Countering Human Trafficking and Sexual Violence in Conflict

Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Vincent Kessler/Reuters
Mark P. Lagon

Chief Policy Officer, Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Former Ambassador-at-Large and Director, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Department of State

Nadia Murad Basee Taha

Yazidi Human Rights Activist; Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking, United Nations; Nobel Peace Prize Nominee 

Panelists discuss the devastating abuses of human trafficking and sexual violence, how they are used as a tactic of terror by extremist organizations, and current efforts to prevent these crimes and to ensure accountability. 

SILVERBERG: Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting on “Countering Human Trafficking and Sexual Violence” and conduct. I’m Kristen Silverberg, managing director at the Institute of International Finance, and I will be presiding over today’s discussion.

We are here today as part of the launch of an important new report, “Countering Sexual Violence in Conflict,” which details the conditions that give rise to sexual violence in conflict and the consequences of failure to address it. The report makes important recommendations for policymakers, and I hope you will all read it in full. Copies are available.

At today’s session we’re going to focus on one particular aspect of the report, namely the use of sexual violence as a deliberate tactic of war: as a tool of groups like ISIS and Boko Haram to terrorize populations into compliance, to entrench an ideology that subjugates women, and even to conduct genocide.

I am honored to be joined for the discussion by Nadia Murad, who has spoken around the world about her own horrific experience at the hands of ISIS. As a young Yazidi student, she saw ISIS murder her mother and brothers, was taken captive, was bought and sold, and brutally raped by her captors. She escaped to become an unrelenting advocate for the Yazidi people, and now serves as a U.N. goodwill ambassador for the dignity of survivors of human trafficking. I am also honored to be joined by my good friend and former State Department colleague Mark Lagon, chief policy officer of the Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, who has been a leading advocate for human rights and for victims of human rights abuses around the world. So thank you very much for joining.

Nadia, you have referred to the use of sexual violence by ISIS as a genocide, and I think it’s very important that we appreciate the importance of the use of that word. Can you talk about why you refer to this as a genocide?

(Note: Ms. Murad’s remarks are made through an interpreter.)

MURAD: We consider this a genocide because ISIS—this wasn’t a secret. When ISIS did this, it was public. They didn’t make it a secret. They publicized they wanted to eradicate Yazidis and other minorities that live in Syria and Iraq. And they murdered and, you know, use thousands as sex slaves. So those are the reasons that we consider what happened to us and other minorities as a genocide.

For us, speaking about Yazidis, right now as we speak, after almost three years of what happened to us, we have now discovered about 45 mass graves in our homeland. There are still around 3,000 Yazidis who are missing in captivity in ISIS territory that we don’t know anything about. Over 300,000 Yazidis are displaced in IDP camps, and about 100,000 have been spread around the world as refugees in different countries.

SILVERBERG: Mark, as Nadia said, this is—use of sexual violence is deeply embedded in ISIS ideology. And in addition to the campaign of ethnic destruction, they have lots of other objectives as well. Can you just talk about the other ways that ISIS is using sexual violence to achieve its objectives?

LAGON: Yeah. I mean, it appears ISIS is motivated by economic incentive for—incentives are resources, hatred, misogyny, sadism, and forms of psychological warfare. In particular, they’re—in addition to targeting the Yazidi people for eradication, they’re trying purposefully to terrorize, dehumanize, dispirit those who are their enemies. Like in many other places in the world—and I hail Rachel Vogelstein’s work here at the Council—sometimes sexual violence is designed and clearly has the effect of dividing families and communities, and they’re using it for that.

But it’s worth remembering, of course, that sexual slavery is, in fact, meant to raise resources for their terrorist aims. Through abduction, forced unions, sexual slavery there, they’re raising money in the darkest way.

SILVERBERG: I think that’s a really important point, because at a time when the U.S. government has been so aggressive in trying to cut off sources of terrorist finance, in fact, we’ve seen ISIS losing territory, but continuing to increase its revenues from this kind of trade.

LAGON: Yeah, indeed.


So, Nadia, I watched your testimony twice before the U.N. Security Council, and your frustration is evident. You’ve had, I think, enormous challenges since 2015 persuading the international community to take action. Can you just talk about—talk about that effort?

