Sabaya Law

ISIS is trafficking thousands of female sex slaves, according to gruesome revelations by the NYT. The group’s leaders have created a theology around the abuse of Yazidis and other non-Muslim women, while killing off male members of the family.

There are many profoundly disturbing aspects of this story. But one that grabbed my attention was the relatively banal aspects of legal administration of this regime of administering slaves (or sabayas). As Rukmini Callimachi reports:

A total of 5,270 Yazidis were abducted last year, and at least 3,144 are still being held, according to community leaders. To handle them, the Islamic State has developed a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales contracts notarized by the ISIS-run Islamic courts…

In a pamphlet published online in December, the Research and Fatwa Department of the Islamic State detailed best practices, including explaining that slaves belong to the estate of the fighter who bought them and therefore can be willed to another man and disposed of just like any other property after his death.

Recent escapees describe an intricate bureaucracy surrounding their captivity, with their status as a slave registered in a contract. When their owner would sell them to another buyer, a new contract would be drafted, like transferring a property deed.

In short, a legal system has rapidly been set up to justify a system of social domination.

But while the legal system takes away, it can also give. The story goes on…

At the same time, slaves can also be set free, and fighters are promised a heavenly reward for doing so.

Though rare, this has created one avenue of escape for victims.

A 25-year-old victim who escaped last month, identified by her first initial, A, described how one day her Libyan master handed her a laminated piece of paper. He explained that he had finished his training as a suicide bomber and was planning to blow himself up, and was therefore setting her free.

Labeled a “Certificate of Emancipation,” the document was signed by the judge of the western province of the Islamic State. The Yazidi woman presented it at security checkpoints as she left Syria to return to Iraq, where she rejoined her family in July.

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