BAGHDAD - The Islamic State jihadist group has abducted women and children from Iraq's Yazidi minority, distributed them as spoils of war and forced them into sexual slavery, driving some to suicide.
IS militants have overrun swathes of Iraq since June, declared a cross-border caliphate also encompassing parts of neighbouring Syria and carried out a litany of abuses in both countries.
The group has targeted Yazidis and other minorities in northern Iraq in a campaign that rights group Amnesty International said Tuesday amounted to ethnic cleansing, murdering civilians and enslaving others for a fate that some captives consider worse than death.
"Many of those held as sexual slaves are children - girls aged 14, 15 or even younger," Donatella Rovera, Amnesty's senior crisis response adviser, who interviewed dozens of former captives, said in a statement.
Amnesty said that many of the perpetrators are IS fighters, but may also include supporters of the group.
A 19-year-old named Jilan committed suicide out of fear she would be raped, Amnesty quoted her brother as saying.
A girl who was held with her but later escaped confirmed the account, saying: "One day we were given clothes that looked like dance costumes and were told to bathe and wear those clothes. Jilan killed herself in the bathroom." "She cut her wrists and hanged herself. She was very beautiful; I think she knew she was going to be taken away by a man and that is why she killed herself." Another former captive told the rights group that she and her sister tried to kill themselves to escape forced marriage, but were stopped from doing so.
IS boasts of abuse
"We tied... scarves around our necks and pulled away from each other as hard as we could, until I fainted... I could not speak for several days after that," Wafa, 27, told the rights group.
Amnesty also recounted the story of 16-year-old Randa, who was abducted with her family and raped by a man twice her age.
"It is so painful what they did to me and to my family," Randa said.
IS has boasted of the horrors it has inflicted in its propaganda magazine "Dabiq." In an article entitled "The revival of slavery before the hour", Dabiq argues that by enslaving people it claims hold deviant religious beliefs, IS has restored an aspect of Islamic sharia law.
"After capture, the Yazidi women and children were then divided according to the sharia amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations," the article said, referring to the area where the Yazidis were seized.
"This large-scale enslavement of mushrik (polytheist) families is probably the first since the abandonment of this sharia law," it said.
The abductions and rapes have drawn widespread international attention and condemnation.
IS "now proudly takes credit for the abduction, enslavement, rape, forced marriage and sale of several thousand... women and girls, some as young as 12 years old," US Secretary of State John Kerry said in October.
The abuse causes long-term damage even to those who manage to escape.
Rovera said: "The physical and psychological toll of the horrifying sexual violence these women have endured is catastrophic." "Many of them have been tortured and treated as chattel. Even those who have managed to escape remain deeply traumatised."