MURAD: I say that in my speeches at the U.N., and my frustration is that it’s been almost two years that we advocate for this case—not just me, other survivors who survived ISIS sexual slavery. We advocate all over the world, and we tell people what happened to us and what needs to be done. Until today, we have captives in captivity; like I said, around 3,000 Yazidis are still in captivity. We have those mass graves that are not being examined, not being protected. And we have our people displaced. So we see that people recognize this, but little action has been done to help us get through this.

But the U.N. resolution to investigate ISIS crime gave a little bit of hope to us as Yazidis. And we are hoping that after this team is assembled, they will protect these mass graves and collect the evidence and, you know, take some of the ISIS to justice.

SILVERBERG: I want to talk about this—about this resolution and the importance of accountability. But before we do that, can you get to Nadia’s point about the difficulties of persuading the international community? Obviously, you’ve been inside the State Department for some of these debates. And what are the principal obstacles?

LAGON: Well, you know, there is good news in that the United States is involved in a collective effort to try and liberate more territory from ISIS control. But there are a lot of obstacles, and chief among them are difficult powers among the P5 members of the U.N. Security Council—well, let’s just say Russia. And it is a fact that Russia has been more pro-Assad than it has been anti-ISIS, despite some thoughts of the American president otherwise. That bears itself out in the bombing of Aleppo, and it’s actually managed to lead the U.N. to vote out Russia from the Human Rights Council. But let’s be clear: The United States has not been as strong as it might have been in either of the last couple of administrations on emphasizing taking action at the Security Council as well, and it’s a crutch to point to Russia as an obstacle.

I think it’s also just worth pointing out there’s this norm of responsibility to protect that was established some 12 years ago. When Kristen was assistant secretary of state for international organizations, you played a crucial role in the Bush administration going along at the 2005 U.N. Summit of its 60th anniversary on R2P. And I really think we ought to remember that it shouldn’t require the Security Council’s blessing to act on something so important as that. Way back when, NATO took action to try and prevent ethnic cleansing in Kosovo when Russia tried to block action in the Security Council.

SILVERBERG: You know, sometimes the—speaking of our time together in the State Department, sometimes it’s the sponsorship of an important state—although in this case, you know, ISIS doesn’t have a—you know, a powerful friend—sometimes it’s resistance just to doing anything. I remember the resolution we ran condemning sexual violence as a tool of oppression in the General Assembly, and I remember the South African perm rep opposing it just on point of principle that we shouldn’t be wading into the topic.

LAGON: Yeah. I mean, it is often the hardest thing to measure and the critical thing, is political will, and we’ll talk about that later. To implement the resolution that Nadia Murad spoke of, there will need to be access, humanitarian access, but political will.

SILVERBERG: I mean, I thought—I thought the report made a really important point that, when you’re getting at the question of kind of U.S. will to take action, one thing you can do is enlarge it beyond the humanitarian concerns. Obviously, those are critical, but there are lots of security-related implications of a failure to address sexual violence too. And can you just talk about what is the—what are the broader consequences of failing to take action?

LAGON: Well, this report that CFR has come out with makes the connection between the human rights dimensions of sexual violence and the security dimensions. So, many people have talked about this as an odd and striking case of human trafficking. Normally, one thinks of human trafficking as, in a sea of migration, some people ending up in a form of sexual violence or sexual exploitation. In this case, one sees the sexual slavery and sexual violence as part of a larger picture of ISIS’s designs, causing great instability with migration and setting up a situation that’s already complex in governance to be very hard, even with the United States helping seize back territory from ISIS control.

SILVERBERG: And, Nadia, what are the—what are the implications of this—of this forced migration? I mean, what are the challenges that Yazidis will face as they’re able to return to their homes?

MURAD: Like I said, about 300,000 Yazidis are displaced now. But even though Sinjar has been liberated since May, all of Sinjar, all of the Yazidi homeland, but those Yazidis still remain in IDP camps. As compared to some other areas of Iraq like Mosul, most of the civilians there didn’t even leave their homes. And even if they did, it was temporarily. They just left for a few weeks and they went back to their homes. And, you know, they are trying to get back to their normal life.

