Human Insecurity: Can ‘ISIS Brides’ Be Victims of Human Trafficking?

Photo of the authorThis is the third blog in a series written by LLM students on the Human (In)Security course at Edinburgh Law School. The series celebrates the top five blogs selected in a class competition. This blog is by Isobel Murray John. Isobel is from the Highlands of Scotland and finished her LLB at Edinburgh University before taking a year out and returning to read the LLM in International Law. You can follow her on Twitter @IsobelMurrayJo1.

 

Choice or coercion? Can ‘ISIS brides’ be victims of human trafficking?

Human trafficking exists in many shades of grey. A standard victim profile simply does not exist. Restricting who we consider as legally legitimate victims may leave those who do not fit the traditional mould, open to further exploitation. An example of when lines seem blurred, often to the detriment of the ‘victim’, is seen in the case of girls who are ‘recruited’ to become brides for ISIS. Often as young as 15 they are lured by promises of a more religiously fulfilled life with a loving husband. Yet they often find themselves forced to live as slaves with little regard for their fundamental human rights. The global narrative surrounding these girls centres around the fact that they made the choice to travel to join ISIS, and therefore how could they possibly be victims of human trafficking. This blog post will examine this flawed narrative and explore how the legal definition of ‘human trafficking’ can actually fit the exploitive circumstances these girls find themselves in. There should be more acknowledgment and empathy from society rather than disgust and ostracism.

Current international law on human trafficking

To understand whether ‘ISIS brides’ could be considered as victims of human trafficking it is necessary examine if the current international law can be applied. Most importantly, the United Nations’ Protocol to Prevent, Supress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (Palermo Protocol) states that trafficking is the:

Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.[1]

Exploiting people deceived into that position is the key element of trafficking. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ standard definition of exploitation. The Palermo Protocol notes that exploitation can include; sexual exploitation, slavery and forced labour or services.[2] So can these young girls who find themselves lured in by ISIS recruiters be considered as having been deceived and exploited? They are certainly deceived by tales of the ‘joys of sisterhood’ and the promise of love and religious fulfilment. The groups aggressively groom and manipulate these girls, often over social media,[3] showering them with praise and flattery. Once they arrive they almost instantaneously become the man’s property, and find themselves forced into virtual slavery.

Are ISIS brides exploited?
Muslim woman in burqua with two female children

AFP/Getty Images

Montgomery notes that these women find that their role is, “is circumscribed for childbearing, marriage, cooking and cleaning, and they may not even be able to leave the house.”[4] One told of being ‘gifted’ to her husband’s friends and raped until she would

pass out. Another was trafficked at 14, married against her will, pregnant by 15, then again at 16. The realities of stoning’s, beatings and sexual slavery, not to mention the torment of being constantly pregnant is not something you would wish on your worst enemy let alone a child. Yet the fact that many of these girls are under the age of 18 when they first become exposed to this deception and coercion, thus legally considered to be children according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, seems to be forgotten.[5] The UK Government Home Office guidance on human trafficking acknowledges that young people and children, due to their dependent status, will be far more susceptible to psychological coercion. It even states that individuals may appear as “willing participants”.[6]

Unrepentant or brainwashed?

These girls face huge stigma and backlash based on their ‘choice’ to leave their own countries and join these groups. They are believed to have made these judgements clearly and in sound mind, and therefore the punishment should be representative of this. Yet how much of a choice is it? Domestic judicial systems must recognise the likelihood that these girls have been trafficked. Understandably, each case should be judged on individual circumstances as the complexity of motivations and roles of these woman is diverse.[7] Often however, the hallmarks of the Palermo Protocol’s definition of trafficking are present. These girls are groomed and deceived into making the decision to travel to join ISIS. Once there, they move around with the group, are sexually exploited and treated in a manner which totally denies their dignity and fundamental human rights.[8]

Photo of Shamima Begum.

Credit: Anthony Loyd/The Times/News Licensing

Famously, Shamima Begum has been described as “unrepentant and without regret” when asked about her decision to leave the UK and marry a Dutch ISIS fighter. Consequently, she, along with many other British women, has been stripped of her citizenship on the basis of ‘security fears’. Hannah Arendt poignantly describes citizenship as the “right to have rights”. Such an extreme response- to strip these women of their citizenship- should only be justified by unmitigated wrongs and must fully recognise the individual circumstances. The phrase ‘recruit’ is often used when describing these women, which only encourages a global narrative that such women are not victims but equitable with male fighters. The women will sometimes fight too, but the fundamental issue is that women are not lured to ISIS for to their fighting ability. It is the male sexual appetite and the securing of a future ISIS generation which prompts the demand for women.  They are deceived and exploited purely for their bodies.

How to move forward?

Further guidance should be provided on the application of the Palermo Protocol for cases which are not clear-cut, particularly regarding potential victims of trafficking by terrorists. Additionally, domestic legal systems should examine their implementation and interpretation of the protocol in such cases. The assumption in general discourse around trafficking is that it happens from a ‘poorer’ country to either another similar country or a ‘wealthier’ country. It is seen as inconceivable that victims may be transported from the West to less affluent and war-torn countries such as Syria. There is no standard victim of human trafficking. ‘Willing participation’ does not justify ignorance of circumstances that may well fit the legal definition of trafficking. While it should be reinforced that this may not mitigate potential crimes these young women may have committed, it must be taken into account. Very often they are deceived, coerced and brainwashed before being exploited for their bodies. This cannot be ignored.

 

 

[1] UN General Assembly, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, 15 November 2000, Article 3(a).

