Campaign buys ISIS slaves’ freedom but may spur more kidnapping, critics say

Friday 28/08/2015
But is paying the solution? An Iraqi Yazidi protests the fate of kidnapped Yazidi women outside the United Nations office in the city of Erbil, on August 2, 2015.

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 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.