BAGHDAD -- Women and girls from Iraq's Yazidi minority endured horrors at the hands of extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) after they were taken as slaves last summer, leaving them deeply traumatized, an international watchdog group said in a report issued Tuesday.
The Amnesty International report is based on interviews with over 40 former captives who were among hundreds of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority captured by fighters from ISIS (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL) in early August when the militants overran their hometown of Sinjar. Hundreds were killed in the attack, and tens of thousands were either stranded in nearby Mount Sinjar or fled mostly to the Kurdish-held parts of northern Iraq.
The London-based group said the captives, including girls aged 10-12, faced torture, rape, forced marriage and were "sold" or given as "gifts" to ISIS fighters or their supporters in militant-held areas in Iraq and Syria. Often, captives were forced to convert to Islam.
"Hundreds of Yazidi women and girls have had their lives shattered by the horrors of sexual violence and sexual slavery in (ISIS) captivity," Amnesty's Senior Crisis Response Adviser Donatella Rovera said in a statement.
"Many of those held as sexual slaves are children - girls aged 14, 15 or even younger," Rovera added.
Fearful of rape, some captives committed suicide - like the 19-year old Jilan, according to her brother and one of the 20 girls who were with her.
"One day, we were given clothes that looked like dance costumes and were told to bathe and wear those clothes," said the girl quoted in the report. "Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself. She was very beautiful; I think she knew she was going to be taken away by a man and that is why she killed herself," added the girl, who was among those who later escaped.
It was unclear how many Yazidi women were abducted, but Iraq's Human Rights Ministry put the number in the "hundreds." Amnesty reports said the number is "possibly thousands."
The Yazidis are a centuries-old religious minority viewed as apostates by extremists in Iraq. They have suffered religious persecution for generations because of their beliefs, which include some elements similar to Christianity, Judaism and other ancient religions. Many Muslims consider them devil worshippers, an accusation that Yazidis strongly dispute.
The June onslaught by ISIS stunned Iraqi security forces and the military, which melted away and withdrew as the extremists advanced, capturing key cities and towns in the country's north. The militants also targeted Iraq's indigenous religious minorities, including Christians and Yazidis, forcing tens of thousands from their homes.
Since then, ISIS has carved out a self-styled caliphate in the large area straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border that it now controls.
Alarmed with their advance, the United States launched airstrikes in early August on the militant-held areas in Iraq, in an effort to help the Iraqi forces repel the growing militant threat. Since then, some progress has been made on the ground by government forces, Kurdish fighters and Shiite militias.