Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Mobilizing for Gender-Sensitive Reparations: Iraq’s Yazidi Survivors Law and Civil Society

This blog entry is part of the series "Gendered Aspects of Peace and War in Turkey".

Published onNov 07, 2022
Mobilizing for Gender-Sensitive Reparations: Iraq’s Yazidi Survivors Law and Civil Society

You're viewing an older Release (#1) of this Pub.

  • This Release (#1) was created on Jan 11, 2023 ()
  • The latest Release (#2) was created on Apr 17, 2023 ().

Mobilizing for gender-sensitive reparations: Iraq’s Yazidi Survivors Law and civil society

Güley Bor


On September 7, 2022, Iraq’s General Directorate of Survivors Affairs (Directorate) announced that applications under the Yazidi [Female] Survivors Law[1] (YSL) are open. This means that many survivors[2] of the ISIS conflict in Iraq, particularly thousands of women and girls from ethnic and religious minorities who survived conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), now have a domestic remedy that they can apply to claim reparations from the state.


The YSL, which was signed by then-President Barham Salih on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2021, is important not only because it sets up Iraq’s first reparation program dedicated to survivors of the ISIS conflict,[3] but also because the YSL -and the bylaws[4] detailing its implementation- include gender-sensitive provisions reflecting survivor demands and best practices in the field.[5] If implemented properly, effectively and swiftly, the YSL will serve as a critical step in delivering justice for the Yazidi Genocide of 2014, as well as ISIS atrocities against the Turkmen, Christian and Shabak communities in Iraq. Given benefits such as a monthly salary, a plot of land, access to medical and psychosocial services, employment, and education, it also carries the potential to concretely improve the lives of some of the most marginalized survivors of the ISIS conflict, especially women and girls. If implemented with broader measures that aim non-repetition of violations, the YSL may even contribute to transforming some of the inequalities they face that pre-date the conflict.


This goal echoes the transformative approach to transitional justice and particularly to reparations. Paralleling critiques to liberal peacebuilding,[6] transformative justice has criticized the overfocus on civil and political rights in transitional justice and highlighted the importance of advancing economic, social and cultural rights for marginalized groups to address the root causes of the conflict.[7] Feminist scholars and practitioners have particularly advocated for a transformative approach to reparations for sexual and gender-based violence on the basis that the principle of restitutio in integrum, which aims to restore the victims to their status prior to the violation, would mean restoring women to an unequal status that caused the violations in the first place.[8] Instead, they have explored how reparations can play a role in social, political, and economic change for women.[9]


Iraq’s civil society -including several grassroots NGOs led by members of conflict-impacted communities and/or women-, alongside survivors and certain international actors, played a significant role in the making of the YSL, including advocating for a gender-sensitive and transformative outlook for the reparation program. In this blog post, I will explore how participation by civil society in the policy-making process helped shape the YSL and draw insights from this experience that can benefit similar legislative processes concerning transitional justice in other contexts.


The bill’s introduction


In many transitional contexts, survivor/victim groups and NGOs are the ones that initiate debates on reparations policy, which from their early stages involve conceptualizing reparations in a way that are more or less agreeable across different actors involved.[10] It is noteworthy that in Iraq, this was not entirely the case. In fact, the bill’s introduction by President Barham Salih in April 2019 was unexpected to many, including survivors and NGOs.[11]


Even though there were prior scarce attempts at advocating for reparations, considering ongoing violations against minorities, protracted displacement, and widespread impunity for perpetrators, at the time many NGOs -operating with limited resources and capacity- had prioritized humanitarian assistance to survivors and displaced communities and work related to criminal accountability for ISIS crimes. NGOs also demanded support from the Government of Iraq (GoI) to address the precarious conditions of survivors, who return from ISIS captivity to IDP camps, where they face poverty and lack of access to services.[12] In 2016, Yazidi NGO Yazda’s efforts succeeded in setting up a social welfare program that included modest monthly payments for a limited number of Yazidi survivors; however, the program was later discontinued.[13] Survivors of CRSV, vast majority of whom Yazidi women and girls, did not (and most still do not) have access to any support or remedy.[14]


