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What will happen to the Yazidi sex slaves in Mosul?

At least 300 women from the minority sect are estimated to remain inside the city.

When fighters from the Islamic State (IS) attacked the Yazidi communities in northern Iraq in August 2014, they took many of their victims captive. They raped, forcibly married and converted to Islam thousands of Yazidi women, using them as sex slaves. IS is still holding a significant number of them.

Family members who managed to escape have been glued to their television sets watching the Mosul military operations. They wonder what it will mean for their missing women and girls, who have already endured so much. According to the United Nations, as of August, IS still held 1,935 Yazidi women, as well as 1,864 Yazidi men. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that IS has moved many of the women who were being held in Mosul to Syria. But a human rights worker, tracking the movements of prisoners from the Yazidi religious minority still held in IS captivity, told me this week that at least 300 Yazidi women remain inside the city. News media reported on 24 October that at least 70 Yezidi women and children have been rescued since the beginning of the operation to retake Mosul.

Yazidi families who escaped from IS in the last year told me in August that the mental health and other psychosocial support, the Kurdish regional Government, UN, aid agencies, and donors have provided in the 15 or more camps for the displaced Yazidis in Dohuk governorate has been inadequate. Now, with people caught in the middle of a huge battle, there is going to be an even greater need for these services.

The Iraqi central government and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities, with the support of an international coalition, announced on 17 October  the start of the military operations to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which IS captured in June 2014. There are an estimated 1.2 million civilians in Mosul.

For Yazidis in Mosul who come under the control of the Iraqi authorities during or after the fighting, including women who have spent the last two years in sexual slavery, they are going to need urgent assistance to meet their basic needs and provide mental health support.

But aid workers in the nearby city of Erbil have told me that there has been no significant planning by the military forces to ensure access for aid groups to the city, once the fighting moves there or for the aftermath.

Since the beginning of the Mosul operations, Iraqi authorities have been calling on residents in and around the city to stay in their homes throughout the fighting.

Given the amount of resistance that anti-IS forces are currently encountering in the battle for villages surrounding Mosul and the likelihood that IS will put up significant resistance inside the city, there is a strong possibility that the battle for Mosul will be long.

I have asked human rights colleagues in Erbil what the military's plan is for assisting the Yazidi population inside Mosul, in the context of the military operation. They said this is a conversation that has not yet happened.

Even for the Yazidi women and children who have already been freed during the Mosul battle, it is not clear that they will have access to the emergency assistance they need, including support for the trauma they have endured. Human Rights Watch's research showed that since the Yazidis were taken captive and since some have escaped, the camps that house these displaced people have failed to supply adequate counselling and mental health support.

The anti-IS fighting force and the aid agencies working in the region urgently need to come to a basic agreement on how to provide assistance to the civilians of Mosul who are following the government’s advice and staying home.  A clearer plan is needed including the provision of special healthcare services, such as post-rape care for the victims of sexual violence. All sides in the conflict need to ensure that essential humanitarian assistance can freely flow to those who need it during the fighting, and that civilians can safely find their way out of the war zones and get the help they need to deal with the hardships and trauma of the past two years.

Belkis Wille is a senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch who focuses on Iraq

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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Parliament event in London. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On 31 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.