Mass Atrocity Crimes

This program aims to ensure that individuals and states are held accountable for the commission of gender-based mass atrocities, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.


New Report Provides First Comprehensive Legal Analysis of the Role of Gender in Genocide

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – December 7, 2018

[New York] – Today, the Global Justice Center (GJC) released the first comprehensive legal analysis of the gender-based crimes of genocide. Over the past four years, the world has witnessed at least two genocidal campaigns—against the Yazidis in Iraq and against the Rohingya in Myanmar. Widespread sexual and gender-based violence was central to both, as in the genocides in Darfur, Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Guatemala. The new report, Beyond Killing,details the role that gender plays in the commission of genocide and the role it must therefore play in efforts to prevent and punish it.

For too long, the understanding of genocide has centered on killing, a genocidal act that most often impacts men. Women and girls are more likely to survive the initial wave of killings—facing enslavement, beatings, starvation, degradation, and other acts that form constitutive acts of genocide. Survivors of these abuses are not just witnesses to the genocide: they are its intended targets and require accountability and reparations. When the gendered, non-killing crimes of genocide go unrecognized, women and girls, in particular, are denied justice for the abuses they have suffered.

Destruction of the Spirit: The Critical Role of Gender in Genocide

Genocide is a crime of destruction, an attempt to annihilate a group of people and render them irrelevant, invisible, and eventually forgotten. Popular conceptions of genocide have long characterized it mainly as a crime of mass killing, the majority of victims of which tend to be men. During genocidal campaigns, women and girls are more likely to survive the initial killings but face enslavement, beatings, starvation, degradation, and other atrocities that form constitutive acts of genocide. Survivors of these abuses are not just witnesses to genocide; they are also its intended targets. When these gendered, non-killing crimes are not recognized as genocide, women and girls are denied justice for the abuses they have suffered.

Across continents and cultures, genocide is carried out along gendered lines. The first step is often the separation of groups by gender and age for distinct treatment.  When Daesh captured thousands of Yazidi in August 2014, they executed males over 12 years old, and sold women and girls into slavery. During the Rwandan genocide, members of the Hutu militia tore clothes off children to ensure boys were not dressed in girls’ clothing as a means of escaping mass killings. Once separated, women and girls experience distinct and destructive genocidal acts.

Though they are frequently not regarded as genocidal, these acts can in fact form the basis for the four non-killing crimes of genocide: causing serious bodily or mental harm, inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcibly transferring children to another group. For an in-depth legal analysis of the role of gender in genocide, see the Global Justice Center’s whitepaper, Beyond Killing: Gender, Genocide, and Obligations Under International Law

Examples of Non-Killing Genocidal Crimes against Women and Girls

Widespread Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is a deliberate tactic in most genocidal campaigns. In Darfur, the Janjaweed militia conducted a campaign of systematic rape of women and girls, which frequently involved sexual mutilation of victims. In Burma, there are at least ten recorded instances of large-scale gang rape, where Burmese forces raped up to 40 Rohingya women and girls at a time, often in front of their communities; sexual violence was so widespread during the military’s attacks that a survivor recalled, “I was lucky, I was only raped by three men.” In Rwanda, between 250,000 and 500,000 Tutsi women and girls were subjected to systematic rape throughout the course of the 100-day genocide. As the landmark Akayesu judgment later ruled, “sexual violence was a step in the process of the destruction of the Tutsi group—destruction of the spirit, of the will to live, and of life itself.”