Introduced against this backdrop and promising a number of benefits, the bill was praised for constituting an important step in redressing ISIS crimes against the Yazidi.[15] However, the bill was also a top-down effort led by politicians and bureaucrats with close to none input from survivors or civil society, which meant it failed to satisfy many survivor demands and best practices. It was criticized on grounds including narrow eligibility standards and lack of acknowledgment of CRSV, as only Yazidi female survivors of captivity (and not CRSV) were eligible.[16]


Civil society’s mobilization to participate in policy-making


The top-down introduction of this bill encouraged NGOs to prioritize the right to reparation in their work. This was because the bill would go through three “readings” in the Iraqi Council of Representatives before being put to vote, and all amendments had to be made until then.[17] There were no pre-determined timelines for the readings; however, civil society was aware of the importance of using this momentum to pursue advocacy for ISIS survivors’ right to reparation.


Civil society mobilized rather quickly to participate in the legislative process of the YSL. A critical development was the establishment of the Coalition for Just Reparations (C4JR), an alliance of 31 organizations advocating for ISIS survivors’ right to remedy and reparations, in November 2019.[18] The C4JR reflected the diversity of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, with various community-led NGOs, women’s rights groups and human rights organizations participating as founding members.[19] The C4JR’s founding documents include a position paper on reparations setting forth a compromise on core issues concerning reparations for ISIS survivors such as responsibility, eligibility and temporality.[20] It demands for reparations to be provided to all victims and survivors of the ISIS conflict regardless of grounds such as gender, ethnicity, sect or religion, and regardless of the perpetrator.


The C4JR’s establishment demonstrates that despite being somewhat caught off guard with the introduction of the bill, civil society in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region were able to find common ground to build alliances and present a unified front on reparations policy. That this took place in just over six months -a relatively short period of time considering that these were the first comprehensive discussions among civil society actors on reparations- is partly because of efforts by the NGO Jiyan Foundation to build a reparations network that pre-date the introduction of the bill, and partly because many founding members had pre-existing relationships with each other due to their work with conflict-impacted communities. Also, most NGOs had a familiarity with various transitional justice concepts given the country’s experience with mechanisms for dealing with the past.[21]


Advocating for an inclusive, survivor-centered reparations legislation


Given the urgency of keeping reparations on the agenda (as the Tishreen movement protests swept across the country[22]), advocacy on the bill started shortly after its introduction. This work continued throughout the Covid-19 pandemic despite severe challenges, and after the adoption of the YSL, focused on the adoption of the bylaws by the Council of Ministers.


In addition to pressuring the Council of Representatives to swiftly pass the law, civil society advocated for several amendments to the bill. One important demand was expanding the eligibility criteria and including communities other than the Yazidi community, and victims other than women and girls who survived captivity, in the bill’s scope. This demand was partially successful. The final text explicitly acknowledges the various forms of CRSV committed during the ISIS conflict, and the scope is expanded to include Turkmen, Christian, and Shabak female survivors of CRSV, survivors of mass shootings from these four communities, as well as Yazidi boys who were forcibly recruited to ISIS. Still, the YSL arbitrarily excludes many groups of victims, such as survivors from communities other than these four, non-Yazidi boys who were forcibly recruited, genders other than woman who were subjected to CRSV, and children born as a result of sexual violence. Importantly, the YSL covers violations perpetrated by ISIS only, leaving out survivors of violations by other armed groups.


Another area of focus was incorporating a survivor-centered approach to the reparation program through procedural recommendations, such as relaxing evidentiary standards and allowing the use of previous testimony by survivors in applications to prevent re-traumatization due to repetitive interviews.[23] Some of these recommendations, including YSL officers’ duty of confidentiality and the ability to resort to NGO reports as evidence, were integrated in the text of the bylaws.[24] Others, such as the burden of gathering pre-existing evidence being placed on the Directorate instead of the applicant, were agreed upon internally by the Directorate without being explicitly written in the bylaws, which lack legal certainty and risk arbitrary procedures.


