Iraq must do more for Daesh sex abuse victims: UN

Women and children from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, near the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in Fishkhabour, Dohuk province, on August 14, 2014. (File Photo by Reuters)
Updated 22 August 2017
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Iraq must do more for Daesh sex abuse victims: UN

GENEVA, Switzerland: Iraq must do more to ensure that thousands of women and girls who survived sexual violence by Daesh group jihadists receive care, protection and justice, the UN said Tuesday.
In a fresh report, the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN rights office also warned that the children born as a result of the sexual violence risked facing a lifetime of discrimination and abuse.
“The physical, mental and emotional injuries inflicted by (Daesh) are almost beyond comprehension,” UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.
“If victims are to rebuild their lives, and indeed those of their children, they need justice and they need redress,” he insisted.
Tuesday’s report pointed to the horrific abuse suffered by women and girls, especially from the Yazidi minority, in Daesh-controlled areas, including rape, abduction, slavery and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.
In 2014, Daesh jihadists massacred Yazidis in Sinjar, forcing tens of thousands of them to flee, and capturing thousands of girls and women as spoils of war to be used as sex slaves.
The women were sold and traded across the jihadists’ self-proclaimed “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq. Around 3,000 are believed to remain in captivity.
The UN report stressed that Baghdad was responsible under domestic and international law to prosecute the perpetrators and help ensure reparations for the victims.
It decried “gaps” in Iraq’s criminal justice system, “which largely fails to ensure the appropriate respect and protection of women and children who have been subjected to sexual and other forms of violence.”
It also warned that women who were married to Daesh fighters, with or without their consent, risked “discrimination and forms of collective punishment” based on the suspicion they cooperated with the group.
The report raised particular concerns over the situation of hundreds of children born to women in Daesh-controlled areas without birth certificates or with Daesh-issued documents not accepted by Baghdad.
“The government must ensure (these children) are protected from marginalization and abuse,” Zeid insisted.
He urged Baghdad to ensure that these children are “neither exposed to discrimination through references on their birth certificate that they were born out of wedlock or have a father linked to (Daesh), nor left unregistered and at risk of statelessness, exploitation and trafficking,” he said.


Retaken but not rebuilt: Syria’s Raqqa a year after Daesh ouster

Updated 8 min 37 sec ago
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Retaken but not rebuilt: Syria’s Raqqa a year after Daesh ouster

  • Exactly a year has passed since a blistering US-backed assault ousted the extremists from their one-time Syrian stronghold
  • Since Daesh was ousted, more than 150,000 people have returned to Raqqa

Raqqa, Syria: All day, dinghies cross the Euphrates River to shuttle residents into the pulverised cityscape of Syria’s Raqqa, where bridges, homes, and schools remain gutted by the offensive against Daesh.
Exactly a year has passed since a blistering US-backed assault ousted the extremists from their one-time Syrian stronghold, but Raqqa — along with the roads and bridges leading to it — remains in ruins.
To enter the city, 33-year-old Abu Yazan and his family have to pile into a small boat on the southern banks of the Euphrates, which flows along the bottom edges of Raqqa.
They load their motorcycle onto the small vessel, which bobs precariously north for a few minutes before dropping off passengers and their vehicles at the city’s outskirts.
“It’s hard — the kids are always afraid of the constant possibility of drowning,” says bearded Abu Yazan.
“We want the bridge to be repaired because it’s safer than water transport.”
The remains of Raqqa’s well-known “Old Bridge” stand nearby: a pair of massive pillars, the top of the structure shorn off.
It was smashed in an air strike by the US-led coalition, which bombed every one of Raqqa’s bridges to cut off the extemists’ escape routes.
The fighting ended on October 17 last year, when the city finally fell to the Syrian Democratic Forces, which then handed it over to the Raqqa Civil Council (RCC) to govern.
But 60 bridges are still destroyed in and around the city, says RCC member Ahmad Al-Khodr.
“The coalition has offered us eight metal bridges,” he says, to link vital areas in Raqqa’s countryside.
Rights group Amnesty International estimates around 80 percent of Raqqa was devastated by fighting, including vital infrastructure like schools and hospitals.
The national hospital, the city’s largest medical facility, was where Daesh made its final stand. It still lies ravaged.
Private homes were not spared either: 30,000 houses were fully destroyed and another 25,000 heavily damaged, says Amnesty.
Ismail Al-Muidi lost his son, an SDF fighter, and his home.
“I buried him myself with these two hands,” says Muidi, 48.
“I was not as affected when I lost the house, but I had hoped it would shelter me and my family,” he adds.
Now homeless, he lives with his sister in the central Al-Nahda neighborhood.
“The coalition destroyed the whole building, and all our belongings went with them,” he says.
Anxiety over eking out a living has put streaks of grey into Muidi’s hair and beard.
“How could I rebuild this house? We need help to remove the rubble, but no one has helped us at all,” he says.
Since Daesh was ousted, more than 150,000 people have returned to Raqqa, according to United Nations estimates last month.
But the city remains haunted by one of Daesh’s most infamous legacies: a sea of mines and unexploded ordnance that still maims and kills residents to this day.
The RCC says it does not have enough money to clear out the rubble still clogging up Raqqa’s streets, much less rehabilitate its water and electricity networks.
Khodr unfurls a map of the city in front of him at his office in the RCC, pointing out the most ravaged neighborhoods.
“The districts in the center of the city were more damaged — 90 percent destroyed — compared to a range of 40 to 60 percent destroyed in the surrounding areas,” he tells AFP.
“The destruction is massive and the support isn’t cutting it.”
A plastic bucket in hand, Abd Al-Ibrahim sits despondently on a curbside in the Al-Ferdaws neighborhood.
Fighting destroyed his home, so he now squats in another house but there has been no water there for three days.
“I come sit here, hoping somebody will drive by to give me water. But no one comes,” the 70-year-old says, tearing up.
He points to a mound of rubble nearby.
“My house is like this now. We were in paradise. Look at what happened to us — we’re literally begging for water.”
The coalition has helped de-mine, remove rubble, and rehabilitate schools in Raqqa, but efforts have been modest and piecemeal compared to the scale of the destruction.
“You can’t call this reconstruction — it’s all empty talk,” says Samer Farwati, who peddles cigarettes across from his destroyed house in the Masaken Al-Tobb district.
He pays $120 to rent a home since his was hit in an air strike.
Farwati says he no longer trusts officials after too many empty promises.
“If they helped us even a little bit, we could complete the construction. But there’s no hope at all,” he says.