More Than Ink on Paper Podcast with Clara Sandoval and Shireen Khudeeda: English Transcript

June 19, 2024

Implementing the Yazidi Survivors Law: Listen to C4JR in conversation with Clara Sandoval and Shireen Khudeeda here.

Episode Description:

In this powerful episode of the YSL podcast, published on the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, C4JR’s Alannah Travers sits down with Professor Clara Sandoval, a distinguished expert in transitional justice and human rights, and Shireen Khudeeda, a courageous Yazidi activist and human rights defender.

Clara, Director of Programmes at the Global Survivors Fund (GSF), shares her extensive experience working on reparations and justice for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. Shireen, who recently graduated from the American University of Kurdistan (AUK), discusses her ongoing efforts to advocate for her community.

Tune in to hear these inspiring women discuss the implementation of the Yazidi Survivors Law (YSL), the importance of reparations, and the resilience of the Yazidi community. This episode delves into the complexities of transitional justice, the challenges faced in post-conflict Iraq, and the critical role of survivor advocacy in ensuring lasting change.

Don’t miss this insightful conversation that highlights the strength and determination of survivors and those working tirelessly to support them. This conversation was recorded in early June 2024.



Welcome to C4JR’s podcast series, “More Than Ink on Paper: Implementing the Yazidi Survivors Law”, through which we intend to platform relevant voices around the YSL, as it is known, which has too often also been referred to as “ink on paper” by some survivors of ISIS crimes to voice their doubts about the government’s commitment to delivering long-awaited reparations guaranteed under the legislation. We’ll be speaking to those working to ensure that this is not the case, and take a sweeping look at issues of transitional justice and accountability in Iraq, through the process of seeking to implement the law.

Alannah Travers: Joining us on the YSL podcast today is the renowned expert in transitional justice and human rights, Clara Sandoval, and Shireen Khudeeda, a Yazidi activist and member of the Yazidi Survivors’ Network, and a very recent graduate of the American University of Kurdistan (AUK) in Duhok, where she graduated in Business Management.

Clara Sandoval is a qualified lawyer and leading expert on reparations, human rights, and transitional justice. She currently serves as Director of Programmes at the Global Survivors Fund (GSF), launched in October 2019. She has successfully litigated cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, served as an expert on reparations in cases involving sexual violence before the ICC, worked with the UN and CSOs. Her work with survivors of conflict-related sexual violence has focused on domestic reparation programmes in countries like Colombia, Peru, Iraq, Guatemala, and Chile.

Shireen Khudeeda is a Yazidi woman who survived ISIS, and graduated from the American University of Kurdistan in Duhok on Sunday – just yesterday; the day before we are recording this podcast. She was held for three years and returned to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in 2017. Yesterday, the Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Masrour Barzani presented her with the very, extremely well-deserved “Honor of Resilience” award. We are so grateful that you can join us also on the podcast Shireen, I know it’s been a really busy few days for you. And congratulations again.

Shireen Khudeeda: Thank you so much, thank you for having me.

Alannah: You’re very welcome, and actually as we celebrate you and recognise your incredible achievement today, we should also take a moment to really honour the resilience and strength of so much of the Yazidi community, and show our solidarity with survivors to ensure your voices are heard, your stories are not forgotten, and that your courage and perseverance is proven to enact the change that we all want to see.

The way that this podcast will work, is I’m going to ask Clara some questions about the work of the Global Survivors Fund, and Shireen it would be great for you to chip in whenever you feel like commenting from your own perspective on the reality of the situation. I’m also going to direct questions to you about your work with the Yazidi Survivors’ Network, and equally Clara can respond. But to start with, Shireen, would you like to share a few words about how your graduation went and how you feel, and if you have any reflection on that amazing achievement? I think listeners would be happy to hear.

Shireen: Thank you so much. Actually, it was amazing, and I was honoured that the Kurdistan authorities recognised what I did and gave me the “Honor of Resilience” award. Both the president and the prime minister talked about it in the Graduation Ceremony 2024 event. It was something amazing and I am so grateful for that, and I feel that finally, my father’s dream came true. So thank you so much for you and for them, for what they did. Just something amazing.

Alannah: Thank you, well on that note – just showing how incredibly important that is – Clara, perhaps you can tell us more about your work, and comment on Shireen’s achievement too, and also the work of the Global Survivors Fund and its work on reparations for survivors of CRSV.

