In light of the gender dynamics at the root of Daesh’s violence, gender must also be at the center of accountability. With justice for Daesh beginning, this Briefing details how Iraq’s current legal framework precludes meaningful justice for women and girls. It highlights the gender gaps in Iraq’s criminal laws and identifies opportunities for broader reform to better protect Iraqi women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence.
For years the world watched in collective horror as Daesh committed brutal atrocities. Central to this violence was sexual and gender-based violence, with explicit targeting of women and girls. Daesh used rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage and torture—distinct crimes on their own as well as constituent elements of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes—as tools for recruitment, conversion, forced indoctrination, and the fundamental destruction of community cohesion.1 For many, the only thing that stood in opposition to these crimes was the prospect, however far away, of justice.
Justice, however, is complex. It requires accountability, redress and a focus on preventing the recurrence of violations. Justice efforts must be independent, credible, inclusive, and accepted by impacted communities, with special respect and recognition for the dignity of victims. Importantly, and as this Briefing illustrates, it must reflect the full scope and scale of the crimes that occurred.
As the international community and the Iraqi government begin the process of holding members of Daesh accountable for their crimes, it is critical to examine the legal systems that will be responsible for these prosecutions. Prosecutions to date, which have all been conducted under Iraq’s 2005 counter-terrorism law, have failed human rights standards and do not suffice the interest of justice.
This Briefing highlights one such example—specifically how Iraq’s current laws fall far short of the requirements for justice, as they are unable to punish the most egregious of Daesh’s gender crimes. Iraq’s Penal Code is a patriarchal patchwork rooted in preexisting peacetime gender inequalities and violence.2 The way and manner in which the Code defines sexual and gender-based violence crimes is steeped in language and perspectives that are inherently and overtly discriminatory against women and fall short of international standards. Any justice mechanism organized under these laws will fail to provide full accountability and redress to Daesh’s female victims.
In order to highlight these challenges, this Briefing: (i) identifies particular categories of Daesh’s gender crimes and considers how these crimes are currently codified in Iraqi law; (ii) details the gaps where Iraq’s laws do not entirely capture the ways in which Daesh committed sexual and gender-based violence; and (iii) describes international standards for defining and understanding the many facets of these crimes.
A complete reckoning with the planned and inherently gendered elements of Daesh’s violence is essential for Iraq to begin the transition out of armed conflict. These first steps of putting this history behind it must provide justice for victims, combat these victims’ marginalization, and prevent future violations against women, girls and other communities targeted on behalf of their gender.