Starting in 2014, members of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacked, killed and kidnapped the Yazidi people of Northern Iraq in a sustained campaign that has been recognized as a genocide by the United Nations. As many as 4,400 Yazidi are believed to have been killed by ISIS fighters and thousands more, particularly women, were taken captive as modern-day sex slaves. Farida Abbas Khalaf, 22, was among them.
Farida has recounted her four-month-long ordeal in the hands of ISIS fighters in excruciating detail in the book “The Girl Who Beat ISIS”. She is continuing to tell the world the story of her long-suffering people and to lobby governments to support efforts at justice for the Yazidi community. She sat down for an interview with Justice Hub when on a visit to Utrecht in the Netherlands. The interview is published here as part of our long-running #MyJustice series and has been edited for clarity:
Justice Hub: What made you decide to become an activist in this field?
Farida: I decided to become an activist because of what I and other members of the Yazidi community have been through. This is not the first time that we are suffering through similar attacks but this is the first time that the international community is paying attention to what is happening to Yazidis. I am an activist because I have seen other young girls suffering in captivity. My community is still suffering. I want to be their voice and to try to support and help them.
Justice Hub: What are you doing to get the voice of Yazidis heard?
Farida: I am travelling to different countries and meeting governments, politicians, and organisations to speak about ISIS’ crimes and what has happened to my community. I am doing this for many reasons. One of them is so that what happened to us and other minorities can be recognised as genocide. And also to support the others who are still in ISIS captivity until today. It has been more than four years but there are about 3000 Yazidi women still in captivity. Many mass graves have been discovered without any protection and a majority of my community are still living in camps and tents after more than four years. There is no support for them nor any kind of international protection to make sure that this won’t happen again.
Justice Hub: What specific things would you like to see the international community do?
Farida: What I want specifically from the international community is to bring the ones who committed those crimes (ISIS militants) to an international court of justice. Some countries, thankfully, have recognised what happened to us as genocide and since I’m here I also would like to ask the Dutch government and parliament to recognise this also as genocide because it’s a way that will support my community and other minorities.
Justice Hub: What can you tell me about your own experience during the attacks on the Yazidis and how you were treated?
Farida: On 3 August 2014 ISIS militants attacked my village and other Yazidi villages. Within a few days, they killed thousands. Many Yazidis tried to escape to the mountains and many of them died there. Many were killed. My village was not near the mountains and that’s why we couldn’t make it like some others. That is not the only reason but because, unfortunately, our Muslim neighbours surrounded our village with ISIS preventing us from escape. My family and other villagers were until 15 August in my village and they gathered everybody in the school building and separated men from women and they then started killing men and abducting the women, girls and children. My story is very long. I have suffered beatings and many other kinds of torture that you may already have heard about from other Yazidi survivors.
Justice Hub: Is it possible to move on, in any way, from this experience of kidnapping, rape, torture?
Farida: It’s not easy to forget what we have been through. Until now even if we are sometimes happy we cannot forget at all because our hearts are injured and we cannot forget easily.
Justice Hub: If you were asked to talk about your experiences in front of judges, in some kind of international court, would you want to talk about it?
Farida: I am ready to speak about every single thing that I have been through and share all the details in front of a court and in the face of those who committed these crimes, ISIS militants, and tell them what the crimes that they committed. I know it’s not easy but there is nothing left they haven’t done. They have done everything but now it’s now time to bring them to justice and I’m ready to testify on all crimes.
Justice Hub: What gives you optimism for the future?
Farida: I still hope that more countries like Germany, Canada and Australia will recognise this as genocide. I am also asking the European Union (EU) if they could do something about that and also to bring some Yazidi survivors as Germany did. I was one of them. This is giving me hope. I am optimistic about the future. I am hoping that my voice would be heard and more countries will accept Yazidi survivors.