Escalating violence in Iraq is taking a devastating toll on women, according to a new report released today by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Minority Rights Group International.
‘No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict’ documents the extensive use of violence against women in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion, with a particular focus on violations perpetrated during the upsurge in violence over the past two years. Whether driven by political, ‘moral’ or sectarian motives, attacks on women have become a tactic of war used by parties on both sides of the conflict.
The report draws on new gender-disaggregated data on civilian casualties, which indicate that the armed conflict in Iraq has led to the violent deaths of approximately 14,000 women since 2003. In addition to the women killed in bombings, shelling and air attacks on civilian areas in Iraq, women have been deliberately targeted for assassination by both pro-and anti-government militias across the country.
‘Both Sunni and Shi’a militias have carried out mass extra-judicial executions of women for perceived transgression of moral codes,’ says Mark Lattimer, Ceasefire’s Director. ‘But they are left free to kill and kill again.’
‘Women have been the target of violence in Iraq for many years,’ adds report author Miriam Puttick. ‘Now, with the rise of ISIS, we are witnessing the renewal of a deliberate and violent campaign to erase women from the public life of the country.’
The fighting in Iraq has generated mass population displacement and created tens of thousands of widows and female-headed households, escalating women’s vulnerability.
Thousands of women and girls are estimated to have been abducted or trafficked for sexual slavery, prostitution or ransom since 2003. These include more than 3,000 women and girls captured by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in 2014.
However, over six months later there is little evidence of any concrete measures taken by either the Iraqi federal government or the Kurdistan regional government to secure their release.
According to Miriam Puttick, this inaction is symptomatic of the authorities’ lack of interest in addressing violence against women. ‘ISIS is not the first group to be involved in abducting and trafficking women. Women have been disappearing off the streets of Iraq by the hundreds ever since the start of the conflict. The silence of the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities on this issue must end.’
Hundreds of women every year are trafficked in Baghdad, northern cities and onwards to Syria or the Gulf states.
Considerations of family ‘honour’ contribute to widespread under-reporting of female disappearances. Weaknesses in the Iraqi laws criminalizing violence against women are compounded by systematic failures by the Iraqi police and justice system.
‘Women are betrayed by a broader political, legal and cultural context that allows perpetrators of violence against women to go free and stigmatizes or punishes victims,’says Miriam Puttick. ‘Once a woman becomes a victim of sexual violence or is forced to flee her home, she has no place to turn.’
Notes to editors:
‘No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict’ is based on extensive research and recent interviews with activists as well as gender-disaggregated data specially-commissioned from the monitoring organization Iraq Body Count. The report will be presented at an event at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in March.
Interview opportunities are available with:
Mark Lattimer, Executive Director (English), Miriam Puttick, Civilian Rights Officer and report author (English); Women’s rights defenders in Iraq (Arabic, Kurdish, English)
For further information or to arrange interviews contact:
Shikha Dilawri or Mays Al-Juboori (London)
T: +44 20 7422 4214
This report has been produced as part of the Ceasefire project, a multi-year programme supported by the European Union to implement a system of civilian-led monitoring of human rights abuses in Iraq, focusing in particular on the rights of vulnerable civilians including vulnerable women, internally-displaced persons (IDPs), stateless persons, and ethnic or religious minorities. Minority Rights Group International, charity no: 282305; Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, charity no: 1160083.