Award for Yazidi sex slave underlines stakes in war on ISIS

Sunday 16/10/2016
Nadia Murad

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.