Today, a group of women who claim to have been enslaved, raped, and abused by one of Australia’s most infamous terrorists are seeking a landmark legal case to be brought before a New South Wales (NSW) Civil and Administrative tribunal in order to receive compensation. These hearings begin the week of 10 March, 2019.
The story has a long background that begins in 2014, when ISIS militants stormed Sinjar, in northern Iraq. There, they murdered thousands while kidnapping men, women, and girls. Ultimately, many of those kidnapped were sold into sex slavery, this group of women among them.
While not 100% confirmed, it is believed that the perpetrator of the crimes against these women is Khaled Sharrouf. Born in Sydney in 1981, this man travelled to Syria in 2013 using his brother’s passport, and waited for his wife and children to join him. In 2017, he became the first Australian citizen to have his dual citizenship stripped from him due to terrorist acts, preceding the likes of Neil Prakash. Named by Peter Dutton as the face of Australian terror, Sharrouf is believed to have been killed in an air strike in August 2017.
The main supporter of this compensation claim is British non-governmental organization Lotus Flower. The founder of this organization, Taben Shoresh, states that this is the first claim of this nature in the world: “we are hoping that Australia will pave the way for justice for the Yazidi victims. This will be a great step forward as they are feeling forgotten by the international community.” Lotus Flower expressed frustration that there were no courses for compensation to be drawn directly from the perpetrators that weren’t far too expensive or complicated to legitimately pursue.
Lotus Flower has solicited the help of international lawyers from the firm Hogan Lovells, who have taken on this case pro-bono. They are currently working several similar cases globally. Susan Bright, one lawyer on the Australian case, states that “we are asking the court to recognize the unique situation of our clients, who are part of a community that was systematically subjected to gross violations of human rights law by an Australian ISIS fighter.” The case is primarily seeking redress and reparations for the victims. While this concept is recognized under international law, such reparations are not generally available in practice, a fact that these organizations hope a case like this will change.
The compensation money is expected to come from Sharrouf’s estate, considering that his assets were frozen by the Australian federal government in 2014. Lotus Flower has clearly stated: “We do not want taxpayer’s money.”
The 2014 invasion of Sinjar has been publicly recognized by the Australian House of Representatives. Liberal MP Chris Crewther even tabled a motion that called on the Federal Government to investigate and prosecute those responsible for crimes against Yazidi residents in Australian Courts, and openly supports Lotus Flower’s efforts in this case, despite the fact that none of the women in this group ever resided in Australia.
This will not be an easy case to win. USYD International Law Expert, Ben Saul, states that the crime compensation scheme operational for victims in NSW is “limited to offences which occur here in NSW or more generally in Australia, so it does not give any joy for victims of overseas crime, including internal crimes like war crimes, crimes, against humanity, genocide, or torture.”
It seems that at this moment, the most helpful thing to this group of women currently in operation is a United Nations mechanism used to collect and preserve the evidence of their suffering.
Currently, the location of the victims is not being released due to fear of retribution from current or former ISIS fighters. NSW Attorney-General spokesman, Mark Speakman, stated that as the matter was due before the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal it would be inappropriate to comment.
The results of this case have huge implications for victims of the actions of non-state actors around the world. Should these women be successful, it would set a new precedent for redress and compensation provided to those who, until this moment, have had no avenue of pursuing retribution against a face they cannot see.
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