1 March 2019
On Thursday 28 February 2019, the French-speaking Parliament of Brussels welcomed a public debate on the tragedy of Yazidi women and on the actions to be taken to address their short and long-term needs.
Organized by the Belgian Collective for the Prevention of the Crimes of Genocide and Against Negationisms in partnership with the French-speaking Parliament of Brussels, Women for Justice, the Jewish Secular Community Center (CCLJ) and AGBU Europe, the debate comprised three panels, introduced by the opening remarks of President of the Parliament, Julie de Groote.
Historian Vicken Cheterian, of the University of Geneva, described Daech’s devastating offensive in 2014 on Mount Sinjar, in the North of Irak, distinguishing it from the power struggles that took place in the region since the American invasion. “Daech’s motivation can only be explained in ideological terms” he says, adding that in their vision, Yazidis are “a pagan people who should simply not have the right to exist”.
The following speaker addressed the genocidal process endured by the Yazidi community in the region. Father Patrick Desbois, founder of the NGO Yahad in Unum, provided a detailed report on his field missions in Iraq, where his team conducted about 300 interviews with Yazidi survivors, revealing the process of their extermination and enslavement, as well as the immense psychological damages that the survivors are facing today.
A powerful silence submerged the hemicycle of the Parliament when two Yazidi women survivors took the floor and spoke to the audience, despite their pain, their shame and their fear. They delivered a poignant testimony on their captivity as sex slaves under the Islamic State, which left many in the audience in dismay.
Talking about sexual violence towards Yazidi women, Leyla Ferman, director of Women for Justice, a network of social and legal assistance to Yazidi women, explained that the intention behind rapes is not only to break women, but to break the entire community to which they belong. Ferman added that the Yazidis today are still expecting a great deal of actions from the international community. She mentioned that to this day, none of the perpetrators of the crimes committed since 2014 against Yazidis have been brought to justice, adding that thousands of Yazidis are still missing or are still at the hands of Jihadists. According to the statistics that she presented, of the 550.000 Yazidis living in the region before 2014, 360.000 are now refugees or IDP’s.
History has shown to repeat itself. Listening to the extreme violence endured by Yazidi women in 2014 had a particularly bitter flavor for someone like Esther Mujawayo, therapist and a survivor of the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda, in 1994. “How did we let this happen just 20 years later?”, she asks. “If we could have pretended not to know what was going on in Rwanda in 1994, access to information today is such that it is no longer possible to pretend we didn’t know”, she added.
Mujawayo understands the profound feeling of distrust that submerges the genocide victims after the acts of violence, as if it wasn’t possible to believe in anyone or anything anymore. But she also reminded the audience that, despite all the horror and the hardships experienced by the victims, they still have to go on living. Her personal revenge is precisely to have survived and to continue to be alive, “alive and well alive” and maybe even stronger, she noted.
In the closing remarks, on behalf of the Belgian Collective, Grégoire Jakhian, a Belgian lawyer and a descendant of a survivor of the Armenian genocide, recalled that, in reality, “there is no possible justice for the victims of genocide because the harm that they endured is irreparable”, adding that the words that resonated in the hemicycle of the Parliament are nonetheless a necessary first step towards concrete measures to answer the fundamental needs of the victims and their demand for reparation and for the reconstruction of a broken community.
- RTBF – March 01, 2019 – La tragédie des femmes yézidies