'I wished I was killed': Yazidi ISIS slave shares her harrowing story
CBC, July 25, 2016
August marks the second anniversary of a brutal chapter in the ongoing story of ISIS. In August 2014, fighters with the extremist group carried out a massacre in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq. Thousands were killed, thousands more girls and women were kidnapped as sex slaves, and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee.
'He raped me and used me for a couple of days.'
- Nadia Murad Basee Taha held captive by ISIS
Most of those affected were Yazidi. Nadia Murad Basee Taha is a young Yazidi woman who now lives in Germany. Her life took a horrific turn in 2014 when ISIS fighters arrived in her village. She shares her story of trauma and escape with The Current's host Laura Lynch.
"We were separated from our families and taken to Mosul. At that moment we knew we were being taken to be used for rape and to be sold."
Iraqi Yazidi Nadia Murad Basee Taha has been calling on Canada to help Yazidis with the immigration and asylum process. She says 'our people have been suffering for the past two years and they must be helped.'
Taha explains what she had to endure as a captive of ISIS, "He took me. He raped me and used me for a couple of days. This is what they would do. They would keep the girls for a day or two days a week then they would pass them to a different one."
' I wished they had killed us all.'
- Nadia Murad Basee Taha
Yazidis are an ethnic minority group in Iraq that practice an ancient religion. They are considered "devil worshippers" by supporters of ISIS and treated like property, exchanged as "gifts."
"I wished I was killed, or starved, or died on the mountain like the other Yazidis instead of being someone with no value to be used by the terrorists whatever way they wished to use us." Taha tells Lynch.
"I wished that when they killed our brothers, our mothers, I wished they had killed us all as well."
The United Nations has called the 2014 massacre a genocide. Taha spoke to the UN Security Council about her horrific time as a slave to ISIS.
"After I was freed I thought that the world would bring justice to us. That the world would be fair to us. But nothing has happened. We still have 3,000 people in captivity," Taha tells Lynch.
In Ottawa, advocates and Opposition MPs have asked the Canadian government to allow for the resettlement of five to 10,000 of the most vulnerable Yazidis. On July 19, Taha was in Ottawa and shared her story to a Parliamentary Committee studying how Canada's immigration system deals with particularly vulnerable groups like the Yazidis.
It's not known how many Yazidi refugees have been resettled in Canada since 2014 because the federal government does not track the race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity of refugees. But Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel claims that only nine cases have been processed.
Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.
This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson.
The Savagery of ISIS
By Douglas Murray, July 30, 2018
A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa, Iraq, June 29, 2014. (Stringer/Reuters)
“They took us to pits on the farm that were supposed to be our graves . . . They threw us down there in shifts. Every fifteen minutes they would lower down about a dozen men . . . and open fire on them. They arranged us into rows, telling us to line up next to each other so it would be easier for them to shoot us. My brother was in the first shift. My other brother was in the second shift. I was in the third. I knew everyone down there with me; they were my neighbours and friends.”
Up to this point, I imagine most readers will assume that the above passage is a quotation from a survivor of the Nazi atrocities. Only the end of this passage identifies that it is a more recent testimony that we are hearing.
“After they shouted Allahu Akbar, the sound of gunfire rang out, and once they had finished shooting us one by one, I was swimming in a pool of blood. They shot at us again, then a third time. I shut my eyes and prepared to die, as one must.”
“How long did you stay like that?”
“I was bleeding there for almost five hours.”
“Where were you shot?”
“In three different places. Once in my foot and twice in my hand.”
“And did everyone else die?”
“All except for one other man, Idrees, a childhood friend of mine. His feet were injured. I tried to drag him out of the pit with me but I couldn’t because half my body — the left side — was bleeding. I couldn’t lift him with just one hand. Idrees, I said to him, climb up on my bank, get on. But he couldn’t move. He was still alive but I wasn’t able to save him. I struggled to get out of the pit and walked away from the school. As I crossed the farm road, I heard the nonstop rattle of gunfire, and I dropped down onto the ground, which is where I stayed, hidden under the wheat and barley until the sun went down.”
The above is the account of a man called Khalid, a resident of the Nineveh plains who like many thousands of others tried to flee ISIS in August 2014 but was captured by them. His testimony is one of many collected in a remarkable new book by the poet and journalist Dunya Mikhail titled “The Beekeeper of Sinjar.”