Forced Pregnancies and Reproductive Control

Forced pregnancy as a result of mass rape is also a tactic of genocide. Daesh openly discussed the impregnation of Yazidi women and girls, adhering to a theory of patrilineage where “the slave girl gives birth to her master.”  During the Bosnian War, Serbian forces deliberately impregnated non-Serbian (and particularly Bosnian Muslim) women and adolescent girls, forcing those who became pregnant as a result to carry their pregnancies to term. These forced pregnancies reverberate long after atrocities have ceased—victims of rape can be cast out of their communities, while children of rape are abandoned or are not accepted into their mothers’ societies at all. Some genocidaires take a different approach to reproductive control, subjecting women to campaigns of forced sterilization and forced abortion. During the Rohingya genocide, for instance, pregnant women were regularly targeted for rape and abuse. In one instance,  a perpetrator raped a Rohingya woman before slitting open her stomach and killing her unborn baby with a knife. Other pregnant Rohingya women suffered miscarriages due to the trauma of rape.

Enslavement

During the Armenian genocide, Ottoman officials abducted women and girls categorizing them by age, marital status, and physical appearance before being sold, with senior Ottoman officials given the “first choice.” Yazidi women and girls were taken to holding sites, where they were registered and categorized before being sold to Daesh fighters to be held in sexual slavery. Daesh subjected Yazidi women and girls over the age of nine to brutal sexual violence, keeping them locked inside fighters’ homes with inadequate food, water, heat, or medical care. As a result, several committed suicide while in captivity. It is estimated that several thousand Yazidi women and children remain in Daesh captivity. As long as they remain there, the genocide of the Yazidi continues.

Witnessing the Murder of Loved Ones

Not uncommon was the scene described by a Yazidi girl to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: “After we were captured, Daesh forced us to watch them beheading some of our Yazidi men. They made the men kneel in a line in the street, with their hands tied behind their backs. The Daesh fighters took knives and cut their throats.” Rohingya women gave similar accounts of being made to watch the execution of their male relatives and neighbors. In Rwanda, the Interahamwe forced some Tutsi women to kill their sons in order to spare other members of their family. While female survivors are often regarded as witnesses to genocide by virtue of the fact that they live to see its end, there has been lesser regard to the violations they have suffered, including the serious mental harm that results from being forced to kill or witness the killing of one’s family.

Justice for Gender-Based Crimes of Genocide

In the 70 years since the Genocide Convention was signed into law, genocide has been charged primarily in instances involving mass killing, whereas non-killing genocidal acts have been prosecuted as crimes against humanity, war crimes, or not at all. When the gendered, non-killing crimes of genocide go unrecognized, women and girls in particular are denied equal protection under the law and robbed of the chance to see justice for the abuses they have suffered.

The majority of genocide convictions in both the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) were based on killing crimes. A 2004 review of ICTR jurisprudence found that out of the 21 then-adjudicated cases, only 30% included rape charges, and only 10% of those led to convictions for rape.  Likewise, the ICTY’s prosecution of genocide at Srebrenica was limited solely to the executions of men as killing. The rape of tens of thousands of Bosnian women was prosecuted solely as a crime against humanity, framing these women only as witnesses to, rather than survivors of, genocide.

The continued failure to acknowledge the complexity of genocidal violence, especially the role gender plays in the planning and commission of the crime, has undercut the development of an effective legal framework to prevent and punish genocide. This significantly undermines the ability to recognize the warning signs of an imminent genocide, and to identify and suppress ongoing genocides.  Gender-blindness affords space for equivocation when states are reluctant to carry out their legal obligations to prevent genocide.

The world is now witnessing at least two genocidal campaigns—those of the Yazidi in Iraq and the Rohingya in Burma. Widespread and systematic sexual and gender-based violence is endemic to both, and accounts of these crimes have been heavily documented. The mechanisms created to address these atrocities must center the experiences of women and girls. With accountability proceedings on the horizon, the gendered crimes of genocide must not be ignored.

For an in-depth legal analysis of the role of gender in genocide, see the Global Justice Center’s whitepaper,Beyond Killing: Gender, Genocide, and Obligations Under International Law

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Beyond Killing: Gender, Genocide, and Obligations Under International Law

Executive Summary

Gender permeates the crime of genocide. It is woven into the perpetrators’ planning and commission of coordinated acts that make up the continuum of genocidal violence. It is through these gendered annihilative acts that perpetrators maximize the crime’s destructive impact on protected groups.