Analyzing civil society participation in the making of the YSL


Civil society’s participation in the policy-making process of the YSL in Iraq includes rich lessons that can have wider resonance. Firstly, that civil society developed a joint reparations agenda after the bill was introduced may have led to missed opportunities. In various consultations and conversations with Yazidi, Shi’a Turkmen, and Christian survivors, I have heard survivors demand “their rights”, which always include a form of reparation such as a monthly salary or acknowledgment of violations. Adopting survivors’ language that demand their right to reparation earlier could have helped bridge the disconnect between survivors and Iraqi policy-makers, who are already familiar with administrative reparation programs. This approach could have strengthened the basis of survivors’ demands by situating them in the framework of state obligations under international law, “translat[ing] them into political demands” and pressuring the GoI to act quicker.[25] Adopting the language of reparations early on could have established civil society as a leading stakeholder in the policy-making process since its beginning, providing the opportunity to set the baseline for future policy discussions rather than having to start off within the constraints of a poorly drafted bill.  


Secondly, prioritizing inclusivity in advocacy brought credibility and support to the work of civil society and particularly the Coalition, especially considering the history of sectarian violence in Iraq. Initiators of the C4JR were adamant on reaffirming the principle of non-discrimination, which helped attract new members and local and international support. Since members are organizations who understand pre- and post-conflict inter-community dynamics in Iraq, they were also able to formulate political demands on reparations that were acceptable across a broad range of actors. However, regardless of civil society’s determination to make YSL more inclusive, the impact of advocacy was limited when it came to certain groups whose inclusion did not align with the interests of those who in power. The exclusion of survivors of violations perpetrated by state-affiliated armed groups is one clear example.[26] Sunni Arab women who survived CRSV[27] were also excluded, seemingly to prevent false applications from ISIS affiliates. Excluding entire communities on the basis of perceived ISIS affiliation is not only discriminatory but also sectarian eligibility requirements risk exacerbating inter-community tensions. Another example is children born of sexual violence, who were excluded from the final text of the YSL likely to appease Yazidi religious leaders who reject the acceptance of these children into the faith, which aggravates the stigmatization they face.[28] These point to limitations of civil society’s influence over transitional justice mechanisms where political will is lacking.[29]


Thirdly, civil society established strategic connections with the international community for the YSL that facilitated their participation in policy-making.[30] IOM Iraq, which played an important role in the enactment of the YSL, had close working relationships with both the GoI and civil society. IOM’s readiness to involve civil society in the legislative process provided opportunities for civil society and policy-makers to meet and exchange on the YSL, even during tumultuous periods when domestic advocacy in Baghdad appeared difficult. Advocacy targeting the UN brought the attention of the international community to the YSL, which started referencing the YSL and even the C4JR in reports and communications concerning Iraq.[31] International focus on the law played a role incentivizing the enactment of the YSL as it highlighted the importance of this law as one of the few reparations legislations globally covering CRSV, which could increase Iraq’s international standing and strengthen the perception of its legitimacy dealing with the aftermath of the ISIS conflict. The risk of co-optation of transitional justice mechanisms by the international community is omnipresent, especially in Iraq, where there is plenty precedent of it in state-building efforts following the US invasion of 2003 and the fall of the Ba’athist regime. The legislative process of the YSL demonstrates that despite this risk, cautious engagement with the international community created otherwise unavailable platforms where civil society could directly engage with policy-makers. Furthermore, this strategic engagement helped civil society to instrumentalize the leverage of the international community over Iraq to pass a law to the benefit of survivors, even if imperfect.


Where to now? Civil society and the implementation of the YSL


“Victory on the legislative front does not mean that the struggle to see reparations delivered to victims is over.”[32] Now that applications are ongoing under the YSL, civil society is expected to play an essential role to support the law’s implementation. Firstly, civil society should continue outreach on the YSL and the application process. Secondly, NGOs should support survivors applying for reparations under the YSL, including by providing legal aid and MHPSS. Thirdly, civil society should urgently start monitoring the application process and provide regular feedback to the Directorate. This will also serve as the basis for future monitoring of the YSL, especially when distribution of the benefits starts under the program.


