Inspiring Thursday: Nadia Murad

Born in 1993, Nadia was a high school student when ISIS militants overran her village. She was one of an estimated 3,000 girls and women who were victims of rape and other abuses by the IS army.

The Yazidis are an ethnic minority in Iraq made up mostly by ethnic Kurds and isolated from the rest of the population. Their belief system is a mix of different religions, including Christianity, Islam and Zoroastrianism. Because of that, they are considered heretics by radical Islamists. For decades, Yazidis have been persecuted as infidels by Muslim rulers who demanded that they convert. For generations, Yazidis have suffered massacres and oppressions. The ISIS attack in 2014 was identified by the U.N. panel as a genocide that “sought to erase the Yazidis through killings, sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment”.

Nadia was captured by ISIS fighters and sold as a sex slave. Her mother and six of her brothers were executed. During her captivity, Nadia was repeatedly raped and subjected to other forms of sexual abuse and threatened with death if she did not convert to Islam.

Nadia eventually managed to escape by jumping over the garden wall of her captor´s house in Mosul and knocking on the door of a stranger´s house and asking for help. She risked being turned in to ISIS by the people she asked for help. However, she was lucky that the strangers she found in Mosul helped smuggle her to a refugee camp in Germany in 2015. Later that year, Nadia took the step of speaking about her trauma and became an activist for the Yazidi people, began to campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking and called the world to take a tougher line on rape as a weapon of war. In 2016, at age 23, Nadia was named the UN‘s first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.

Nadia Murad is a human rights activist of uncommon courage for speaking about her experience, as well as on behalf of other victims. She refused to accept the social codes that required women to remain silent and ashamed about the abuses to which they had been subjected. In her book “The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State”, she tells about speaking in front of an UN forum on minority issues in Switzerland. “It was the first time I would tell my story in front of a large audience. I wanted to talk about everything: the children who died of dehydration fleeing ISIS, the families still stranded on the mountain, the thousands of women and children who remained in captivity, and what my brothers saw at the site of the massacre. I was only one of hundreds of thousands of Yazidi victims. There was so much the world needed to hear about what was happening to Yazidis.”

As she told the UN Security Council in 2015, Nadia tried to escape by wearing an abaya, worn by devout Muslim women, and crawling out a window. She was caught by a guard, Hajii Salman. He whipped her and let her be gang raped until she passed out. This was considered legal under ISIS rule according to which Yazidis can be taken as slaves on religious grounds because they do not practice Islam. “They sold girls, girls that were underage, because ISIS considered that permissible under Islamic law. They came not just to attack certain people, but they came for all Yazidis”, Nadia said. “I would have to tell the audience about Hajji Salman and the times he raped me and all the abuse I witnessed. Deciding to be honest was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, and also the most important (..)I told about how I had been raped and beaten repeatedly and how I eventually escaped. I told about my brothers who had been killed. It never gets easier to tell your story. Each time you speak it, you relive it. When I tell someone about the checkpoint where the men raped me, or the feeling of Hajji Salman’s whip across the blanket as I lay under it, or the darkening Mosul sky while I searched the neighbourhood for some sign of help, I am transported back to those moments and all their terror. Other Yazidis are pulled back into these memories, too”.

She asks world leaders, in particular Muslim religious leaders, to stand up and protect the oppressed, to end the persecution of minorities and to work together to prove that genocidal campaigns will not only fail, but lead to accountability for the perpetrators and justice for the survivors. Nadia wants to be the last girl in the world with a story like hers.

Nadia Murad has won the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize by the Council of Europe in 2016 and called for an international court to judge crimes committed by IS in her speech in Strasbourg. She was awarded the Sakharov Prize, the Clinton Global Citizen Award and the Peace Prize from the United Nations Association of Spain.
Thanks to her courage and to her campaign together with Amal Clooney, in 2017 the Security Council established an Investigative Team to collect, preserve and store evidence of ISIS´ crimes in Iraq, including those committed against the Yazidis. The ISIS´ crimes have been recognized as “part of the ideology and strategic objectives of ISIS” and the establishment of the Investigative Team by the Security Council has been recognized as the first step to “holding ISIS members accountable”.

This October, she was awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. The committee called Murad “the witness who tells of the abuses perpetrated against herself and others”, and Mukwege “the helper who has devoted his life to defending victims of wartime sexual violence”.

Nadia Murad dedicated the award to her mother, the Yazidi genocide and the Iraqis. Her winning could represent a new hope for Yazidis to achieve justice and to push government to help in finding those missing and to rebuild their towns.

By Chiara Paganelli, WAVE Intern