Female and male members of targeted groups, by the perpetrators’ own design, experience genocide in distinct ways by reason of their gender. Men and older boys are targeted as a consequence of the gendered roles they are perceived to inhabit, including those as heads of households, leaders, religious authorities, protectors, guardians of the group’s identity, and patriarchs. Assaults on women and girls pay heed to their roles as mothers, wives, daughters, bearers of future life, keepers of community’s and family’s honor, and sources of labor within the home. An understanding of what it means to be male and female in a particular society thus saturates perpetrators’ conceptions of their victims, and of themselves. In particular, the violence directed at women and girls during genocide is fed by existing misogynistic attitudes in society, and the traumatic impacts are magnified by the financial, social, cultural inequalities to which women and girls are subjected. 

Genocide is often understood as a crime committed predominantly through organized mass killings—the majority of victims of which, both historically and today, tend to be male. Consequently, non-killing acts of genocide—more likely to be directed against female members of a protected group—are often cast out of the continuum of genocidal violence. Equally, in privileging the act of killing, other acts of violence committed against men and boys—such as torture, rape, and enslavement—have also been obscured.

The continuing failure to acknowledge the complexity of genocidal violence—and the distinct ways in which genocide is planned and committed against men and women, boys and girls, by reason of their gender—has undercut the development of an effective framework to mobilize the Genocide Convention’s legal obligations to prevent and punish genocide. It has limited political, diplomatic, and military authorities’ capacity to recognize where there is a serious risk of genocide occurring, and to identify and suppress genocides that are in progress. This has particular consequences for female victims, who are often subjected to a wider range of violations that occur over a relatively longer span of time.

Prosecutors have been more likely to charge genocide in situations where mass killings have occurred, while non-lethal genocidal acts—perpetrated disproportionately against female victims—are more likely to be indicted as crimes against humanity or war crimes, or not at all. These prosecutorial decisions, and the judgments that follow, eclipse substantial parts of the community of genocide victims, mirroring the attempted erasure that the perpetrators of genocide intended, and distorting the historical record borne out of the trials.

In the decades that have elapsed since the signing of the 1948 Genocide Convention, the red thread of genocide has continued to course its way through human history, calling into question the international legal order. A failure to grapple with the intrinsic role that gender plays the crime of genocide has undercut the progressive framework for understanding and action offered by the Convention. One cannot prevent and punish what one does not recognize.

A gendered analysis is essential to illuminate the multi-dimensional nature of this crime, and the gamut of its victims. In this way we recognize, remember, and protect all those whose lives have been, or may still be, ripped asunder by the scourge of genocide.

Download the Full Report

Submission to the International Law Commission: The Need to Integrate a Gender-Perspective into the Draft Convention on Crimes against Humanity

I. Intro

The Global Justice Center, international human rights organization, welcomes the International Law Commission’s (“ILC”) decision to codify crimes against humanity to form the basis of a potential Convention. Unlike war crimes and genocide, crimes against humanity are not codified in a treaty outside the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (“Rome Statute”). The development of a treaty on the basis of the ILC’s draft articles presents the opportunity to monitor and enforce the provisions outside of the limited jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or “the Court”) and to encourage states to enact national legislation.

Given the unique and powerful opportunity the ILC has to combat impunity and codify progressive standards of international law, the Global Justice Center (“GJC”) believes it is essential to do more than merely replicate the language of the Rome Statute. We call on the ILC to take the opportunity to reflect the progress made and lessons learned in the 20 years since the Rome Statute was adopted, particularly with regard to gender. Specifically, we ask the ILC to reconsider for the purposes of the draft Convention, two specific instances where the Rome Statute has differential treatment of gender-related provisions relative to their non-gendered counterparts: (1) the formulation of the crime of forced pregnancy; and (2) the definition of gender.