Along with Cathy Otten’s “With Ash on Their Faces: Yezidi Women and the Islamic State” (2017), it is one of the most disturbing and important books I have recently read. Both are by women who have worked first-hand, with incredible commitment and determination, to ensure that some of the worst atrocities of our times are not forgotten. In a culture like ours, which is becoming expert at forgetting what happened the day before yesterday, they have also provided a clear testimony for years to come about the full horror of an episode that only happened four years ago.
Among much else, both books provide an insight into a mindset so alien to most citizens of stable modern states that they might be forgiven for thinking that it can be dismissed outright. Here’s an account in The Beekeeper of Sinjar of a Yazidi woman who was captured, sold at a slave market, and bought by an ISIS fighter in 2014.
Oh, Muslim, come, there’s a virgin in heaven. That’s the beginning of the song that Abu Nasir sang for me every night before he raped me. He would take some drugs and get high to that song. One time I asked him what the song meant, “You’re a Yazidi infidel. It’s not your fault, you were born like that. When you die, you’ll become a houri to entertain us, we Muslims,” he replied. “Doesn’t that mean you have to wait until we die to do what you’re doing to us, since we are still alive?” I asked. “I bought you, making you my property. This marriage duty is part of the jihad,” he said. Of course, I couldn’t speak my mind freely with him. The main motivation for these Daesh men was sexual: they would kill anyone in order to rape women. In the end they would kill themselves to meet their houris in heaven.
Plenty of people would find it difficult to make sense of this. But it is worth trying. At one stage in her book, Mikhail relates the story of a woman who had been captured and used by ISIS fighters. Along with another girl, she describes how their ISIS captors “married and divorced us eight times on the same day, and they made us wear porno outfits. We were too tired to resist. We didn’t say a word. Tears flowed down our cheeks.” She made her feelings felt to an ISIS man to whom she was later sold. As a punishment he burned her chest with an ember, telling her, “This is so you’ll remember me for your whole life.” Only a few pages later, we read of ISIS fighters at a checkpoint reproving a sick woman in a car for not having her head sufficiently covered.
Rape and modesty might seem an inherently unstable cocktail of beliefs, but it is one that ISIS practiced with considerable success earlier this decade. If it isn’t to come back in any of its forms — watered-down or otherwise — then as many people as possible should make themselves familiar with the creed that these men followed. For not only are the scars of their savagery far from healed. The embers are far from out.
For women raped during Bosnian War, still no end to pain 25 years later
April 9, 2018 (Mainichi Japan)
Amela Mectuseyac, right, speaks about support for women who were the victims of sexual assault during the Bosnian War in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on March 9, 2018. (Mainichi)
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- While nearly 20 years has passed since the end of the Bosnian War following the breakup of Yugoslavia, for the women who experienced traumatic violence and sexual assault in the name of "ethnic cleansing," the battle continues.
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In March 1992, the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, ushering in a civil war between Bosniaks and Croats versus the Serbs who were against the decision. While all three groups are Slavic, the Bosniaks are mainly Muslim, while the Serbs are Orthodox and the Croats Catholic. A peace agreement was reached in 1995, but the region was left with over 200,000 casualties and some 2.5 million refugees and evacuees.
Last year, the curtain closed on the International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991, set up in 1993 in The Hague, Netherlands, by the United Nations to try war crimes committed during the fighting in the region. The end to the tribunal can be seen on one hand as the end of one segment of the postwar process. However, the women there still carry the deep emotional wounds of their sexual assault a quarter of a century later.
It's April 1992, in the town of Visegrad in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina. The town with a population of over 60 percent Muslim Bosniaks is being overrun by a large number of Serbian soldiers. The militants steal any valuables from the households and kill any man who resists. The women are raped. This is the face of ethnic cleansing -- the thorough eradication of another ethnic group through violence.
The house of Amela Mectuseyac, now 45, was surrounded by some 20 Serb soldiers. Amela, her mother and younger sister were the only ones inside. Amela was struck in the head before being raped in front of her family. Afterwards, she and her sister were able to escape to the house of an acquaintance in a nearby town, but their mother who was left behind endured being raped innumerable times.