Clara Sandoval: Alannah, thank you so much for inviting me to be part of this podcast, I think it’s super important to put the topic of reparation on the table and to share with others why it matters. I’m going to start talking about the Global Survivors Fund because I think the fund is a vehicle, an international vehicle, that can allow us to really enable reparations for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. The Fund was established in 2019 by two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Dr Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad.

Nadia Murad, from Iraq, a wonderful Yazidi like Shireen, who after surviving the terrible crimes committed by ISIS spoke out and stood up to those international crimes, to show why survivors matter and should matter to every one of us, and why there is a pending massive debt with them that we all, including the perpetrators, must pay. When Dr Mukwege and Nadia Murad asked a group of survivors from the SEMA Network, the biggest international network of survivors, what can we do for you now that we have won the Nobel Peace Prize, the survivors answered that what they need the most and have the least is reparations, so if you can help us work on that, that would be great. We need reparations, we need to be able to deal with the harms we’ve suffered. Everyone promises that but no one delivers on it, and that’s how the Fund was created; to enable reparations for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. 

What is unique about it, is the way we work and who we work with. We act where states are unable or unwilling to provide reparations to victims, survivors. What the GSF does is to stand in and, co-creating with survivors – giving them the centre, giving them the voice, but standing by their side – we put in place what we call Interim Reparative Measures (IRM), in order to ensure that there is a process that is dignified, that recognises them as right-holders, and provides them through that process with different reparative measures, very similar to reparations – so it could be compensation, access to medical and psychological care, vocational training, collective forms of repair, that they find as necessary to address the harms they’ve suffered. GSF does this with other stakeholders, we bring state actors, we bring the UN, we bring experts and survivors. Through steering committees, we put these projects in place that last three to four years.

IRM projects are not reparations, because we do not have the obligations under international law to provide reparations, but they are very similar to reparations. What we want to show with this act, is that it is feasible and affordable to provide reparations. We want to create the evidence base that shows the states and the perpetrators that we can actually do it. That when they say to us, we cannot do it because it’s expensive, or because we don’t know how to do it, or because survivors and victims can wait, well no. Actually, it is possible, it is feasible, and it is affordable. We also act to provide urgent repair, including reparations as we are doing now in Ukraine, when governments call us and say, we acknowledge we have an obligation to provide reparation, we can do it together; bring us the technical support, help us to do it.

We also step in, then we talk about reparation and we do it with the states and with other relevant actors as well. This is very unique, becuause as I say, it is a way to show states that you can actually deliver on it, and you bring the pieces. You also show something that is crucial, and makes us different, which is that we co-create with survivors. This is not a top-down approach, where we tell survivors what they need, or what they should want. No, we work for them! Survivors like Shireen are at the centre, where they should always be. Recognised, acknowledged, and really leading and exercising their full agency about how these processes should happen and how they must produce results in terms of reparative measures for them. We also advocate, and we also provide technical support – we guide, as we call it – and we try to bring these different dimensions of our work together, in order to enhance access to reparation.

Alannah: Thank you so much for that. We should just say for listeners, that the passing of the Yazidi Survivors Law (YSL) on March 1, 2021, in Iraq marked an important milestone in Iraq’s post-conflict recovery period, and specifically for Yazidi, Shabak, Turkmen and Christian survivors who it promised to deliver long-awaited relief to, predominantly women subjected to conflict-related sexual violence by ISIS, but also to men and women from these communities that survived mass killings, as well as captured Yazidi children.

Like Clara was saying, it’s an example of a state taking deliberative action to address the rights and needs of survivors. For listeners who are interested, please do check out the C4JR website where we have the full information of what the YSL mandates, and our recent report which showed the progress in the different measures. Financial reparations are being received by over 1,600 women, but the YSL also mandates a number of other critical state-sponsored measures such as medical and psychological care; the provision of land, housing, education and a quota in public sector employment, and so on, which is being worked on but of course there are still many issues in terms of implementation.

Shireen, I wonder if you would like to speak from your experience and on behalf of your community, as to what the YSL means for you and meant for you when the law was passed, three years ago? What was your experience in both having the reparations and the process of the law being more centred on the victim?