GJC President Cited in Elle UK Article on Justice for Yazidi Women

Not a single ISIS fighter has been prosecuted for gender-based crimes despite mountains of evidence of rape and sexual slavery. As GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan explained to Emily Feldman of Elle UK, membership is a terrorist organization is much easier to prove than participation in gender-based crimes.

One of the benefits of ISIS’s diverse membership—fighters joined the group from countries around the world—is that many governments have an interest in going after ISIS suspects.

By 2015, countries like Iraq, Germany and even the U.K. already had ISIS suspects in their prisons. Frustratingly, every government that has arrested ISIS members has only prosecuted them for the crime of being a 'member of a terrorist organisation'—not even murder or rape.

And none of the Yazidi survivors has been informed about their detention and aren’t sure if the men who enslaved them are living or dead, imprisoned or walking free.

Akila Radhakrishnan, the president of the Global Justice Center who has advised Ibrahim, explains that it is simply much easier for prosecutors to prove membership in a terrorist organisation than it is to prove mass atrocities or gender-based crimes, like rape.

And although penalties for terrorism crimes are often severe—Iraq sentences terrorism convicts to death after hasty and widely criticised trials—the cases fail to acknowledge all the other crimes that took place.

Read the Full Article

Letter to The Honourable Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor, "Re: Preliminary Examination into the Situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar"

Dear Prosecutor Bensouda,

The Global Justice Center writes to congratulate the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) on the decision to open a preliminary examination into the deportation of the Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Since impunity has long been the rule and not the exception in Myanmar, this examination offers a glimmer of hope that those who have long been oppressed by Myanmar’s military will see some measure of justice. We write to the OTP today with respect to three key issues related to this preliminary examination: (1) to emphasize the need to place the gendered experiences of these crimes at the center of the examination; (2) to urge the OTP to take a broad view to the crimes over which the International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction; and (3) to provide information with respect to any analysis of positive complementarity.

On the first point, we were pleased to attend a recent event with you at the UNGA in New York “Prosecuting Sexual and Gender-based Crimes at the International Criminal Court.” We applaud the OTP’s commitment to applying a gender analysis in all areas of its work, which has been reinforced by its strong policy on sexual and gender-based crimes. We agree that consideration of the complete nature of the crimes is necessary in order to ensure effective investigations and prosecutions. We urge that this be made a priority in the preliminary examination at hand.

Statement on the Creation of the IIIM for Myanmar

The Global Justice Center applauds the Human Rights Council for acting where others have not in creating an International Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) for Myanmar. This is an important step towards addressing the total impunity for the decades of crimes committed by the military.

While it is imperative to collect evidence, without a court where such evidence can be analyzed and prosecuted, justice and accountability for these crimes cannot be delivered. As such, the creation of the Mechanism without the establishment of an avenue for justice is insufficient. The Security Council should still refer the situation to the International Criminal Court so that the Court has jurisdiction over all crimes committed in the course of these attacks. Structural barriers to accountability in Burma, including those enshrined in the Constitution, must also be addressed.

The Mechanism also must ensure that gender is at the center of the investigation, and that the Mechanism has sufficient gender expertise. “Burmese Security Forces have long used rape as a weapon of war against ethnic minorities,” says Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan. “The attacks on the Rohingya were gendered in their conception, commission, and consequences. Women were specifically targeted for crimes against humanity and genocide, and they must not be left behind in these accountability efforts.”

September News Update: Gender and the Rohingya Genocide

Last week, we released the first comprehensive legal analysis of the gender-based crimes committed against Rohingya women and girls in Rakhine State. Days later, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced the launch of a preliminary investigation into the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into Bangladesh.

The UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly are both considering the establishment of a mechanism to collect and document evidence of crimes against the Rohingya. As the gears of justice begin to turn, we're working to ensure that a gendered analysis and a focus on justice for gender-based crimes are embedded in every conversation.