But like I said, in Sinjar, due to the political competition between all these groups since Sinjar has been liberated—the Peshmerga, the PKK, the PMU, and other armed groups—people have now went back. It’s hard to resolve these issues. We have tried to advocate for this and tried to put a solution to these issues in Sinjar. And as I went back—last couple months, I go back to my home of Kocho, the destruction there is huge. The towns are destroyed. Most of the homes are destroyed. People are not able to go back to their homes, even if the political solution is done there right now. On the other hand, the area has not been demined yet. So people are cautious of going back home, even if their home is still standing.

And right now the priority for Yazidis, they are waiting and hoping that there will be a solution for their protection—some sort of protection will be provided for them so they can go back home, and some reconstruction will be there—will be done in their area so they can go back.

SILVERBERG: Are there other things you think the U.S. should be doing to help Yazidis who are able to return to their home? Or were there things that—when you went to your hometown, were there things that people were asking from the international community?

MURAD: There’s a lot that the U.S. can do, and the international community. For example, they can put a lot of pressure on Iraq, since they help Iraq. They can put a lot of pressure on the government to provide security for Yazidis and make sure that they don’t go through the same thing they went through in 2014. In terms of reconstruction, the U.S. and other countries can help rebuild the Yazidi areas so they’re habitable again and people can go back and live their life. And in terms of education, a lot of people don’t go back because there are no schools. The schools are not open. Most the schools are destroyed. So these are simple things that the U.S. and other countries can help Yazidis with.

SILVERBERG: You had earlier raised the importance of ensuring accountability, of taking the steps now to make sure that perpetrators can eventually be prosecuted. What are the things that you think need to happen? And maybe you could say a word about the importance of this U.N. Security Council resolution you mentioned.

MURAD: We have done—we put so much time in this to make sure that ISIS is held accountable. And this is important for all of us, for all the Yazidis. Nearly—you know, each Yazidi family has lost a member. They went through a lot and they suffered at the hands of ISIS. So it’s very important for Yazidis that justice is being done and ISIS members are taken to justice.

Currently, many survivors are ready to testify and they’re around to help take ISIS to justice. For example, Umm Sayyaf, who was captured in Syria in her house with her husband, Abu Sayyaf, there were Yazidi girls. Two of them or three of them in Germany are ready to testify, and they already testified, and they told the lawyer that they can go to the court and testify so they can take her to justice. But she’s been held over a year in Iraq and she’s not even been taken to court yet. On the accountability side, obviously, it’s been very slow. But we still have some hope. And we hope that the U.N. team will be assembled soon and they can collect the evidence before these mass graves are destroyed and evidence disappears. We hope that, you know, something can be done so justice can be done for Yazidis.

 SILVERBERG: Mark, this is a recurring problem, this challenge of ensuring accountability. Can you speak broadly on why it’s so hard to get justice in these cases and what kinds of things ought to be done?

LAGON: Well, I mean, it’s often hard with the players on the ground. One things about, you know, Radovan Karadzic who, you know, was at large in Bosnia for so many years, and there wasn’t a police force to go nab him for the tribunal. He hid as, you know, a new age healer for a long while. So there are difficulties of that. Sometimes there are issues of political will that we talked about earlier. I guess there are some surprises to be found in U.N.-related institutions. The dedicated tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda actually created the notion that sexual violence and rape was a war crime.

The U.N. Human Rights Council, for all of its failings, has managed to actually create a way of collecting evidence related to atrocities in Syria and in Iraq. It actually sort of got to it before the Security Council. That’s kind of counterintuitive. And it’s good that the Security Council has acted. It’s sort of interesting in this picture, for all the concern in Washington about an International Criminal Court that might be politicized, it’s proven to be more feckless than anything.

SILVERBERG: So, Nadia, despite all the challenges persuading key member states to take action, you did have a very good visit recently with President Macron. And he made some important commitments. Can you just talk about that?

MURAD: Our visit with President Macron was great. Obviously, he was very moved and sympathetic with the Yazidi case, and especially with those survivors. In our meeting he promised that he will help push a team to demine the Yazidi homeland. In terms of reconstruction, he promised to help push the Iraqi government to do more reconstruction there and hold an international conference to raise funds for Yazidis to rebuild their homeland. And also, as we know, France was the lead on the U.N. resolution to investigate ISIS crimes.

