Background

In August 2014, ISIS began a targeted campaign against the Yezidis, including mass executions, kidnapping, torture, sexual violence, and other egregious human rights abuses. ISIS kidnapped thousands of Yezidi women; these captives were enslaved, raped, and tortured. This systematic violence amounts to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, as described by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the State Department, the European Parliament, the British Parliament, and the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria. Yet no perpetrators have been held accountable.

During this genocidal campaign, ISIS kidnapped more than 5200 Yezidi women and girls as spoils of war under ISIS ideology. More than 3000 remain in ISIS captivity. While there have been efforts to charge ISIS members with terrorism, there have been few attempts to charge them for their involvement in atrocities committed against the Yezidis.

The FYF Justice Project

The Free Yezidi Foundation has partnered with the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) to pursue justice for Yezidi survivors. CJA is a highly respected human rights NGO dedicated to empowering victims of mass atrocities and pursuing justice in jurisdictions around the world. Our project has a long-term goal of combating impunity for war crimes, including rape, torture and trafficking in persons and countering violent extremism. There is a critical need to collect evidence of these crimes in a timely manner, using a victim-centric approach, and to build those cases in collaboration with relevant European and Iraqi/Kurdish authorities.

Our approach is designed to empower the Yezidi survivors in their quest for justice. Beneficiaries of the program include the women and girls who survived ISIS, the broader Yezidi community, and other survivors of conflict-related sexual and gender based violence.

The Justice Process

The justice project supports a robust coalition of lawyers and civil society advocates dedicated to justice for the Yezidis, with the short-term objectives to: (1) empower Yezidi survivors to determine their justice needs, prepare them to provide evidence against their abusers (if desired), and provide them with access to legal resources to meet their justice needs; (2) support lawyers and paralegals to collect and share evidence of crimes against the Yezidis with relevant authorities and to allow for potential prosecutions of ISIS members for trafficking in persons, rape, and other egregious human rights abuses; and (3) increase understanding among the general population of the barbaric tactics used by ISIS against the Yezidi and dispel and undermine the “myths” used to recruit ISIS fighters.

Throughout this process, the Yezidi survivors will have access to psychological and social assistance and be given information on how accountability processes might unfold.

As cases develop, resources and expertise will be allocated according to where evidence is most credible and persuasive, and with consideration as to which jurisdiction various perpetrators are located. Throughout the investigative stage, our victim-centric representation approach is designed to reduce further traumatization of Yezidi survivors. In addition, FYF will provide social support to the program participants to enable their effective participation and to further build trust.

This project will identify and build emblematic cases that will demonstrate that ISIS members will be held accountable for their attacks on Yezidi women and girls. These cases carry critical value to survivors and the Yezidi community as a whole, but also aim to deter ISIS recruitment and expose the shameful nature of ISIS enslavement and abuse of Yezidi women. As a product of the consultations, FYF will connect legal counsel with victims, preparing dossiers of evidence for prosecutors and initiate legal actions in available jurisdictions. We will work closely with European and Iraqi judicial actors on cross referencing detained or wanted ISIS fighters with those individuals suspected of participating in the enslavement and sexual abuse of Yezidis.

Because it is essential for interested survivors/victims to play a key role in justice processes, Yezidi survivors seeking justice through the courts will be counseled and supported as those potential cases move forward. Using this mutually supportive approach, the project will create a legal avenue for holding ISIS members accountable for their crimes, will give Yezidi survivors the resources necessary to challenge impunity, and will help challenge the narrative used to attract recruits into ISIS.

The activities fill a serious gap in the fight against terrorism by strengthening the legal community’s ability to charge and prosecute ISIS members for serious crimes committed against Yezidis and engage on the development of a counter narrative to an ISIS recruitment strategy that celebrates the barbaric treatment of women and girls. Through our integrated approach to empowering survivors, establishing legal cases, and supporting a framework for government-civil society collaboration, the program will advance justice for the Yezidis, and ultimately reinforce national and international human rights norms.