Shireen: When we were working on the draft, we hoped that it would come true one day. After passing it by the President of Iraq, the law wasn’t implemented for a while. Everybody was saying it is just ‘ink on paper’ and nothing will happen. After that, when some survivors received their first salaries because of the bad economic conditions of the survivors’ families and as international funding decreased due to what is happening in Ukraine and Palestine, it felt like an achievement. There was a huge load trying to apply for the law, for the salaries. After some of the survivors received their first salaries, we realised it actually happened. I think everybody tried their best in this law. Mr. Saib Khidir, who was a member of the Iraqi parliament at this time, did his best. He stood with us, we attended conferences and we had meetings, to update the draft and make it the best possible way to serve survivors. Finally now, people are receiving their salaries, including survivors living abroad. Even recently, some survivors have received land – I think 250 metres – for each family to to build a house. They promised to give them loans without interest, so they can build their homes and go to Sinjar or Tal Afar. It is something good and I hope that they will implement more and more from the YSL.

Alannah: Thank you so much, and you hinted at something which is another fascinating aspect of the legislation. Clara, the YSL’s associated bylaws expand the obligations of the law – for example, asking for really quite innovative asks from the government, such as an obligation for government agencies to develop specialised curricula on the ISIS conflict, designed to promote peaceful coexistence and the renunciation of violence, and a stipulation to prevent the recurrence of the violations that occurred against the minorities.

As Shireen was saying, there are very clear reparative measures in the law, including financial support, but also the provision of land, housing, education and so forth, on top of recognising that ISIS committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Yazidis, Christian, Turkmen, and Shabak minority groups, which is significant, and passed by the Iraqi Parliament. Turning back to Clara, the YSL is not a typical piece of legislation establishing just an administrative reparations programme because, in addition to the usual reparative measures such as compensation, there are a number of other measures and benefits.

So the question is… it seems as if it aspires to outline a transitional justice framework rather than just a run-of-the-mill reparation legislation. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? What the question is hinting at, is whether placing such wide-reaching obligations on fragile institutions might lead to failure to implement, whereas a more straightforward reparation programme might be easier to put into practice?

Clara Sandoval: Well Alannah, that is a great question and it allows me to address some misconceptions that we sometimes work with. What is transitional justice about? Transitional Justice is a set of processes that aims to deal with the legacy of mass atrocities. In the case of the genocide against the Yazidis, a genocide by ISIS took place, and we need to deal with that legacy. How does transitional justice address that? Transitional Justice is a set of processes – often considered four, but we can also talk about five – and those are that victims and survivors have a right to:

1. Justice

2. Truth 

3. Reparation

4. Guarantees of non-repetition

5. Memory

For me, we can put them into four, because memory is a key element of truth and a key element of repetition. If we say that the Yazidi Survivors Law is like a transitional justice framework, we would need to be able to find all of these elements in the law, and I don’t think the law does that. The law is a great reparation legal framework, aiming to address and redress the harms suffered by survivors. It’s a great example of what a reparation law should be. But it is far from a transitional justice framework. In terms of justice, where are we in achieving justice for ISIS crimes? In terms of memory and truth, where are we? I think that contributions have taken place here and there, but those are patchy responses so far. 

We need a full transitional justice framework to be able to deliver on that, and I think few countries have actually done that. To my knowledge, the country that has a transitional justice system, with various systems being delivered at the same time, is my country, Colombia. Often countries will do one but not the other – do truth, and perhaps justice after – and these measures are not done at the same time; this is what we call sequencing. The ideal is to have them all happening together, because the deficiencies of one system complement the other elements. What we have with the Yazidi Survivors Law is a reparation law which, in my view, is quite good as a law. I have to congratulate the Iraqi government for having the leadership and the initiative to pass so fast, probably the fastest reparations law to have been approved worldwide – to respond to such a terrible crime. That has to be acknowledged.

What is good about the law? It is comprehensive, as you were mentioning Alannah, it includes various measures of reparation beyond compensation. But that should not be a surprise to us; it is not unique and there are many other countries in the world, and I mentioned to you Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, etc that have laws that include different forms of reparation, not only compensation. Indeed, International Law and International Human Rights Law call for various forms of reparation in order to be able to provide comprehensive repair to victims. Compensation for a survivor wouldn’t be sufficient to make justice for what happened to them; you have to try to address irreparable harm in the most comprehensive manner. You do it by complementing measures: compensation, restitution of land, identification documents, vocational training, collective reparation, education, housing.