Bosniak women have come to be the target of sexual violence during conflicts, including World War II, but in the conservative nature of the local society, women who have been raped are divorced by their husbands and left with nowhere to go. Because of this, the women here have kept their suffering a tight-lipped secret.
"This is revenge against war criminals," said Amela's now 64-year-old mother Bakira Hasecic. In 2003, eight years after the peace agreement was signed, she started the very first civil group devoted to providing support for the women who had been raped during the conflict. Amela was also involved.
At first, only a few women came forward. They were labeled as "women who had been raped" and drew criticism from the public. Amela and the other women held lectures, and used local media appearances to convey the horrors of their experiences. Slowly, other victims started to gather. By 2006, a total of 2,707 women had come forward, and they requested that the government recognize rape as a war crime.
After the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina was divided into two constitutional and legal entities within the country, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, led by Bosniaks and Croats, and the Serb-led Republika Srpska (Serb Republic). The government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina recognized the violence against the women as war crimes, and came to provide them with roughly 500 convertible marks (about 33,000 yen) a month in subsidies.
But the women's testimonies have also made a difference in another way. With more and more stories being told by the women, the atrocities carried out by war criminals during the conflict have come under the spotlight. So far, the testimonies of roughly 6,250 women have been gathered, and used to prosecute the perpetrators of war crimes.
However, this had led to problems as well. The women who speak as witnesses in court have to relive the terror of their attack, and in many cases it exacerbates their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Psychological support for the women before and after their testimonies is imperative, but government support is not reaching them. On top of that, of the several dozen thousand estimated rape victims in the country, only about 800 are receiving government aid. That's because requesting the compensation automatically outs a woman as a victim publicly.
Adila Suljevic, 52, was held captive in her home in the northern city of Brcko in 1992 by Serb soldiers. At the time, she was four months pregnant, but while being transferred to other locations and raped over and over again, she miscarried. "Unfortunately, I was thinking of committing suicide. I was looking for a reason not to live anymore," she said, only recovering from her ordeal after over 10 years of psychiatric treatment.
Wanting to help other women like her, Adila started an NGO in 2015 to support women who had been the victims of sexual assault. Even now, she says that local women visit her residence practically every day to open up about what happened to them "for the first time."
"(The women) are basically suffering alone from the trauma that they had in the past. That's why I decided to open this association," Adila explained. "The main mission of the association is to empower women in different sectors, such as economically, to provide psychological help, to provide social healthcare."
For these women, the "war" still has no end.
(Japanese original by Koji Miki, Vienna Bureau)
This is part one of a four-part series.
Study: Nearly 10,000 Yazidis Killed, Kidnapped by Islamic State in 2014
May 09, 2017
At least 9,900 of Iraq's Yazidis were killed or kidnapped in just days in an Islamic State attack in 2014, according to the first study to document the number of Yazidis affected which could be used as evidence in any trial for genocide.
About 3,100 Yazidis were killed - with more than half shot, beheaded or burned alive - and about 6,800 kidnapped to become sex slaves or fighters, according to the report published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Medicine on Tuesday.
In August 2014, Islamic State militants launched an assault on the Yazidi religious community's heartland in Sinjar, northern Iraq, home to around 400,000 Yazidis.
"Until now, there has not been clarity on the numbers of Yazidis killed and captured by ISIS during the attack on Mount Sinjar," said lead researcher Valeria Cetorelli, a demographer from John Hopkins University and the London School of Economics and Political Science.
"What we wanted to do, in anticipation of a possible trial, is provide the best estimates that we can get of the people affected," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Thousands of captured men were killed in what a United Nations commission called a genocide against the Yazidis, a religious sect whose beliefs combine elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions. Islamic State considers them devil-worshippers.
Legal experts have said gathering evidence of the attacks is crucial since members of the Islamist militant group, also known as ISIL or ISIS, could go on trial for genocide in the future.
International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney last June said she aimed to prosecute the Islamist group through the International Criminal Court for their crimes against the Yazidi community.
U.N. investigators estimate more than 5,000 Yazidis have been rounded up and slaughtered and some 7,000 women and girls forced into sex slavery.
Cetorelli said she spent three months in 2015 interviewing a random sample of 1,300 surviving Yazidi families in Iraqi camps, and found at least 2.5 percent of the minority group were killed or enslaved.