These tasks are not without challenges. Delays in the introduction of the bill, its enactment, and the start of the application process have frustrated survivors who frequently voice their disbelief that benefits under the YSL will ever be realized. Civil society must carefully manage expectations while supporting the YSL. Furthermore, the absence of regular and effective communication between the Directorate and civil society, as well as reported arbitrary practices by public officers unfamiliar with the YSL framework, have contributed to misinformation surrounding the YSL’s novel features. The Directorate must facilitate civil society participation by establishing clear channels of communication to respond to questions and receive feedback, while donors must support NGOs’ capacity-building and programming on the YSL.


Benefits included in the YSL could help address some of the socio-economic inequalities that minorities, and especially women, face in Iraq. Still, the YSL, as any reparation program, is neither capable of nor well-placed to achieve justice and broader social change by itself. It must be complemented with other transitional justice mechanisms and broader measures that aim to tackle the inequalities rooted in the conflict, such as redistributive programs that target historically impoverished regions, adoption of the long-awaited domestic violence law, and the introduction of quotas for minority women in decision-making positions.


Civil society has been championing these causes for years. Exploring potential synergies between civil society’s work on the YSL and wider agendas for social change may maximize the impact of these efforts while integrating a transformative outlook to post-ISIS transitional justice in Iraq.

[1] Yazidi [Female] Survivors’ Law No. 8 of 2021. The word female is in brackets to indicate that while this word is not included in the title of the law per se, the suffix added to the word survivor in Arabic refers to female survivors.

[2] This article prefers the use of the term survivor over victim to respect the demands of persons who were directly impacted by the violations. Yazidi women who survived sexual violence have especially been vocal on this issue, which also led to the YSL’s adoption of the term survivor.

[3] Some ISIS survivors are also eligible for reparations under the Law No. 20 on Compensation for Victims of Military Operations, Military Mistakes and Terrorist Actions. However, Law No. 20’s limited eligibility scope, together with rooted problems in its implementation, contributed to the introduction of a new program for ISIS survivors. Clara Sandoval & Miriam Puttick, Reparations for the Victims of Conflict in Iraq: Lessons Learned from Comparative Practice, Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Minority Rights Group International, November 2017, (accessed 23.09.2022).

[4] Bylaws No. 4 of 2021 Facilitating the Implementation of the Provisions of Yazidi [Female] Survivors Law No. 8 of 2021.

[5] Sherizaan Minwalla, In Iraq, Minority Survivors of ISIS Genocide Cautiously Anticipate Reparations, WMC Women Under Siege, August 26, 2022, 29.08.2022).

[6] Padraig McAuliffe, Transformative Transitional Justice and the Malleability of Post-Conflict States, 2017, Edward Elgar Publishing.

[7] Nisan Alıcı, Using the transformative justice lens to address the gendered aspects of the Kurdish conflict, Off University Blog Series, 2022, (accessed 16.11.2022); Paul Gready & Simon Robins, From Transitional to Transformative Justice: A New Agenda for Practice, International Journal of Transitional Justice 8(3), 2014,

[8] See, inter alia, Ruth Rubio-Marín (Ed.), The Gender of Reparations: Unsettling Sexual Hierarchies While Redressing Human Rights Violations, 2009, Cambridge University Press; Impunity Watch, Guidelines on Transformative Reparations for Survivors of Sexual Violence, 2019, (accessed 16.11.2022).

[9] Andrea Durbach & Louise Chappell, Leaving Behind the Age of Impunity: Victims of Gender Violence and the Promise of Reparations. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 16(4), 2014,

[10] Cristian Correa, Julie Guillerot & Lisa Magarrell, Reparations and Victim Participation: A Look at the Truth Commission Experience, ICTJ, 2009, (accessed 20.08.2022); Handbook on Civil Society Organisations and Donors Engagement on Reparations, Reparations, Responsibility & Victimhood in Transitional Societies, August 2022, (accessed 30.09.2022).

