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The slaughter and rape of Yazidi women by ISIS marks the rise of an unexpected weapon of war

2015 Summit

Iraqi woman most wanted by ISIS gives tearful account of extremist group’s atrocities

By Abigail Pesta on April 23, 2015

Vian Dakheel Saeed has been called the woman most wanted by ISIS. A member of the Iraqi parliament, she is a fierce advocate for her people—the Yazidi ethnic minority—who have been systematically raped, abducted, and massacred by ISIS militants.

Speaking at the Women in the World Summit in New York on Thursday, Saeed said she does not fear for her life. “I don’t matter,” she said. “I’m not thinking about my life.” What is more important, she said, is that nine-year-old girls are getting raped by militants. “When I think about that, I think, my life, it’s nothing.”

ISIS forces attacked the Yazidi territory around Mount Sinjar in northwest Iraq last August, slaughtering thousands and taking thousands more captive. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. Young women and girls have been sold into sexual slavery. “Everything happened only because they are Yazidi, only because they are a different religion,” said Saeed.

She described a man who had begged for her help in retrieving his 11-year-old daughter, kidnapped by militants. “ISIS had called him and told him: ‘Your daughter is with me, and I will sell your daughter. If you have the money, you can buy her back.’ The father said, ‘I don’t have $2,000 to buy my daughter.’ He was crying. He said Vian, ‘I need to buy back my daughter because I lost my wife, my family.’”

Saeed’s sister, Delan Dakheel Saeed, a doctor who works with refugees and victims, also spoke at the summit, telling a chilling tale of one victim. “A young lady begged me to broadcast a story that she witnessed in one of the houses she was kept in,” she said. The witness described a nine-year-old girl who had been taken from her home. “The ISIS fighters killed her father in their backyard in front of her eyes. They took the nine-year-old and her mother and kept them in one of their houses. Every morning, ISIS fighters come in and choose what girl they are going to rape that morning. Imagine waiting every morning and hoping that it is not you that is going to be raped.”

One morning, a man chose the nine-year-old. “The mother got crazy, and they burned her hands,” she said. “She started screaming, and at that time, they shoot her in the head, in front of all other girls. They left her there in her blood.”

Delan said she had adopted a 15-year-old girl who had been sold as many as 20 times as a sex slave. “The last time she was sold for $1. Every time she was sold, the men that bought her raped her six, seven times, then got sick of her,” she said. “She’s so beautiful and she’s so smart. Her dream was to finish medical school. I’m helping her to make her dream possible. And I promise her that I will keep taking care of her until her mother, who is still kidnapped, comes back to her. We have a deal that she will keep calling me ‘Mom’ until her mother comes back.”

Joining the two sisters on the panel were Ambassador Melanne Verveer, director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and Alissa Johannsen Rubin, Paris bureau chief of The New York Times. With moderator Deborah Roberts of ABC News, the women discussed what needs to be done. “We have to keep a megaphone out there,” said Rubin. “There’s no real healthcare being provided. There needs to be healing and therapies of all kinds.”

Said Verveer, “This whole issue about sexual violence and conflict, it is being used as a strategic tactic of war. We have banned biological and chemical weapons, and somehow sexual violence is ‘normal’ or expected. But there is nothing normal about it. It is it horrific and unexpected. We need to ensure that in the policies being adopted and the roles being played out by government, the gender implications are front and center.”