This week, reports of Yazidi women forced into marriage, raped, and sold as slaves to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters have spurred horror and outrage around the world. Human Rights Watch reports that these captives, some as young as ten or twelve, have been abducted from their families and been beaten into submitting to marriage to their captors.Yazidi girls who have escaped ISIS report seeing women and girls sold to ISIS fighters. Their captors hardly tried to hide their atrocities; in fact, they boasted of their acts in their magazine.
This episode is but the latest in a series of crimes that try the imagination committed by ISIS and other actors in the Syrian conflict, gathering more international attention for a conflict with no apparent end in sight.
As is often the case in conflict zones, women and children have been particularly affected by the ongoing crisis. A UNICEF report from March estimates that 5.5 million children have been affected by the conflict, with up to one million living under siege or in hard-to-reach areas where humanitarian aid is rarely available. A conservative UN estimate places child casualties at ten thousand, and witnesses cited in the UNICEF report have described children and infants killed by sniper fire.
A July Human Rights Watch report describes the egregious casualties and injuries resulting from barrel bomb attacks from the Syrian government in Aleppo, Syria. Among the casualties are children. One particularly horrific account describes a young girl playing on a third floor balcony at the time of a barrel bomb attack; the balcony was partially destroyed, throwing the girl to the ground.
Reporting on these tragedies has given way in recent months to the tide of reporting on ISIS’s human rights violations. Multiple accounts have surfaced of civilian summary executions at the hands of the armed extremist group, and the group has specifically targeted minority groups.
Women have been in the crosshairs as ISIS has taken hold of ever-larger swathes of territory. According to a report released by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq in October, ISIS fighters have repeatedly harassed and targeted female professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and politicians. In August, a group of female doctors in northern Iraq went on strike, contesting ISIS’s demand that they wear a religious face cover while working. In retaliation, the extremist group attempted to abduct at least one doctor and killed her when she resisted. Last month, a female lawyer known for her human rights work was abducted, tortured, and publicly executed by ISIS.
As the conflict in Syria drags on and spreads into Iraq, reports of such brutality continue to flood the media internationally. And with no prospects for resolution on the horizon, we can only expect to hear more stories of suffering.