You need to find a way to address the harms that they have suffered. In that sense, it is not unique. What I think is unique here is that the Iraqi government expressed its will to acknowledge that this needs to be done, to mix that also with guarantees of non-repetition, which is crucial. We don’t do that much in a country like Iraq for the Yazidis if we just work on giving victims reparation for what happened to them, but we don’t address the root causes of what allowed this violence; the discrimination against the Yazidis, the strong intent against them, that is what is needed to be gotten rid of, and the law has elements that can contribute to that.

The problem to me is the implementation gap. It’s one thing to say we have these beautiful things, and we have many beautiful written laws around the world, but what we need is the implementation of these laws. I think this is the challenge that Iraq is facing today. I welcome what Shireen was saying, yes survivors are receiving their monthly pension, which is fantastic, but the YSL also includes other measures like education, for example, which we also need to see moving in the right direction.

Alannah: Shireen, could you comment from your own perspective or on behalf of the YSN about what Clara just spoke about and your experiences of accessing the YSL and the different levels of provision?

Shireen: The YSL is a good law and it’s amazing that it was established in such a short period of time. There are some points in the law that are a problem, like survivors can’t take both a government salary, so survivors who are receiving monthly payment can’t take a government job. This is a problem. Still, it’s a good law and it would be amazing if they activate all of the points in the law. There are so many parts that are still weak, such as education. They tried to implement that point, but not many students have joined their education yet. For me, the most important is education, and then salaries. Now the Iraqi government has decided to close all of the IDP camps, they have to provide people with at least a piece of land or a house.

For example, my house [in Sinjar] was destroyed by an airstrike, it was totally destroyed. So I cannot go back and I cannot afford to build another house. If they close the IDP camps, there are thousands of people who cannot go back because their houses were destroyed. Some houses were made of mud, some were good and built houses, but they were destroyed or burnt. It’s a huge mess there, and the Iraqi government didn’t start rebuilding the Sinjar area, so it’s still 90%-95% destroyed. They have to work on this before closing the camps. In this case, the survivors will suffer a lot, because thay are living in the camps and now they have to go back to Sinjar with all of the mass graves that are not open yet, they’ve lost their beloved family members, and their houses are destroyed, and there are no good services there, like water or electricity. When they go there, they will find difficulties to cook. Maybe they cannot even go back to Sinjar because they don’t have a place to go back to. It’s complicated and there is still a lot to work on, both in the YSL and from the Iraqi government to provide people with services.

Alannah: Thank you Shireen, Clara I wondered if you wanted to follow up with your opinion on Shireen’s comments there about the limitations of reparations. In Iraq, as most of us in the country or following the news already know, there are well over 100,000 Yazidis living in camps in the Kurdistan Region; not all of them qualify for the YSL, but many would say that they were still and they still are victims of what happened in displacement, so that’s another clear example of the limitations of one framework. I wonder if you have any comments on that?

Clara: Many times, we get it wrong when it comes down to who is a victim, and who should be entitled to reparation. For this, we advocate at GSF for clear participation mechanisms for victims, good mapping that allow us to take stock of who are the victims, and to allow us to respond to them. Maybe this could have been done a bit differently in relation to the Yazidi Survivors Law. That’s one point. The other point to me, is the need to provide holistic reparation, and to have not only a process that is reparatory but also forms of reparation that aim to make whole the victim. What Shireen is saying to us, is that victims will go back to Sinjar without enough support, having to deal with their shattered lives and losses, which tells us that the process is not working. Because if those victims that are eligible under the law are not able to experience a process that allows them to have complementary measures of reparation in a timely and effective manner, then the objective of the law is being defeated and we need to address that. This is not unique to Iraq, it is not easy to provide reparations – but it is not impossible either! We’ve learnt by doing that you can do it well. 

