Since their capture of vast territories in Syria and Iraq under the auspices of creating a "Caliphate," Islamic State (IS) militants have been accused of committing gross human rights violations and war crimes. The latest revelations made by Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, give a harrowing account of how the group has institutionalized practices of sexual violence against women and girls in the region.
Bangura visited Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Turkey from April 18 to 29 to interview girls who had escaped IS captivity and survived sexual violence.
During a briefing with journalists, Bangura detailed the harrowing circumstances for women and girls in IS controlled territory, saying that they live in a state of perpetual fear and danger.
"Women and girls are at risk and under assault at every point of their lives," she said, stressing that they are faced with such threats "every step of the
She described the institutionalization of sexual violence by IS militants, saying it has become central to the group’s ideology, as well as a method to their advancement.
"ISIL have institutionalized sexual violence and the brutalization of women as a central aspect of their ideology and operations, using it as a tactic of terrorism to advance their key strategic objectives."
IS militants use sexual violence to demoralize dissenters, to dismantle familial and community structures, and for the purposes of extracting intelligence. Girls are married off at a young age and passed among IS members. Militants are encouraged by the group’s leadership to engage in such practices as part of their "Jihad." The terrorist group additionally capitalizes on this violence by raising funds through trafficking, prostitution, and ransoms.
"Girls are literally being stripped naked and examined in slave bazaars," Bangura said, from where they are "categorized and shipped off to Dohuk or Mosul or other locations to be distributed among ISIL leadership and fighters."
One of the girls she interviewed was temporarily married 20 times, and forced to undergo surgery to "repair" her virginity after each marriage. Stories like these, Bangura stressed, illustrate how sexual violence is being used by the group systematically as a weapon of war.
Bangura called on the UN to take measures to counter the violence, citing concerns about children born of rape. These children, she warned, create a "generation of stateless children," which could in turn serve to exacerbate extremism in the region.