Global Justice Center Blog

Rebuilding Iraq Should Include Mental Health Care for Yazidi Survivors

By Maftuna Saidova

The Yazidi community are an ethnic minority formerly located in northern Iraq. They are one of the groups who suffered under the brutal and inhumane control of ISIS. When ISIS captured Sinjar, they abducted thousands of Yazidi women and sold them into slavery within the lucrative sex trade created among ISIS fighters. Human rights activists and lawyers have demanded ISIS be held accountable for employing Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) as a weapon of war. According to OHCHR, SGVB can include “any harmful act directed against individuals or groups of individuals on the basis of their gender,” including rape, sexual abuse, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, forced abortion, forced prostitution, and sexual enslavement.  Although many Yazidi survivors are now free and Iraq has regained territorial control, adequate mental health treatment should be the priority of the Iraqi government as the treatment of the survivors is crucial for Iraq’s gradual rebuilding process.

Sexual violence in the form of rape encapsulates more than just exploitation. For the Yazidis and other women who experienced rape in conflict, it means loss of power and dehumanization. Many survivors currently suffer from mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder as well as emotional trauma and social alienation. These women often feel shame for the gender based crimes forced on them. For this reason,  90% of the rescued Yazidi women are “in severe shock and psychological upset.”  Dealing with the mental trauma inflicted by Daesh is key for rebuilding their lives in Iraq.  Yet without individualized mental health treatment, many Yazidi women will find it difficult to move forward.

Iraq continually fails to provide protection or resources for the survivors. Recently, Iraqi government was asked by the UN, under Resolution 2379, to lead a joint investigation on the war atrocities committed by ISIS. The ongoing investigations have prioritized institutional reforms  protecting victims of gendered violence from marginalization in their societies. Critics have argued that the mandate of the Resolution brings limited justice to the victims.

Currently non-governmental organizations like Yazda and Nadia’s Initiative are focused on ensuring that the population in Sinjar is provided with the supplies and resources necessary to begin rebuilding while the investigation is taking place. But it is not enough. Although institutional reforms are an important step in rebuilding Iraq, they are insufficient for the women who need adequate treatment in dealing with the psychological and emotional consequences of living in sexual slavery. 

Although institutional reforms are an important step in rebuilding Iraq, they are insufficient for the women who need adequate treatment in dealing with the psychological and emotional consequences of living in sexual slavery. 

Tags: Sexual Violence & Rape, State Responsibility, War Crimes/Crimes Against Humanity