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Reimagining Justice

Prosecuting ISIS Crimes against Women and LGBTIQ People

International law is a powerful – but underutilized – tool to bring our vision of social justice to life. In years past, women’s rights advocates have fought for laws to prosecute rape as a weapon of war. We’ve fought for sexual slavery to be understood as a war crime, rather than an unfortunate, incidental feature of warfare.

Now, we’re working to make international law even more powerful – to protect even more lives. It all starts with our partnership with grassroots women in Iraq.


In Iraq, extremists have made women and LGBTIQ people the targets of their violent agenda, including in the areas where ISIS ruled.

Women have been killed for working outside the home, for dressing against strict codes, for being community leaders – in short, for being the “wrong” kind of woman.

LGBTIQ people have been issued death warrants and killed. Even people accused of dressing the wrong way or refusing to join militias have been murdered.

These are people brutalized and killed exactly because of their gender and gender expression. Yet, international law doesn’t account for the motives behind these violations. To protect lives and pursue justice, we need to look at why people are targeted.


We’re bringing a petition to the International Criminal Court. It will be the first of its kind – an ICC petition advancing the rights of women and LGBTIQ people simultaneously. Using evidence MADRE and our local Iraq partners have compiled of violations committed by ISIS, we will launch a case for the ICC to prosecute those fighters for the crimes they’ve committed – with a focus on their gender-based motives.


The success of this petition would change the landscape of international law. What applies to prosecuted ISIS fighters would then apply to all perpetrators of gender-based crimes around the world.

In many places today, national laws protect those who target women and LGBTIQ people. 

But a victory with this petition would mean that, under international law, if ISIS can’t kill a woman for refusing marriage, no one can. If ISIS can’t murder a lesbian for her identity, no one can.

It would set a precedent and create a new tool for rights advocates to use. And it would deepen linkages between global women’s and LGBTIQ rights movements.

Join Us

Fatou Bensouda is the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. On November 8, join us in conversation with her on how we will pursue this innovative strategy for justice.