Award for Yazidi sex slave underlines stakes in war on ISIS
BRUSSELS - A human rights award for a Yazidi woman who was raped and tortured by members of the Islamic State (ISIS) focuses much-needed attention on tragedies inflicted by the brutal extremist group on the region and on one of Iraq’s oldest minority communities.
The Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize given to Iraqi activist Nadia Murad is a reminder of how much is at stake in the fight against ISIS. A complex US-backed offensive to dislodge the group from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, is expected within weeks. Losing control of Mosul would likely spell the defeat of ISIS in Iraq.
But for Murad and other members of the 700,000-person Yazidi community, an ethnic and religious minority concentrated in northern Iraq in and around Sinjar, the horror is ever present.
Murad, who was captured and taken to Mosul by ISIS fighters, was among 5,000 Yazidi women abducted to serve as sex slaves as the group swept through Iraq. Nearly 4,000 Yazidi women and girls remain in captivity. Murad is calling for the establishment of an international court to judge crimes committed by ISIS fighters.
The $66,000 Havel prize given annually by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for outstanding civil society action in defence of human rights, recognised Murad’s courage, dignity and determination.
The Yazidis’ plight came to the world’s attention in August 2014 when militants rounded up thousands of people. Men and boys over the age of 12 were separated from the others and killed if they refused to convert to Islam. Six of Murad’s brothers were among the thousands of Yazidi men and boys slaughtered by the group.
Women like Murad, who was 21 when she was enslaved, were forced to convert as well as to watch their relatives being shot. According to UN human rights investigators, Yazidi girls as young as 9 years old were treated as “spoils of war”, handed around as “gifts” and sold in slave auctions.
Murad escaped to Germany, becoming a human rights activist and the face of a campaign to protect her people and other groups that Murad says ISIS is prosecuting.
The Havel prize symbolically brings attention to the agony of women such as Murad, who escaped enslavement and rape by the militants, but who received little or no help to rebuild their lives. Amnesty International said several of those who were able to escape killed themselves or attempted suicide.