The 18-page document the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and MADRE, a global women’s advocacy organization, released on Wednesday notes the Sunni militant group has imposed a strict interpretation of Shariah law in the wide swath of northwestern Iraq that it currently controls.
The report notes the Islamic State group’s interpretation of Shariah law includes sayings from the Prophet Muhammad and his associates that indicate opposition to cross-dressing and similar behaviors. A member of the Sunni militant organization who appeared in a propaganda video in September compared gays to drug dealers and pedophiles, describing them as “animals” and “dirty people” who God says are “the worst of creatures.”
The IGLHRC and MADRE report says the Islamic State group on its website says those found guilty of sodomy “shall be executed for an offense against God.”
The report says the Sunni militant group in June indicated it condemned to death a Syrian man who allegedly committed homosexuality. IGLHRC and MADRE said a picture the Islamic State group released shows a man kneeling in front of his apparent executioner.
“Given its own legal interpretations and its own claim to having carried out such sentences, coupled with reports of widespread sexual violence and instances of summary and arbitrary executions believed to have engaged in homosexual acts, anyone believed to be LGBT under the Islamic State control is likely at imminent risk of death,” reads the IGLHRC and MADRE report.
The groups conducted their research along with the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, a local human rights organization, between July and September.
IGLHRC and MADRE interviewed eight LGBT Iraqis. Their report notes that 10 additional people who identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender declined to speak with researchers on the record because of safety concerns.
The Washington Blade’s efforts to reach LGBT Iraqis who were willing to publicly talk about the situation inside the country were unsuccessful. IGLHRC and MADRE said in their report they were unable to conduct further interviews in Iraq after the middle of August because of the deteriorating security situation.
Anti-LGBT violence occurs with ‘near total impunity’
Homosexuality remains legal in Iraq, but the report indicates the Islamic State group’s advance into the country in recent months has only exacerbated the dire situation under which LGBT Iraqis have lived over the last decade.
IGLHRC and MADRE note it is now more difficult for LGBT Iraqis to reach the relative safety of Kurdistan because the Islamic State group’s seizure of the city of Mosul and surrounding areas in June have cut off the road that connects the region with the rest of the country. Reports indicate Iraqis of Arab decent are routinely denied permission to enter the autonomous area.
IGLHRC Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Hossein Alizadeh told the Blade during a telephone interview on Tuesday from his office in New York that Shiite militias aligned with the Iraqi government commit many of the anti-LGBT rights abuses in the country.
The report notes members of the League of the Righteous in June killed two teenagers in Baghdad whom they thought were gay and decapitated them. Local advocates with whom IGLHRC and MADRE spoke said the Shiite militants threw the heads of their victims into the garbage.
Members of the same militia a few weeks later reportedly killed 34 people during an attack on a brothel in Baghdad’s Zayouna neighborhood. The report indicates at least two of the victims were gay men.
The IGLHRC and MADRE report also notes another Shiite militia in May published the names of men who were “wanted” for committing the “crime” of sodomy.
A gay man told the groups that members of a militia sexually abused him and his friend at a checkpoint. He said the police came to their apartment the following day.
“They are very out and open,” Alizadeh told the Blade. “They are fighting alongside the government.”
LGBT Iraqis also face the risk of violence and even death from members of their family and the tribes to which they belong.
A lesbian who lives in southern Iraq told IGLHRC and MADRE that members of the tribe to which her girlfriend belonged killed her after they found out about their relationship. A gay man told the two groups that his father and brothers wanted to kill him because it was “their duty to protect their honor.”
“What makes today’s situation lethally dangerous to LGBT Iraqis is less likely to be a profound shift in Iraqi society’s values towards gender norms, but the breakdown of law and order and a rise of the law of strongmen — within the family, tribe, militia and complicit state security forces,” reads the report. “Those who translate societal hostility towards LGBT compatriots into violence, today do so with near total impunity.”
The State Department in 2009 condemned anti-LGBT violence in Iraq, noting the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad had raised the issue directly with the Iraqi government. Dutch officials in 2012 announced they would grant asylum to LGBT Iraqis.
The IGLHRC and MADRE report notes a committee the Iraqi government established in 2012 reportedly published a series of LGBT-specific recommendations. The groups said the committee was “non-functional” as of last month, because of the crisis surrounding the creation of a new government after then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki resigned in August and the Islamic State group’s advances in the country.
Alizadeh told the Blade the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights has also failed to document anti-LGBT hate crimes in the country and prosecute them.
“That speaks volumes about the problems,” he said. “The government that has all the mechanisms in order to track and monitor the situation doesn’t even want to get involved.”
Another problem that LGBT Iraqis face is the need to obtain a new passport in order to leave the country.
Alizadeh told the Blade they need to prove they are a “real male or a real female in the minds of the government agents.” He said it is nearly impossible for many LGBT Iraqis to obtain their birth certificates from their families because they have cut ties with them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
“That’s not even a viable conversation at that point,” Alizadeh told the Blade.
The cost of flights out of the country is prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of LGBT Iraqis. The Islamic State group’s presence in Iraq has also prevented them from reaching neighboring Turkey or Jordan by road.
“Right now there is no way to get out of the country to go to Turkey or Jordan by land because of the ISIS activity,” said Alizadeh. “That even further isolated individuals who wanted to get out.”
’Sheer chaos’ in Iraq
The report includes a series of recommendations it hopes will improve the situation for LGBT Iraqis in the country. These include the Iraqi government holding the Shiite militias accountable for anti-LGBT rights abuses and donor countries working with Baghdad to better respond to them.
“They do care about what the international community thinks about them,” Alizadeh told the Blade. “That’s why they love talking about ISIS because it lifts the burden from their shoulders and moves it somewhere else.”
Alizadeh conceded he is not optimistic the situation will improve for LGBT Iraqis, noting the lack of what he described as the rule of law.
“There’s sheer chaos,” he said. “There is not enough international interest in providing protection.”