SILVERBERG: We have a number of State Department and National Security Council staffers, some congressional staffers from the Hill. Are there any final words you’d like to say to them about potential U.S. action? What’s the important thing for a U.S. policymaker to think about going forward?

MURAD: You know, people look up to the U.S. as a major country. Even before I came to the U.S. my first time, when we saw, you know, someone come to the U.S., that gave people hope. We thought that something will be done. And right now, as we come to the U.S. and other Yazidis come to the U.S., that gives Yazidis a lot of hope. And they just—you know, they see the U.S. as their hope. But, you know, not much action has been done in the past three years.

In the past three years we have done all we can to advocate for the Yazidi case to be a voice for this genocide that happened to Yazidis and other minorities. Now that ISIS has been driven out, our hope is that the U.S. will help with the protection of the Yazidis and other minorities, and that it would help these minorities to rebuild their areas and be able to live their lives.

SILVERBERG: Mark, any closing words about the potential way ahead for U.S. policymakers?

LAGON: Well, I mean, just a few takeaways. I think we focused here, and the report emphasizes, the security implications of gross human rights abuses, sexual violence, and atrocities. It’s remembered—important to remember them as human rights abuses and helping those who are victims. As a goodwill ambassador for the dignity of human trafficking victims, Nadia Murad really, you know, captures that. There’s some surprises. I’m not a lawyer, but as you know I’ve learned from lawyers like you, sometimes you need to go forum shopping. And sometimes you will find different fora in the U.N. more propitious than others. Let’s not let other Security Council members be the excuse for the United States not taking more action and not being hamstrung by it.

And I guess, you know, related to that report that CFR has put out, gender really matters. And it’s worth thinking about, that women and girls are not just objects who have been violated, but they need to have a voice in peace negotiations and reconciliation as agents, not just as objects of hard violence.

SILVERBERG: I think that’s a very important point. And CFR has a new interactive tool, actually, that can I think shed some light on that effort. So I’d like to bring members into the discussion now with questions. So if you’ll just raise your hand and wait for the microphone. Please remember that this session is on the record. I think there should be a microphone coming, is that right? And will you just state your name and your affiliation?

Q: Hi. My name is Jay Kansara. I’m with the Hindu American Foundation.

Thank you for sharing your story. It’s very harrowing to listen to. As a community that predates most Abrahamic religions in the Sinjar province and the surrounding areas, this is not the first wave of violence and genocide attempt that you’ve seen. Why is it that this keeps occurring? And in the modern era, what can we do to ensure that history does not repeat itself, as ISIS retreats or becomes weakened, but to prevent the next wave of violence against the Yazidis and other minorities in the Middle East?

MURAD: ISIS did a lot of destruction and ISIS hurt many communities in that region, not just Yazidis. But despite that, ISIS treated Yazidis in a specific way, a way that they wanted to eradicate Yazidis. They considered them as a—you know, no people of the book. They considered eradicating them and removing them from that region. So this is not the first time, obviously, they did that. And even prior to ISIS attacking that area, many of the communities around Yazidis had this sort of thinking about Yazidi religion. They saw them, you know, as less human beings. And they didn’t want to deal with Yazidis. They didn’t want to be close to Yazidis.

You know, this conversation of protecting Yazidis beyond that, not just that, you know, Iraq—the Iraqi government and the Kurdish government, those governments they should respect Yazidis as, you know, regular citizen, not second-class citizen. If you go to an Iraqi embassy here or in any other country, Kurdish representative here in D.C. or somewhere else, you will not see a single Yazidi person in any of these offices. They don’t give Yazidis their rights. They don’t give—they don’t deal with the Yazidis like they deal with other citizens of that country. So it’s not the matter of just protecting Yazidis from radical groups. It’s a matter of giving them their rights as regular citizens of that country and helping them. It’s not that Yazidis are not educated. There are many Yazidis, you know, graduated from universities. But Yazidis are not accepted as regular citizens of Iraq and Kurdistan.

SILVERBERG: Yes, here.

Q: James Saxton-Ruiz, State Department.

Thank you very much for telling your story. It’s a very important story to tell. My question’s a simple one: Do you think even after reconstruction and demining of Sinjar and the surrounding areas, will the Yazidis go back? In my conversations with refugees—Yazidi refugees when they were first were streaming across the border in Sirnak and Mardin, they said their priority was to go to Germany, Sweden, and never return. They’re done with, you know, the umpty-ninth genocide against them. So what is your response? Thank you.