[11] The reasons for this exceed the scope of this blog post. However, Yazidi politicians’ involvement as well as the focus of the international community on Yazidi survivors of CRSV must be noted as factors influencing the introduction of the bill.

[12] Alannah Travers, Seven years in camps: Life for the abandoned victims of IS, Open Democracy, October 13, 2021, (accessed 01.10.2022).

[13] For details on this welfare scheme called the Bataqa program, see Güley Bor, Response to and Reparations for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Iraq: The Case of Shi’a Turkmen Survivors in Tel Afar, LSE Middle East Centre, October 2019, (accessed 20.09.2022).

[14] There have been scattered efforts to provide urgent interim reparations to CRSV survivors of the ISIS conflict. One program that was implemented in 2019, immediately after the introduction of the bill, granted 899 Yazidi survivors a lump-sum payment of 2 million IQD (approx. 1,370 USD). This program was later criticized for unclear procedures, limited outreach to survivors on the program’s existence, and seemingly arbitrary selection criteria. Yazda, Interim Relief Program for CRSV in Iraq: Survivors’ Grant Scheme in practice and recommendations for its improvement, March 2021, (accessed 25.09.2022).

[15] Mohammed Rwanduzy, Iraqi bill for Yazidi women, children ‘most significant’: Yezidi activists, Rudaw, April 9, 2021, (accessed 04.10.2022).

[16] For an overview of the first draft of the bill, see Güley Bor, Iraq’s Reparation Bill for Yazidi Female Survivors: More Progress Needed, LSE Middle East Centre Blog, April 26, 2019, (accessed 04.10.2022). For a comparison between the first draft and the adopted text of the YSL, see Güley Bor, Yazidi Survivors in Germany and Iraq’s Reparation Programme: “I Want for us to have a share in Iraq”, IOM Iraq, May 2021, (accessed 04.10.2022).

[17] The first reading took place in July 2019 and the second in November 2020, with a final reading and vote in March 2021.

[18] See the C4JR website at

[19] See C4JR members list at

[20] C4JR Position Paper on Reparations, 2019, 30.09.2022).

[21] Shamiran Mako & Alistair D. Edgar, Evaluating the Pitfalls of External Statebuilding in Post-2003 Iraq (2003-2021), Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 15(4), 2021.

[22] Ruba al-Hassani, Storytelling, Memory and Momentum: Iraq’s Tishreen Movement, ICSR, September 27, 2022, (accessed 04.10.2022).

[23] SEED Foundation, Yezidi Female Survivors’ Law: Recommendations for Developing Implementing Regulations, May 2021, (accessed 15.11.2022); C4JR, Key Recommendations to the Iraqi Council of Ministers for Implementing Regulations of the Yazidi [Female] Survivors Law, June 2021, (accessed 30.09.2022);

[24] See Minwalla, supra n. 5.

[25] Handbook, supra n. 10, p. 23.

[26] See e.g. Human Rights Watch, Iraq: Possible War Crimes by Shia Militia, January 31, 2016, (accessed 15.12.2022).

[27] Human Rights Watch, Iraq: Sunni Women Tell of ISIS Detention, Torture, 2017, (accessed 15.12.2022).

The first draft of the bill included vague provisions on children born of rape, although they were left out in the final text. See Bor, IOM Iraq, supra n. 16.

[29] McAuliffe, supra n. 6, pp. 55-59.

[30] See e.g. Yazda, supra n. 14; C4JR flags amendments to the Yazidi Women Survivor’s Bill at the IOM meeting in Erbil, December 22, 2020, (accessed 30.09.2022).

[31] See e.g. C4JR, Open Letter to UN Special-Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Wairimu Nderitu, December 7, 2020, (accessed 30.09.2022).

[32] Correa, Guillerot & Magarrell, supra n. 10, p. 19.

* Sponsored by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung with funds of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of the Federal Republic of Germany. This publication or parts of it can be used by others for free as long as they provide a proper reference to the original publication. The content of the publication is the sole responsibility of Off-University. Organisation für den Frieden e.V. and does not necessarily reflect a position of RLS.

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?