Here I want to go back to the Interim Reparative Measure Project that GSF did with Nadia’s Initiative, and with the help of others both in Sinjar and Duhok, where we were able to give IRM to more than one thousand survivors, and where we learnt that it was possible to set up this process, that it was possible to understand the harms they suffered, and to give them various types of measures in a survivor-centred manner. We are in conversations with the GDSA in Iraq to share our findings from this experience. I think there is a way, but we need to think about the process, and about holistic approaches. Compensation alone is not enough if in only two years or three years you will get education. You need to think about the ways they connect and complement each other. What about housing? A victim needs housing to be able to deal with education. How do we find the complementary elements? For that we need to be ready to work with others. The YSL promises us various forms of reparation, that are in the hands of different actors; housing actors, health actors, education actors, and we lawyers don’t always know about these issues. This is a call to work in a multi-stakeholder manner, to ensure that we are effective with what we do, which is at the heart of GSF. You need to bring to the table those that can make a difference, with survivors always at the table.

Alannah: To follow up in the same vein, we talk a lot about transformative reparations, and eliminating structural inequalities through reparations, especially for CRSV, and through the YSL, this seems like a logical and necessary step towards righting the wrongs towards a particular group by aiming to establish true equality. On the other hand, as Shireen highlighted, righting past socio-economic and conflict injustices – and in Iraq there are no shortages of this – is a very big ask. It might be worth commenting on a few specific examples in Iraq, because there are a number of very active human rights and womens’ rights organisations relentlessly working for more than a decade towards removing discriminatory provisions in Iraqi legislation and passing a law against domestic violence, which still has not been passed in federal Iraq. The KRI has anti-domestic violence legislation, but also incredibly high rates of femicide and domestic violence. Shireen, perhaps you could speak a little about the work of the Yazidi Survivors’ Network. How broad have you found your advocacy has had to be, and how is it operating in the context of Iraq?

Shireen: Our network is trying our best to do advocacy and to focus on the issues that we are facing. Without advocacy, I think lots of issues will become bigger with time. We are trying to do our best to make advocacy – I think it works, and sometimes it needs time. We tried our best to advocate for the UNITAD team to stay in Iraq longer, because they still haven’t finished their work, but alas we couldn’t do much for that. They are leaving, and still there are lots of investigations ongoing. Some of their witnesses I know, and they are still working on that, as well as the mass graves which they were supporting. This was a disaster for us, for the Yazidi community, that UNITAD is leaving and will not support the opening of mass graves anymore. We feel that they will stay there, and no one will open them and identify the mass graves. 

Still, people are waiting for their beloved ones, and wonder if they will one day return. We know that lots of them will not come back again; opening these mass graves would enable the community to know what happened to their relatives, and to grieve. It’s better to know if they have died, rather than waiting for them to return for all of your life. UNITAD was doing a great thing, and we hope that the mass graves will continue to be excavated. We only heard about the ending of UNITAD’s mandate unofficially, from social media. It was a huge shock for the Yazidi community, because we felt as if the Iraqi authorities don’t care about the Yazidi cause, and we are forgotten. We are still suffering a lot, there are no rehabilitation and rebuilding programmes in Sinjar. The Yazidi genocide affected the whole community. The tenth anniversary of August 3 is so close, in two months, and the government has to do something for the survivors. A decade is a long time. We are living in a mess; people don’t know what they should do. IDPs don’t know if they have a chance to emigrate, or stay in the camps, or if they should go back to Sinjar.

Alannah: Clara, on behalf of the Global Survivors Fund, what should people be doing? What is your technical advice and experience? Because it seems to me that the political will of those in power, like Shireen was saying, is very relevant for the implementation of reparative programmes and support for affected communities. If they fall out of the priorities of the government, as we can see in the wind-down of UNITAD and the moves of the Iraqi government, it does feel as if the tide is shifting. What is the role of civil society and survivor groups, and how can we counter these developments?

Clara: The question is very important because it allows me to put attention to the role that survivors play, and the advocacy role that they play and civil society organisations have to play to ensure that we are able to counter decisions that are made, sometimes wrongly, about whether or not to support UNITAD, or reparation policies, etc. It is crucial to keep the guard, it is crucial for survivors to be organised. You were asking before about how we can ensure transformative reparations, and one of the key takes for GSF is that we need to listen to survivors and work with them, support them so that they can articulate not only their individual but their collective voices, and advocate. And we need to advocate with them and bring them with us and link them to broader networks internationally so that their voices are always heard, and can shape political processes, and can put pressure on the ones we have to put pressure on, so that decisions are rightly made. This is crucial. We need to support the networks so that they are heard.