MURAD: Currently we have about 400,000 Yazidis in Iraq. And realistically, no country will take all these Yazidis. And not all of them—you know, that’s right that many Yazidis want to leave Iraq, but not all of them. You know, a big percentage of Yazidis want to be able to go back to their home and live there again. But if their protection was taken seriously by the government, if they were protected, if their basic services were provided to them to be able to live in their homeland. We don’t want to lose our homeland. If all Yazidis leave Iraq, Yazidis will disappear. You know, this small religion will disappear. It’s our homeland. That’s what defines Yazidis. Sinjar is—you know that’s what defines Yazidis there.

SILVERBERG: Yes, right here.

Q: Hi. My name is Mark Vlasic from Georgetown.

But I spent three years as a prosecutor on the Milosevic case and the Srebrenica genocide case in The Hague. So I’m kind of well-aware of the pros and cons of international tribunals. And with that, I’m curious, as a follow up to Ambassador Lagon’s question on forum shopping, have you—what’s the thought on trying to engage other international organizations, like the Arab League, of trying to have them set up an international ad hoc tribunal, since there’s likely to be serious challenges with the U.N. or the ICC moving forward on a case?

LAGON: Well, I’ll be brief, because I imagine more people want to hear from Nadia Murad. But that’s something I had left out of my remarks. There has been blend and dedicated courts, including one on Syria you worked on. And so that may be something that’s worth pursuing. I’m glad, Mark, that you bring up the Arab League, because the Arab League showed itself to be a little different from what people thought at the beginning of the unfolding of this conflict and Libya before it. And perhaps this is a way to channel the energies of the Arab League.

SILVERBERG: Any thoughts about that—about the potential for Arab League support?

MURAD: I’m not familiar with that. I couldn’t comment on it.

SILVERBERG: Yes, right here.

Q: My name is David Saperstein. I’m a senior policy advisor for the Reform Jewish Movement and worked at the State Department before.

SILVERBERG: You could probably—and was President Obama’s ambassador for religious freedom. Sorry. (Laughter.)

Q: A brief clarification because the translation sometimes said people and sometimes women. The number 3,000 that we’re talking about are Yazidi women who are still—are still missing here? And I’m really glad that Nadia raised the systemic discrimination that exists. A fundamental principle flowing from our human rights documents is that one’s rights as a citizen should never depend upon their religious identity, practices, or beliefs. And their—those structural issues need to be resolved if there’s going to be a pluralistic future for Yazidis, but also for other minorities there as well.

Mark, in terms of the U.N., Nadia, let me just ask, in real time we’re watching some of the same dynamics of the intentional rape of women and girls as part of a weapon of war in an effort to destroy the family and community structures and future of a community happening with the Rohingya now in Burma. What are some of the lessons that we’ve learned here that you think might actually be implemented in how the international community either is dealing with this or should be dealing with this?

LAGON: Well, in brief, you know, accountability really matters. It’ll be an interesting work for the decades for social scientists to see whether accountability mechanisms when they work actually deter others in a different part of the world from acting. You know, when Aung San Suu Kyi, you know, sort of first talked here at the Council by video conference when Hillary Clinton was about to visit her as secretary of state, I happened to ask, so, what are you going to do about past sexual violence in Burma, not to think about how it would be, you know, exploding. I think, you know, even those who we lionize as heroes we need to hold to account because, as Nadia Murad has suggested, either as women or certain groups just end up being categorized as non-people. And the Rohingya are a classic example of that.

SILVERBERG: I think that’s a very important point, that we’re not just talking about non-state actors. In some cases, we’re talking about state-sponsored sexual violence as a tool of war.

Nadia, anything you’d like to add on this?

MURAD: I’ve discussed this with the ambassador may times. And thanks for your comment.

SILVERBERG: Hi. My name’s Meighan Stone. And I’ll stand up. I used to be president of the Malala Fund. So I worked with Malala over the last three years.

And so I just really want to recognize your personal commitment to telling your story. For us, this is a lunch. For you, this is your cause and your campaign. And I just want to honor you just as another woman for telling your story. Thank you so much.

