Speech at the House of Lords – APPG on Women, Peace and Security
London, United Kingdom, 15 September 2015
Members of the House of Lords,
Ladies and Gentleman,
I would like to begin by expressing my appreciation to the House of Lords for inviting me to London to meet with parliamentarians and members of the British Government. I would like to thank Baroness Hodgson personally for reaching out to the Free Yezidi Foundation and helping to make sure our visit is successful, and also for her concern and support for Yezidis during our time of need.
The Free Yezidi Foundation was born during the horrible month of August 2014, as terrorists swept into Sinjar and surrounding towns. By now almost everyone knows of the brutality and violence inflicted upon civilians throughout Iraq and Syria. This includes many religious minorities, especially Yezidis and Christians. In fact, it also includes all those who do not kneel before the terrorists, no matter their religion. But Yezidis suffered specifically because we practice a different religion, and the terrorists have been clearly documenting their campaign of genocide and rape against our people.
The Free Yezidi Foundation was originally intended to raise awareness and advocacy for our people, as we had no means of self-defense on the ground. Registered as an official charity in Holland, the Foundation organized rallies and campaigns in Europe in the early months. Later, it became clear that Yezidis most needed assistance on two fronts: locating and attempting to rescue their loved ones held by ISIS, mostly women; and immediate assistance for IDPs living in and out of camps in the Kurdistan Region. The rescue missions were beyond our capacity, so we focused on the lives of the survivors in the camps.
I am proud to say that since those early months, the Foundation has grown in leaps and bounds. We have a fantastic board and a passionate country coordinator. After helpful donations from Gucci’s Chime for Change and individual donors, we have moved forward with our operations in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. I was in Kurdistan last week, and I am so pleased that we will open our first women’s center and our first children’s center this month. In November, our Foundation will bring three British post-trauma experts to Kurdistan to train 25 field practitioners, sharing skills with them that can benefit all those suffering from the effects of these barbaric attacks – including but not limited to Yezidis. We are in discussions with the Kurdistan Regional Government to expand this effort to public sector trainings.
I would like to highlight the activities to be undertaken in our women’s center, in particular. Serving as a safe space for women living in the camp, this center will provide computer and language skills, therapeutic options such as painting and sewing, and a relaxation room for privacy and calm – a rare gift in an IDP camp. Through this center, we will be able to offer post-trauma treatment, either on-site or by referral. In this way, we can serve all women in the IDP camp community, while still providing a pathway for treatment.
The needs of our people are vast, and the suffering of our survivors is beyond imagination. We appreciate the assistance from the United Nations, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and friends around the world, including the United Kingdom. But to be frank, it is not enough. The exodus of civilians from Syria is understandable. But within Kurdistan there is a level of safety and security. I believe Yezidis survivors want services and some help to get back on their feet and eventually rebuild their own land – their own homeland. If not, we will very likely see them in Europe quite soon.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I believe the Free Yezidi Foundation and other such NGOs have a key role to play in the rebuilding of our communities. Our Foundation is led and managed by Yezidis – and for Yezidis. We have social networks and built-in trust that has been developed over the generations. While international NGOs and other actors can and must play an important role, I do hope that donors will recognize the value of organisations such as ours – built to last and built from the community itself.
Last month the Free Yezidi Foundation and another Yezidi-led NGO, Yazda, brought former ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo to Kurdistan to look into the attacks against the Yezidi people in terms of international legal action. The Free Yezidi Foundation is proud to cooperate with the talented members of Yazda on this important effort. Mr. Moreno-Ocampo has expressed his optimism that a preliminary investigation could be opened at the ICC to determine whether actions perpetrated against the Yezidi people constitute genocide. I hope that our Foundation’s board members and some of our friends in London can further discuss this matter in private. Yezidis need a great deal of assistance now, but we also need something beyond monetary value: justice.
Once again, I am so grateful to Members of the House of Lords and friends in London for allowing me to meet with you and to share some of the work we are doing. I believe that Yezidi-led organisations are critical for the well being of our people. And I hope that in the United Kingdom we can identify some partners to support the role we play – bringing services, trainings, a bit of hope, and some justice home to our people.
Thank you very much.