[2] Ibid

[3] Gladstone, R, “Twitter Says It Suspended 10,000 ISIS-Linked Accounts in One Day.” New York Times. 9 April 2015

[4] Katarina Montgomery, ‘ISIS Recruits Brides to Solve Middle East ‘Marriage Crisis’, Syria Deeply, (2015).

[5] UN Commission on Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child, 7 March 1990, E/CN.4/RES/1990/74, Article 1.

[6] UK Home Office, ‘Modern Slavery: Statutory Guidance for England and Wales (under s49 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015) and Non-Statutory Guidance for Scotland and Northern Ireland, January 2021, at Section 2.18.

[7] Cook, J & Vale G, ‘From Daesh to Diaspora: Tracing the woman and minors of Islamic State.’ ICSR Report, Kings College London (2018), at p.26.

[8] Binetti, A, ‘A new frontier: human trafficking and ISIS’s recruitment of woman from the west’, Information2Action, Georgetown Institute for Woman, Peace & Security, (2015) at pp.2-3.

Trafficking in the UK: Demands and Dilemmas for Justice

Mahlea Babjak is reading for a PhD in Religious Studies and is researching human trafficking in South Asia.  She is a Global Justice Academy Student Ambassador for 2016-17. Here, Mahlea reports on the recent Tumbling Lassie seminar on Trafficking in the UK.

The Faculty of Advocates, as well as other lawyers and justice advocates, gathered on the 28 of January 2017 to hear from key stakeholders fighting human trafficking in both the UK and abroad, due to the interlinking nature of trafficking networks.

The seminar opened with a short history of The Tumbling Lassie, followed by a compelling talk led by Andrew Bevan of International Justice Mission (IJM). When Andrew stated that the IJM’s mission to “rescue thousands, protect millions and prove that justice for the poor is possible” was an ambition being met (with IJM currently protecting an estimated 21 million), I was filled with hope and reminded that seemingly impossible justice goals are never beyond reach.

Andrew traced the story of one woman whom IJM worked with in India. The woman was trafficked for labour and enslaved at a brick kiln under debt bondage for forty years. Our hearts grew heavy as we felt the weight of one brick that Andrew passed around the seminar from the kiln. Andrew is passionate about seeing students, businesses and lawyers in Scotland becoming advocates in anti-human trafficking. As Andrew stated, you can “use what’s in your hands to respond” to the global justice issue of human trafficking.

We then heard from the Solicitor General for Scotland, Alison Di Rollo, who emphasised her (and the Lord Advocate’s) desire to “make the invisible visible” by improving our ability of detecting, challenging, and reporting cases of trafficking in the UK (see photo).

Alison’s talk drew widely on the general approach of the justice system in Scotland and about their commitment to safeguarding human trafficking victims rights, working collaboratively with NGOs and academics, and prosecuting traffickers. While many would be surprised to hear that trafficking is indeed happening in Scotland and the UK widely, Alison noted common destinations in Scotland and discussed several cases as examples and stressed that improving our ability to detect victims of trafficking as critical.

Alison’s talk led nicely to Bronagh Andrew’s of TARA (Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance), a sector of Community Safety Glasgow. Alison shared about how TARA offers a support service to trafficking survivors and helps to identify victims of sexual exploitation. TARA has a unique survivor-led approach, which has provided survivors with hope as their survivors re-learn how to trust people and the legal system. The work of TARA has empowered survivors through TARA’s ability to support survivors on a long-term basis, until the survivors express that they feel they’ve regained a sense of agency.

The final speaker was Parosha Chandran, an award-winning human rights barrister and receiver of the ‘Trafficking in Persons Hero Award 2015’ from former US Secretary of State, John Kerry. Parosha spoke about establishing rights recognition for victims of trafficking and she over-viewed some of the ground-breaking trafficking cases she has worked on over the past 15+ years, which have come to shape anti-trafficking efforts in the UK. A theme that would be interesting to explore further from Parosha’s presented cases is the often out-dated relationship between the justice system and Home Office. Since much of Parosha’s discussion was technical, legal language, she has offered to share her powerpoint that outlines the major human trafficking cases in the UK if requested by email.

Overall, this event sparked both hope within attendees and a desire to see more anti-human trafficking seminars combining major UK law firms and legal advocates. I would highly recommend people mark their calendars in advance for whenever the next Tumbling Lassie seminar may be.

More about the author

Mahlea is also the Emerging Fields Researcher for Tiny Hands International, an NGO fighting human trafficking globally through border and transit monitoring. Mahlea can be contacted at: mahlea@tinyhands.org.

The Tumbling lassie

If anyone is interested in this field and would like to get in touch with The Tumbling Lassie directly, you can email them here: tumblinglassie@gmail.com 

Why We Blame the Victim, and Why We Have To Stop: a Perspective from a Historian

Mikki headshot

Dr Michelle Brock is an Assistant Professor of History at Washington and Lee University, specialising in British History. In this guest post, Mikki examines the culture of ‘victim blaming’ that has been reinvigorated in the United States over the past six months, from the perspective of an early-modernist who researches belief and the Devil.

From the decisions not to indict the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner to the disturbing Rolling Stone article on a brutal gang rape at UVA, this country has produced a harrowing month of news. The reaction of much of the American public to these stories has been as distressing as their content. Many have turned not to self-searching or activism, but to stereotype and judgement. They rush to point out that Brown and Garner had, after all, committed crimes, drawing on centuries-old racial tropes to point out their size or comment that they were acting like “thugs” with “bad attitudes.” When they hear about the epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses across the country, they question the victim’s dress, behaviour, and alcohol consumption, wondering if not explicitly saying that she might have been “asking for it.” In short, we are a country that blames the victims.

Wolfram Burner (Flickr)

Wolfram Burner (Flickr)

» Read more