Campaign buys ISIS slaves’ freedom but may spur more kidnapping, critics say
Ottawa - Canadian businessman Steve Maman raised more than $500,000 in less than two months to buy the freedom of women and girls enslaved by Islamic State (ISIS) extremists in Iraq.
But as the campaign gains funding, critics say the money provides ISIS with additional funding to finance its operations. The money could encourage ISIS to commit more abductions, they say.
“I’m focused on saving lives. I’m not focused on the actual logistics of the payments,” the Montreal businessman told CBC Radio. Maman says tracking the destination of the ransoms would be fruitless, noting that the chance of his money ending up in the hands of ISIS is an inescapable sacrifice to gain the release of enslaved women and girls.
Maman’s initiative, Liberation Iraq Christian & Yazidi, is functioning via the crowdfunding website gofundme.com and has received donations from more than 3,000 people.
The Moroccan-born businessman said his efforts have led to the release of about 130 girls from their captors in ISIS-controlled areas of Iraq. Individuals working with Maman on the campaign coordinate with brokers and intermediaries in Iraq who negotiate with ISIS fighters for the release.
“The intentions may be very noble and moral,” said Rula Odeh, the executive director of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations. But, she said, “It could potentially have negative unintended consequences in the long term.”
Efforts such as Maman’s, though intended to support the victims of ISIS’s crimes, may encourage kidnapping and enslavement to raise more ransom money.
Odeh argues that if there were effective international, multilateral action in the conflicts in the region, “there wouldn’t be a situation where individuals feel compelled to act on their own and in a very ad hoc and perhaps risky fashion”.
In September 2011, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1373, which requires states, including Canada, to prevent the financing of terrorist acts and to criminalise “the wilful provision or collection of funds to be used to finance terrorist acts”.
In December 2011, the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act, also known as Bill C-36, amended the Criminal Code to contain provisions “ensuring that non-profit organisations are not misused to finance terrorism”.
No legal action has been taken against Maman’s campaign by the Canadian government.
“ISIS is worth today $4 billion,” said Maman. “At the end of the day, we are working with brokers and maybe or maybe not these funds may find their way through the $4 billion entity to make them $4 billion (and) $2,000,” Maman said. “When you pay ISIS, there isn’t such a thing as ISIS, you’re paying individuals.”
Following its August 2014 attack on the Mount Sinjar region in north-western Iraq where many Yazidis lived, ISIS, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura said in a statement, “hunted down and caught hundreds of women and girls from ethnic and religion minorities, instituting a pattern of sexual violence, slavery, abduction and human trafficking that continues to this day”.
Reports from areas under ISIS control, she said, “confirm systematic sexual violence, particularly against Yazidi women and children aged between eight and 35 years. Young women are being ‘sold’ in open markets, gifted to foreign fighters, trafficked for sex in the region to raise funds and increase recruitment among [ISIS’s] ranks. Women and girls are also used for forced procreation, to populate the desired new caliphate.”
Odeh said the international community has a responsibility to protect these women and girls and insisted action was needed on a “much more comprehensive preventative level”.
The Security Council’s Counter- Terrorism Committee did not respond to a request to comment on Maman’s campaign.