I want to ask, there’s the large issues and blocks and challenges. But I know, as a personal advocate, there has to be some way that we can also support you in telling your story. Is there an organization, a foundation that any of our groups in this room could make a grant to, that we could support financially so that you can continue doing this important activism that you’re doing? We would love to find out more about that. Thank you.

MURAD: From the humanitarian side, Yazidi organization has been helping many survivors in Iraq. So I’ve been working with them since the beginning. And that’s a good way where you can help Yazidi survivors through them.


Q: Hi. Elise Goss-Alexander with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

I’d like to, sort of building off of that question, ask if there are specific ways that policy, either through stabilization and reconstruction or responses to humanitarian crises like this can be more supportive of survivors, and sort of mainstream those gendered concerns into the larger policies.

MURAD: So far more than 3,700 survivors have escaped or been rescued from ISIS. Around 1,000, as you know, went to Germany, about 300 to Canada, and 200 to Australia, and maybe some others left the country. But the rest remain in Iraq. Maybe some help was being provided to them in these IDP camps in terms of therapy, but all of these survivors still need help because the assistance that was provided to them, is being provided to them in the camps, is not enough. And especially right now, as Sinjar has been liberated and many will go back, long-term assistance is—that’s what can help them get back to their life.

For those that remain in captivity, as ISIS has been defeated many ISIS members will have those survivors contact their families and ask for ransom. Sometimes it’s $12,000 and up to $50,000. And many of these families are IDPs. They can’t afford that. And we get many calls from families, they say our kid, our daughter, our mother is up for sale for these many thousand dollars. But, you know, we can’t help them, and they can’t afford it. And this is where help is needed for those in captivity.

LAGON: So I can’t improve on that for the specific situation in the region. But three points. One, I found serving on the advisory board of the Center for Victims of Torture and then some work related to human trafficking that the piece of the puzzle that is often forgotten is the psychological therapy necessary. Shelter is often a focus, physical medical care, sometimes managing to raise a pollical voice for those who have been victims. But oftentimes that—you know, that trauma they’ve gone through hasn’t been dealt with.

Pluralism really matters in reconciliation. And lest anyone think that governance doesn’t matter in the world now—we’re sort of in an era in which it’s not in vogue, although, thank goodness for Senator Graham and Senator Rubio and Ambassador Haley for reminding some of their colleagues of that. But pluralism has to be a focus of reconciliation.

And finally, we need to care about every religious group. And I’m happy to see Christian activists very focused on ISIS targeting Christians. But we need to worry about all targets of violence and of being sidelined, and even Muslim-on-Muslim violence, which we’ve seen in a number of places around the world.

SILVERBERG: Yes. Right here.

Q: Hi. Not a question, but just a resource. I’m Bonnie Miller.

SEED Kurdistan is providing psychological support—and, hi, Nadia. Nice to see you again. We met a year ago. Psychological support to survivors of all kinds of violence, but especially sexual violence, women and their families who’ve been enslaved with them, based in Erbil and Dahuk. So if you’re interested, www.seedkurdistan—S-E-E-D Kurdistan—.org. And you can find out more about what’s going on the ground with helping with psychological and emotional and family support services, also vocational, for survivors who have been displaced.

SILVERBERG: Thank you, Bonnie. I think we have time for a couple more. Any other questions? Yes.

Q: Ann Wainscott, U.S. Institute of Peace.

It’s my understanding that several years ago Baba Sheikh, the leader of the Yazidis, made a very public welcome to survivors of ISIS slavery back into the community. I was wondering if that welcome has been implemented, if Yazidi survivors feel that they’ve been welcomed by their community.

MURAD: Yes, that statement from Baba Sheikh was a huge support for those survivors who wanted to come back, who came back. That was itself a psychological push for those survivors to be able to come back home and try to be—to get reintegrated into their communities, into their families. Many of these girls got married to Yazidi guys. And they are being respected. They are being reintegrated. And they’re being—trying to make them live their normal life and not feel that they are different.

SILVERBERG: And, Mark, that isn’t always the case. And we’ve seen these horrific cases of stigma attaching, and particularly things like unwanted pregnancies, and the trauma lasting long after the immediate crisis is over.