Let me say also something about the continuum of violence. Yes, you may say one thing is the Genocide and what happened during the Genocide, and at the end of the day there is a continuum there. There is gender discrimination, there are structures that have allowed both forms of violence to happen, by different actors in different ways. We need to be able to tackle them all.

Participation is crucial and advocacy is absolutely crucial, and we need to ensure that non-repetition and justice as a form of reparation are taken very seriously. We need all of these forms of reparation to happen, and to happen in a systemic manner. We need to ensure that the survivors’ network is one, not divided, and that it works together, because that is what is going to make their voices stronger. Through my work at GSF, what I have seen is that the multi-stakeholder approach also makes a difference; it is not the state against us and us against the state, in between there are many layers of factors all wanting to work together. We need to build on the positives, and to work with others to make it happen, thinking holistically. 

Alannah: Thank you, and now to some technical questions on the implementation of reparations, unless Shireen would like to comment. Clara, based on your experience in supporting the implementation of reparative programmes in other settings, what is to be understood by the term “technical assistance”?

Clara: I would call it technical support, rather than technical assistance, because in reality the states and those that are obliged to create these remedies at the national level already know a lot. What we are doing is really supporting them in their work, so that they can do it as best they can. That can mean sharing of relevant practices and lessons learnt from other places, and the sharing of the voices of survivors, for example having heard victims and survivors. Many times reparations go bad in practice, because we didn’t take into account their voices, or their views. They know better than us, than any expert, how reparations should be provided and what victims and survivors need. Issues of safety and trust, for example, are questions that they will answer better than anyone, so we need to listen to them and we need to be able to work with them.

GSF has also been gathering their voices and relevant experiences around the world, through something we call the Global Reparations Study, which is a study currently in 25 countries where CRSV has been systematic and generalised, and we are looking very carefully at what these states – in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe – have done in order to address this, and what we can learn from them. We’ve worked with survivors and survivor networks to bring this to the table. Through this we are also sharing relevant evidence. Technical support also means dialogue, and creating the space for survivors’ voices because they really need to be taken seriously. The expert is the survivor.

Alannah: Thank you for explaining that. Shireen, based on what we were talking about before about co-creation and how having a multi-stakeholder approach is effective. Can you talk a little bit and explain more about the work of the Survivors’ Network and how it operates with organisations like IOM and the Directorate, and about your experience of working together? Any comments and reflections?

Shireen: I am a part of the Yazidi Survivors’ Network, Survivors’ Voices Network (SVN) and C4JR, which I have recently joined. All of these networks are something good, and they are trying to work on survivors’ causes. YSN is supported by Yazda and YVN is supported by IOM. What C4JR is doing is amazing. All of them are trying to build the capacity of survivors and empower them to ask for their rights. We still need a lot, in terms of building survivors’ capacity and being empowered, we are not specialised in the fields we need to work in – for example, speaking to the media, or in reparational justice, relevant fields.

Alannah: Thank you, and this is something that C4JR is trying to do, as an umbrella of 34 different organisations working in the space. We have different working groups such as Advocacy, Ethical Engagement, Rehabilitation, and Criminal Justice, which is doing amazing work on UNITAD advocacy. Recently, we held a training on ethically engaging with the media group. So, another technical question to Clara: in the YSL we have two main groups of eligible beneficiaries: women and girls on the one hand and boys abducted by ISIS on the other. Does the implementation of the YSL, including outreach, application, verification and delivery of benefits, require considering different factors or having different approaches to survivors belonging to these groups? If so, what should be taken into consideration?

Clara: Absolutely. While domestic reparations programmes in principle are represented as remedies that aim to provide the same form of reparations to victims, in reality, it is a bit different because we need to really have a survivor-centred approach and this means taking into account what is relevant from each victim to be able to respond to the victim, and be able to ensure what domestic reparation programmes promise and that is access to reparation. We go to a domestic reparation programme and not to a court to claim reparation, because the domestic reparation programme promises us quick, fast, survivor-centred access to reparation. If I really want to enable the access element, then I need to deal with context and intersectionality. What does it mean for me being a woman age X to be able to speak about what happened to me and be able to claim reparations in Sinjar, for example, or in Duhok? What does it mean for a woman who is an elderly woman? How do I take that into account? That applies to everything. For example, a survivor of CRSV may not necessarily speak about what happened due to stigma. This means that this survivor will need trusted spaces to talk. There you see, just to fill out a form or have an interview, you will need to have a different approach to be able to enable access. The same during the registration process; what do I need to provide the victims in terms of psycho-social support? That tailored approach will vary. Best practice tells us that we need to be able to tailor the response, and there are different ways across all of these elements, from registration, identification, and verification. There are different ways!

