Iraq: the Sun Girls Brigade: teaching female Yezidi fighters about the rules of war
10 August 2017
The Iraqi conflict severely hit the Yezidi population, particularly the hundreds of women and girls who were allegdely victims of war crimes including organized rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage. Following these abuses, in 2015, a famous female Yezidi singer created an all-female armed unit—the Sun Girls Brigade. Geneva Call has recently trained some of its members on the protection of civilians during armed conflict.
Over two days in July 2017, and for the first time, Geneva Call provided training on the respect of humanitarian norms and the protection of civilians during hostilities to 20 female fighters from the Yezidi Sun Girls Brigade. Through different sessions, trainers presented all the main topics of the law of armed conflict, including the distinction between civilians and combatants, the protection of children and the critical issue of reprisals and vengeance.
This unique female brigade is composed of 136 fighters and belongs to the Peshmerga Yezidi Forces, one of the main Yezidi armed actors active in the Sinjar region. The 20 participants included the founder of the brigade, as well as squad leaders and their assistants. “This training is essential for our fighters,” explained Xate Shingali, founder of the brigade. “We would like to receive more in-depth so that these rules become part of our military culture.”
The different sessions initiated challenging discussions, notably about the abuses endured by the Yezidi community, such as the kidnapping of women and girls, sexual slavery and the killing of men and boys by the Islamic State group. The session about the prohibition of revenge raised many questions, particularly about the effectiveness of existing mechanisms to bring the perpetrators of abuses against civilians to justice.
“After enduring so many abuses, the temptation for vengeance is high among the Yezidi community. However, we have to make these fighters understand that rules do exist, even in war, and that it is important to respect international norms, even if your enemy does not,” said Mehmet Balci, Geneva Call’s Head of Region for the Near and Middle East.
Geneva Call has been engaging in a humanitarian dialogue with all the main Yezidi armed actors in the Sinjar area, particularly the Ezdikhan Defence Forces, the Yezidi Resistance Units (YBS) and the male brigades of the Yezidi Peshmerga Forces. In addition, Geneva Call has also disseminated information on humanitarian norms to tribal and religious leaders and to the civil society organizations that are active in the area.