Earlier this year, international human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney stood before the United Nations Security Council and told them she was ashamed that states were failing to prevent or punish genocide perpetrated by Da’esh in Iraq and Syria. “This is the first time I have spoken in this chamber. I wish I could say I’m proud to be here but I am not. I am ashamed as a supporter of the United Nations that states are failing to prevent or even punish genocide because they find that their own interests get in the way.”
At the end of her speech, she turned to her client, a young Yazidi woman who had escaped sexual slavery, and apologised on behalf of world leaders for not doing more to help. That young woman, Nadia Murad, was recently awarded Europe’s highest human rights award for speaking out about her experiences and calling for action for those like her. In August 2014, Da’esh attacked her village in Sinjar, Iraq. Murad and her sisters were kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery. Repeatedly trafficked and raped, she suffered unimaginable cruelty before finally escaping.
We know that Da’esh is using sexual violence in war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. When sexual violence is perpetrated as part of an armed conflict, it is a war crime. When that violence is widespread or systemic, it is a crime against humanity. When it is used to destroy, in whole or in part, an ethnic, racial or religious group it is genocide.
Human Rights Watch and the New York Times have published reports on the sexual violence that is the hallmark of Da’esh. They have kidnapped thousands of women and girls, published entire doctrines on their use of sex slaves, and thrown LGBTQI people off rooftops for their sexuality. The United Nations has categorically catalogued Da’esh’s crimes against the Yazidi.
In 2014, Angelina Jolie and William Hague headed the high level Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict. They released basic standards of best practice on the documentation of sexual violence as a crime under international law. Since then, they have developed training on the implementation of that document.
Sexual violence has occurred in armed conflict for eons. International campaigns such as Stop Rape Now bring attention to the issue. But these gendered crimes are often being perpetrated outside the jurisdiction of institutions willing and able to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Since 2011, over 30 000 people have travelled from 89 countries to fight with Da’esh and other extremist organisations in Iraq and Syria. Many of those people come from countries where war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide are outlawed under domestic legislation. What if those countries simply prosecuted the perpetrators?
Over 100 Australians have travelled to fight with Da’esh and other extremist groups in Iraq and Syria. In Australia, war crimes are criminalised in the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 and the War Crimes Act 1945. Genocide and crimes against humanity are outlawed in the International Criminal Court Act 2002. But these laws haven’t been used.
Today is the beginning of the annual 16 Days of Activisim Against Gender Violence. It is the day we have chosen to launch a new gender justice campaign. ‘Prosecute; don’t perpetrate’ is helping end impunity for sexual violence in armed conflict by calling on the Australian government to investigate and prosecute Australian Da’esh fighters for sexual violence. You can join the campaign too. Sign the petition now, and visit the website to find out more and see what else you can do to bring justice to women and girls like Nadia Murad.
Susan Hutchinson is an activist, academic and blogger. She is the architect of the prosecute; don’t perpetrate campaign and is a member of the Australian Civil Society Coalition on Women, Peace and Security. You can find her on Twitter @SusansOpine