Alannah: The GSF in April last year published a statement asking for the removal of an extra-legal requirement demanding applicants in Iraq to submit criminal complaints and annex investigative papers to its YSL application. Can you quickly summarise arguments against introducing such a requirement?

Clara: Let me first start there, with the importance of the Coalition for Just Reparations. The coalition has been essential to ensure that every time there is a new challenge to accessing reparations, you have been there at every stage. I remember very well how you became super active a year ago, after the decision of the YSL committee to require additional requirements, to make survivors go and file a criminal complaint to access reparations. Which, let me put it in simple terms: is not justice, as it is not leading to any form of accountability for the crimes they suffered. No justice, no reparation on the ground. This is also a bureaucratic requirement on the victims, which produces re-victimisation for the victims. A domestic reparation programme is set up to enable quick, easy, access to reparation. This is completely contrary! This defeats the purpose of a domestic reparation programme. We should be helping, not hampering. Other countries, like Colombia and Peru, allow access to reparation based on a presumption of good faith. It is down to the state to prove the contrary, not the victim. 

Alannah: Earlier this year in Geneva the GSF hosted leadership of two key bodies, both established under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MoLSA), tasked with implementing the YSL: General Directorate for Survivors’ Affairs (GDSA) and the Committee authorised to review and decide on applications and appeals, obviously very much engaged with the extra-legal requirement you just spoke about. Can you tell us more about the visit and how GSF plans to support YSL implementation? 

Clara: Yes Alannah, that was a great opportunity in Geneva. Not only to meet with key people representing the government, as you just mentioned, but also civil society organisations with us and, of course, survivors. As I said before, survivors must be at the centre of any discussion – political or not – on reparations, and this is their right. The conversation and the dialogue was great because it allowed us to better inform our views about the YSL implementation and to hear very clearly what the government saw as potential challenges, what they are doing, opportunities they also saw, and to hear from survivors. One key element that came out of it was the need to turn education as a reparation into a reality. This is promised under the YSL, but so far, we have not gone far on implementing this form of reparation.

As a result of that, we have continued conversations with the Directorate, and I am very happy to say that later this week [in early June] our Director at GSF, Esther Dingemans, together with a group of experts including Iraqis and survivors, will be visiting Sinjar and Duhok in Iraq, trying to gather a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities to provide education as a form of reparation, and as a result of that a report will come out with very clear recommendations thinking about how best to support the Iraqi government in its clear attempt to fulfil this right. We are very much looking forward to it. Iraq has a unique opportunity to turn this into reality, and teach many lessons to the world. We want to hear from survivors, and see what you can do in the sector. And hopefully, this can help us to move forward in this measure. So fingers crossed.

Alannah: What a positive and uplifting note to end on because there are opportunities to do more and to do better at this. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your work. Thank you for sharing your experience and thank you so much also to Shireen for joining us earlier in the conversation. Congratulations again!

Clara: Thank you for your time and to Shireen, it is for women like Shireen that GSF exists. Thank you.

The Coalition for Just Reparations (C4JR) is an alliance of 34 Iraqi CSOs, helping survivors of the ISIS conflict in Iraq realise their right to reparations, as we seek the full implementation of the 2021 Yazidi Survivors Law (YSL); a comprehensive state-funded reparation program providing reparations if you are a member of one of the following groups: Adult and minor female survivors of ISIS captivity from the Yazidi, Shabak, Christian or Turkmen communities, male Yazidis who were abducted by ISIS when they were under the age of 18 at the time of abduction, and all persons from the Yazidi, Shabak, Christian or Turkmen communities whom ISIS abducted and personally survived a specific incident of ISIS mass killing. Applications are made to the General Directorate for Survivors’ Affairs, a government body recently established in Iraq under the auspices of the federal Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and verified by the eight member commitee consisting of representatives of different Iraqi institutions.

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