Read the Full Newsletter

Gender Crimes Require Gender Justice for Burma's Rohingya

Rohingya women and girls have suffered targeted atrocities at the hands of Burma’s security forces. Amounting to crimes against humanity and genocide, these attacks were gendered in their conception, commission, and consequences. Accordingly, gender must be central to any and all efforts aimed at justice and accountability for the crimes committed against the Rohingya.

For an in-depth analysis of the sexual and gender-based crimes perpetrated by Burma’s security forces against Rohingya women and girls, see the Global Justice Center’s (GJC) legal brief: Discrimination to Destruction: A Legal Analysis of the Gender Crimes Against the Rohingya.

Discrimination to Destruction: A Legal Analysis of Gender Crimes Against the Rohingya

Since August 2016, the Burmese military (Tatmadaw), Border Guard, and police forces have conducted a systematic campaign of brutal violence against Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s northern Rakhine State. These attacks come in the midst of a decades-long campaign of persecution of the Rohingya through discriminatory measures to police and control the group, including denying citizenship rights, restricting movement and access to healthcare, and limiting marriage and the number of children in families. While all members of the Rohingya population were targeted for violence, gender was integral to how the atrocities were perpetrated.

This brief seeks to bring to light the international crimes—crimes against humanity and genocide—committed against Rohingya women and girls since 2016 by Burmese Security Forces and highlight the role gender played in the design and commission of these atrocities. The military has long used rape as a weapon of war and oppression in its conflicts with ethnic groups, and in the recent attacks, Rohingya women and girls were targeted for particularly brutal manners of killing, rape and sexual violence, and torture. 

The Akayesu Judgment at 20: looking back, pushing forward

On the 20th anniversary of the Akayesu judgement, Akila Radhakrishnan and Sareta Ashraph reflect on the landmark judgement.

As the push for accountability for the Yazidi and Rohingya genocides continues, it is essential that prosecutors and activists alike ensure that acts of genocide, beyond the act of killing, are fully investigated, properly indicted, and raised at trial. As women and girls are more likely to survive genocide, any ensuing trials rely heavily on what they have seen, heard, and suffered. A conception of genocide that relies on them bearing witness to killings (usually but not solely of male members of the group), and which turns away from all non-lethal acts of genocide (usually but not solely visited on female members of the group) is a harm to the survivors, the group, the historical record, and to our understanding of the crime of genocide.

When genocide is recognized only its most murderous articulations and gendered genocidal crimes such as rape, torture, forced pregnancy, and enslavement are ignored, States and international organizations lose much of their power to uphold the legal obligations to prevent and punish genocide. When the gendered crimes of genocide are excluded from prosecutions, the living survivors of genocide are denied justice and history yet again erases the experiences of women and girls.

Read the Full Article 

Statement on the Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - August 27, 2018

[New York]– The Global Justice Center (GJC) welcomes the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar’s report on the crimes against minority groups, including the crime of genocide against the Rohingya committed by Myanmar’s security forces. In particular, GJC commends the Fact-Finding Mission for highlighting the military’s use of sexual violence as a tactic against all minority groups and recognizing the structural barriers to accountability in Myanmar.

For decades, the Myanmar army has targeted ethnic minority groups with impunity—burning villages, killing indiscriminately, and raping and sexually assaulting women and girls. These systematic and brutal attacks against civilians have been used to intimidate and terrorize local populations. Years of impunity for these atrocities have emboldened the military to escalate their policies of violence and repression, creating an opening for the genocidal campaign against the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s civilian government has neither the will nor the demonstrated capacity to end these horrific crimes and hold those responsible accountable. It is essential that the international community act expeditiously to address the situation in Myanmar, including the ongoing genocide of the Rohingya, and take action in line with the obligations to prevent, suppress and punish genocide.

