- As Delivered -
WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following statement at a press conference on the treatment of Yazidi women under ISIS rule. This press conference followed a closed briefing, where Members heard individual accounts from formerly captured Yazidi women. Ranking Member Engel stated:
“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for calling this important meeting.
“I think it’s important for the American public to know how women have been victimized under ISIS’s brutal rampage across both Syria and Iraq. In ISIS-controlled areas, women have suffered horrendous violence. They’ve been separated from their families. We’ve just heard individual accounts. And they’ve been bought, sold, and gifted as if they were property.
“Nearly a year ago, ISIS began its deadly offensive on the Yazidi population in the Sinjar area of northern Iraq. And let’s see what’s happened during that time: nearly 50,000 Yazidis were forced to flee; 5,000 Yazidi men were massacred. Just killed. Even worse, 5,000 to 7,000 women and girls became enslaved by ISIS.
“And today, we’ve heard stories from survivors: accounts of systematic rape, torture, forced marriage, selling of women and girls for sex. Girls as young as 12 have been raped—often multiple times, by different fighters. And unfortunately, sexual violence has long been used as a dark and horrific tool of war. And this is the case indeed.
“Now this type of violence is indeed central to ISIS ideology, and its terrorists use rape in an effort to wipe away cultural diversity, religious minorities, and kill LGBT persons in order to manifest their twisted vision of a homogenous caliphate.
“This morning behind closed doors, we heard the horrifying story from a 20-year-old Yazidi woman who was kept as a sex slave by an American fighting in ISIS ranks. The victim detailed that she was captured by ISIS fighters when they overran the city of Sinjar in August of 2014. And during this rampage, she was transferred to Raqqa, Syria where she was auctioned off as a slave along with 10 other women and girls.
“This victim identified her captor as Abu Abdullah Al Amriki, or Abu Abdullah the American, saying he sold off nine of the other girls while keeping her to himself. And after several attempts, she finally escaped with the help of her family and others.
“This morning, this victim testified before us in an effort to raise awareness of her case, and get the Federal Bureau of Investigation to press charges against this American ISIS fighter.
“Unfortunately, this is just one of many, many, many stories regarding the treatment women under ISIS. It is our responsibility to tell these women’s stories, and bring justice to those American citizens who perpetrate such heinous acts.
“From a psychological perspective, we need to work to bring the appropriate resources and treatment to victims of this trauma. And we must also work to fully understand the long-term effects of these horrific tragedies on the individuals and their communities, and understand the consequences of letting such traumas go untreated and unprosecuted within America’s borders.
“From a counterterrorism perspective, we must grasp ISIS’s warped logic of using sexual violence and rape of women as a tool of war. And based on what we heard this morning, there have been many, many chances for us to have acted much more proactively and we’re not doing it. And I think all of us on this Committee really want to know why.
“So as lawmakers, we must ask ourselves what the U.S. government can do to help women escape ISIS captivity and sexual violence, prevent such atrocities from happening in the future, and bringing all U.S. citizens engaged in such horrific behavior to justice in courts of law. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”