and mental health needs at our centres. Through these close relationships, we designed and implemented our Supporting Survivors Initiative.
Our aim and actions to date have been to pave the way for redress and repatriation for victims of ISIS foreign fighters who travelled to Syria and Iraq to pledge their allegiance to the terrorist organisation. We have submitted our first civil litigation case i 2019 and we hope the outcome will set a precedent for us to follow in other regions.
The Supporting Survivors Initiative is a comprehensive justice programme. We have close relations with survivors through our community work and centres and because of this, we hear first-hand cases of human rights violations. We have formed a team of pro-bono international lawyers to represent the survivors and seek restitution through domestic compensation schemes set forth by individual countries. However, Supporting Survivors Initiative is more than just legal restitution, it is a comprehensive programme that aims to provide methods for healing. During the whole process, we provide an independent translator, liaise with lawyers on cultural awareness, ensure that the survivors are well-informed of their rights and have access to mental health services through a professional therapist.
As more survivors come forward with the fall of ISIS, we would like to expand the programme to include other cases but to do so, we need further support. If you would like support us in this endeavor, please donate here.