August News Update: Working Towards "Never Again"

August marks the anniversaries of two recent genocides: the Rohingya in Burma and the Yazidi in Iraq. These atrocities highlight the often overlooked but increasingly unavoidable gendered crimes of genocide

Systematic sexual violence was integral to the campaigns that targeted the Rohingya and Yazidi communities for annihilation.  Unless these crimes are recognized and prosecuted as genocide, the international community will continue to miss the warning signs and fail to intervene before the next genocide takes place.

Photo: Anna Dubuis / DFID / CC BY 2.0

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No Justice for Yazidi Women Yet: Why Not?

GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan published an op-ed in PassBlue about the lack of accountability for ISIS's genocide against the Yazidis in Iraq. 

In light of international consensus that ISIS is committing genocide, it might seem surprising that there have been no prosecutions. In Iraq, the reason is deceptively simple — genocide is not a crime. Iraqi law does not provide for the prosecution of any international crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. Nor is Iraq a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, where such crimes can be prosecuted at the international level.

Read the Full Article 

Yet again, the world is failing genocide victims

GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and Free Yezidi Foundation founder and Executive director Pari Ibraham published a joint op-ed in Women Under Siege calling for justice on the fourth anniversary of ISIS's genocide of the Yazidis. 

The value of accountability for the full range of crimes committed cannot be underestimated. Justice empowers survivors, shines a light on truth, and offers healing and closure, allowing an affected community to move forward. Justice at its best is not merely retribution or punishment, it is a transformation. It can allow the Yezidi community to see security, reconciliation, and peace in their homeland.

Progress on paper should not be dismissed, but it is insufficient. Four years after the genocide began, Yezidis are still waiting to see a single perpetrator held accountable for the crimes committed against their community, including genocide. 

Read the Full Article 

Yezidi Genocide Remembrance and Panel Discussion

August 1, 2018 | 2:30 - 4:00 pm

At UN WOMEN

August 3rd marks the fourth anniversary of ISIS’s attack on the Yezidi community in Sinjar, the beginning of their genocidal campaign against the Yezidi people. Four years on, the genocide is ongoing and Yezidis are still waiting for any measure of justice or accountability.

On Wednesday, August 1st, join the Free Yezidi Foundation, the Global Justice Center, UN Women & the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict as we discuss how to ensure justice and accountability for the genocide and make sure that women are at the center of conflict resolution.

Speakers:

  • Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-NgcukaExecutive Director, UN Women
  • Ms. Pramila PattenSpecial Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict
  • Ms. Pari IbrahimExecutive Director, Free Yezidi Foundation
  • Moderator: Ms. Akila Radhakrishnan | President, Global Justice Center

Download event information

The Rwandan Genocide: Rape and HIV Used as Weapons of War

By Katya Kolluri

The Rwandan Genocide, a horrific event in human history, is once again making its way into current news due to Jina Moore’s recent article in The New Yorker. Moore’s piece explores how those responsible for the Rwandan mass slaughter (termed genocidaires), may be freed years before their sentence ends. One of them is Théoneste Bagosora, widely regarded as the mastermind of the genocide. Survivors and family members of victims are protesting the decision of early release, stating that this practice of the court is, “a new form of impunity.” Critics are challenging this aspect of the parole system, particularly due to the fact that the convictions of these genocidaires is considered a landmark ruling in international justice. Twenty percent of the convicts of Rwanda’s International Criminal Tribunal have been released early. Allowing these perpetrators of genocide to be paroled is an injudicious decision, especially when considering the brutal pain and suffering this campaign of violence has caused.

Call the crimes against the Rohingya what they are: Genocide

GJC's Deputy Legal Director, Grant Shubin, published a letter to the editor in the Washington Post, in response to UN Secretary-General António Guterres' article "The Rohingya are victims of ethnic cleansing. The world has failed them."

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres was right in his July 11 op-ed, “The chilling stories of the Rohingya,” to indict the international community for failing the Rohingya. His plea for more concerted international action could not be more timely or necessary. However, his appeal did not go as far as it should have. He failed to name the crimes against the Rohingya for what they are: genocide.

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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.