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Victims of Islamic State War Crimes take their case to the UN Committee Against Torture

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An international team of human rights lawyers instructed by Hogan Lovells, comprising 11 KBW Chambers, Matrix Chambers, Doughty Street Chambers and Twenty Essex Chambers, has filed a joint communication to the UN’s Committee Against Torture highlighting the failings in the global system for reparations for victims of torture and sexual violence in conflict. It has long been recognised that those victims have a right to redress and justice but, in practice, such justice has proved illusory for most victims.

The complaint was filed on behalf of five Yazidi women who were kidnapped from Iraq, forcibly transferred to Syria, enslaved and subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. This is just one example of atrocities committed against Yazidi women by the Islamic State (IS). The man responsible for enslaving and torturing the women was an Australian citizen, Khaled Sharrouf, who was also a notorious and high-profile member of IS.

The Communication seeks to recognise the responsibility of States, in this case Australia, to ensure that justice is done for the victims. Many States have ratified the UN Convention Against Torture, been vocal in condemning foreign fighters’ involvement with IS and even instituted confiscation proceedings for the assets of the perpetrators.

Yet in practice authorities have so far denied all requests for compensation and other support for the victims. This has resulted in the freezing of extensive assets, amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds, which will remain frozen in circumstances where they might otherwise be re-purposed for the benefit of survivors.

Professor Philippe Sands KC, who is leading the team of international human rights lawyers working  on the case, said: “The purpose of taking the complaint to the UN Committee is to end the impunity of governments who have pledged to support Yazidis in their quest for justice.”

“You’ve got a situation of utter lawlessness in which governments who have committed to rooting it out seem unwilling to take responsibility to provide the institutional and financial mechanisms to deliver on that commitment. If there’s a gap, and unless that gap is filled, you have impunity and more lawlessness.”

The legal framework as it stands seems incapable of delivering, so this application is intended to fill that gap and seek to recognise the responsibility of a state like Australia to ensure that justice is done for the victims.”

A spokesperson for Nadia’s Initiative, founded by Nobel Laureate Nadia Murad said, “We have been waiting for many years to see proper accountability of Da’esh perpetrators who have committed the most serious of atrocity crimes, many of whom were foreign fighters.   Justice can take the form of criminal prosecution but for many survivors that avenue is not possible. The international community therefore needs to recognise the right to reparations and underwrite that collectively to ensure it is a reality for innocent survivors, whose lives have been devastated by foreign fighters.”

Taban Shoresh, founder of the Lotus Flower Foundation who support the survivors said, “After so many years, we hope this process will finally go towards securing justice for these five Yezidi women, and that it will signal a long overdue change to international law and the way crimes against humanity and genocide are dealt with.”  

The Hogan Lovells team advising on the case includes International Pro Bono Partner Yasmin Waljee OBE, counsel Helen Boniface, associates Alex Riposi and Haylea Campbell, trainee solicitor Shah Warraich in the UK, and partner Scott Harris and associate Adam Aarons in Australia, along with international lawyer and investigator Paul Nahmias. The counsel team includes Professor Philippe Sands KC (11 KBW Chambers); Dr Tatyana Eatwell (Doughty Street Chambers); Joanna Buckley (Matrix Chambers); Dr Brendan Plant (Twenty Essex Chambers); and Robbie Stern and Tim James-Matthews (Matrix Chambers); and Kate Eastman SC.

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