LAGON: Yeah. And it’s often the goal. I mean, clearly an armed conflict, it’s the place where militants or even government authorities have a purpose in sexual violence. And they continue it. Even if you think back to the case of Robert Mugabe’s party subjecting opposition party and women affiliated with it with sexual violence in a way that destroyed families and the stigma that followed. But something to really bring sexual slavery atrocities and human trafficking together is a true abomination, which is when there’s a marginalized group who’s not recognized, as Nadia Murad puts it, as a human being in full. They’re violated. And then afterwards, they’re treated as somehow at fault or spoiled or stigmatized afterwards. That is, you know, the thread that connects atrocities, AIDS, human trafficking, sexual slavery. And it’s the greatest abomination in my view.

SILVERBERG: Other questions? Yes.

Q: Hi. Kathy O’Hearn with Vital Voices.

I wanted to ask you, Mark, in terms of the study about viewing the concern about sexual violence as a security issue, what was most sort of surprising result or understanding? And what keeps—what keeps us—what are the roadblocks from elevating this understanding of it as a security issue?

LAGON: Rachel, do you want to answer this? It’s a study that you spearheaded here at the Council.

Q: Yes. You know, that—thank you. The purpose of the report was to, of course, recognize the serious human rights implications of this issue, which we’ve heard about here this afternoon, but also to elevate some of the serious security concerns. This is an issue that often is thought of in the human rights context, as opposed to the security context. What was surprising is really the degree to which we have a wealth of research that confirms that this is a practice that has implications for U.S. security interests. So our ability to stabilize, to partner with others is hampered in a range of different ways by this practice. What was also surprising to see the degree to which, despite the evidence that we now have about the relationship between security and this practice, that far too little is being done in the security context to address it.

So what the report aims to do is to make a series of recommendations directed towards, you know, the Department of Defense, the ways at which our diplomacy can be used as security cooperation training. We spend a fair amount of time in the report focused on the issue of peacekeeping and the steps that can be taken to ensure that this an issue that is addressed through peacekeeping, but also that peacekeepers themselves are not subjecting others to this crime. So we hope that it will be a contribution. And I think, you know, as has been pointed out, this is an issue that we need to think about on both dimensions. What we aim to do through the report and hopefully through our conversation today is to marry the human rights perspective with the security concerns.

SILVERBERG: I thought—I was really struck by this statistic in the report, and I can’t remember the number, but about the number of migrants who cite the fear of sexual violence as the reason they left their home, that it’s a huge, huge contributor to the migration crisis we’re seeing in so many places.

I think we have time for one more question. Would anyone like to ask the last?

OK, with that I would just like to thank you both so much for this incredibly valuable discussion and for your bravery. (Applause.)

MURAD: I actually—if that’s OK. My question to both of you is that now that all the evidence is public, since day one ISIS have publicized this in their magazine, in their online propaganda videos, and the U.S. has recognized the genocide, and many European countries did, what is the—what else is needed so we can help, like, the Yazidis? Now that three years have passed, we now know that, you know, the community’s displaced, the genocide is obvious, it’s clear, the evidence is there. The mass graves are out there. You know, what else is needed so some action can be taken? What’s the point of recognizing a genocide if we can’t do anything about it?

SILVERBERG: I think it’s a very important point. And, you know, there’s this ongoing debate in the U.S. about how we think about the U.S. role in the world and how we think about humanitarian concerns. You know, Mark and I were both really, I think, fortunate to serve in an administration that recognized the importance of these things, both as kind of a core U.S. conviction, that it was consistent with our values, that we needed to be active in preventing human rights abuses, but also that it was a matter of security interest. So, you know, I think the role of people like Nadia in kind of telling personal stories is there’s no substitute for that, so.

LAGON: Well, I’d just agree with that. I mean, it is remarkable how many times a genocide is associated with those who are responsible for it saying it’s their goal, starting with Adolf Hitler. But it is a story of the United States probably being the most forward-leaning power in fighting atrocities in the world, at yet in different moments—as chronicled by Samantha Power in her marvelous book—sometimes we come to it late or not with as much political will as we might. I’m looking forward to a revised edition of her book to account for the story we’ve talked about today.

SILVERBERG: Thank you all. (Applause.)


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