Baghdad: Iraqi women suspected of family links to Islamic state extremists are facing a campaign of sexual violence and exploitation in displacement camps inside the country, according to a hard-hitting report from Amnesty International.
The accounts of violence, including rape, come amid claims that authorities are also denying aid to the women, as well as refusing them the opportunity to return to their homes.
Researchers who visited eight camps for internally displaced Iraqis found that sexual exploitation was occurring in all eight.
Based on interviews with 92 women, the Amnesty Report highlights the plight of thousands of female-headed families left to fend for themselves after their male relatives men were killed, arrested or forcibly disappeared while fleeing areas around Mosul.
In many cases, the men’s only “crime” detailed in the report was escaping an Isis stronghold, or having a similar name to those on questionable “wanted lists”, or working in non-combat roles, such as cooks or drivers.
The most serious allegations contained in the report relate to rape.
Four women told researchers they had either witnessed rape or heard the screams of a woman in a nearby tent who was being raped by armed men, members of the camp administration, or other camp residents – with claims that women were being coerced into sexual relationships in exchange for desperately needed cash, humanitarian aid and protection from other men.
One 20-year-old woman, Dana, said she had survived several rape attempts and was facing relentless pressure to have sex with a member of the security forces in her camp. “Because they consider me the same as an Isis fighter, they will rape me and return me,” she said.
“They want to show everyone what they can do to me – to take away my honour. I can’t feel comfortable in my tent. I just want a door to lock and walls around me. Each night, I say to myself, ‘Tonight is the night I’m going to die.’”
Many of the women interviewed by Amnesty in IDP camps expressed fears for their safety.
Lynn Maalouf, the organisation’s Middle East research director, said: “Women are being subjected to dehumanising and discriminatory treatment by armed men operating in the camps for their alleged affiliation with Isis.
“The very people who are supposed to be protecting them are turning into predators.
“The Iraqi government must show it is serious about ending the violations against these women by holding all perpetrators to account and stopping all armed men from entering the camps.”
The threat of sexual violence comes on top of evidence of other forms of abuse and discrimination aimed at the women, including the refusal of tribal elders to allow them to return to their home towns and villages.
Those who do manage to return have experienced eviction, forced displacement, looting, threats and abuse, including sexual abuse and harassment, in some instances, seeing their houses defaced with the word “Daeshi” (or Isis) and having their electricity, water and other services cut off.
“Sometimes I ask myself: why didn’t I just die in an airstrike?” said Maha, another woman interviewed for the report. “I attempted to commit suicide but I didn’t follow through. I put kerosene on myself, but before I set it on fire, I thought of my son.
“I feel I am at my end. I am in a prison here. I am completely alone – without my husband, my father – no one is with me any more.”
The situation for women is likely to get even worse as international funding for the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is projected to decrease sharply. Before Iraq’s parliamentary elections in May, displaced people are being urged to leave IDP camps as the government’s focus turns to closing and consolidating them.
Maalouf added: “The authorities must also immediately end the systematic and widespread practice of forcibly disappearing men and boys with perceived ties to Isis, which has has left thousands of wives, mothers, daughters and sons in desperate situations.
“To put an end to the poisonous cycle of marginalisation and communal violence that has plagued Iraq for decades, the Iraqi government and international community must commit to upholding the rights of all Iraqis without discrimination. Without this, there can be no national reconciliation or lasting peace.”