"Our findings are really consistent with other evidence, for example, what is being found in mass graves or accounts from survivors, people who managed to escape captivity," Cetorelli said.
"So all this together can really help support a formal genocide investigation by either the International Criminal Court or another appointed judicial authority."
Iraqi forces are now fighting to retake the city of Mosul, the militants' last major stronghold in Iraq, where many Yazidis were held.
Yazidis in US Mark IS Genocide Anniversary
August 04, 2018, by Nisan Ahmado
Lilah Salih, a Yazidi woman from a village outside Sinjar in northern Iraq, resettled in the U.S. with her husband in 2017. She is pictured here working Yazidi children when she was in the Sharia refugee camp after the attack on Sinjar.
Hundreds of Yazidis living in the United States began commemorating Friday the massacre of their religious community in Iraq by the Islamic State group in August 2014.
While grateful to have escaped IS terror and reached safety in the U.S., the members say they are heartbroken that thousands of Yazidis remain under IS captivity and that those in refugee camps have not been able to return home.
Lilah Salih, a Yazidi woman from a village outside Sinjar in northern Iraq, resettled in the U.S. with her husband in 2017 after spending about three years in a refugee camp for displaced Yazidis in Iraqi Kurdistan.
"I feel safe here," Salih told VOA in her new home in Washington. "I am not discriminated against because of my religion; I am respected."
She said moving to the U.S. helped her start anew to recover from the trauma she suffered from the IS attack and the life in the refugee camps. She now studies at a nursing school and hopes to one day use her knowledge to help other Yazidi victims.
"I wish that all Yazidis would find peace and overcome this horrible experience we went through," she said.
Before the emergence of IS, Salih was working with the advocacy group Kurdistan Women Union, helping to prevent child marriage and promoting female education. But Salih's life changed forever when IS militants attacked Sinjar in August 2014 and massacred thousands of residents.
"When we heard about the IS attack on Sinjar, everyone tried to flee the village, but no one knew where to [go]. Thousands of people were on the roads; some were riding their vehicles, and others were on foot," she told VOA.
During the dangerous journey with her family to safety, Salih said unidentified militants shot at them several times.
"Everyone panicked and started running and screaming," she said, adding the terrified Yazidis headed toward the Syrian border to seek support from Kurdish fighters.
"Out of nowhere, an SUV appeared carrying five women from the Kurdish forces in Syria. The women started shooting in the direction of the unknown gunshots, and they guided us to the Kurdistan region," she said.
After escaping IS, Salih and her family were later transferred to safety at the Sharia refugee camp in Kurdistan's Duhok province.
Later accounts from the attack showed those who did not make it out of Sinjar were either killed or enslaved by IS.
According to the United Nations, out of an estimated 400,000 Yazidi civilians living in Sinjar, at least 10,000 were either killed or abducted during the attack. Over 6,400 Yazidis, mostly women and children, were enslaved by the group.
The jihadist group regarded Yazidis as "devil worshippers" who must either renounce their religious views or die.
The United States, United Nations, European Union, Canada and other entities maintain that the Islamic State's all-out assault against Yazidis amounted to genocide.
The U.N. agency has said the situation of the religious minority remains desperate and that the perpetrators have not been brought to justice four years after the massacre, despite having been driven out of most of Iraq and Syria.
"The ideology of [IS] can only be truly defeated if survivors receive justice and redress for the crimes they have suffered, and reconciliation can only occur if the missing are found," Pramila Patten, U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, said Friday.
Yazidi rights groups estimate 3,000 women and children remain missing, while thousands live under dire conditions in refugee camps.
Adlay Kejjan, head of Yazidis American Women, told VOA the camps lack basic needs such as food and water, and many displaced Yazidis are at risk of contracting infectious diseases.
"People are dying from simple things like dehydration, malnutrition and the absence of basic medical aid. No more attention is paid to the victims after IS is gone," she said.
For those who survived the IS brutal campaign and left refugee camps, life in the U.S. brings a fresh start and an opportunity to tell the world of the horrors their community endured.
Dawood Saleh, another Yazidi from Sinjar who has resettled in the U.S., said he hoped people would pay more attention to the plight of the Yazidis in refugee camps. He said Yazidis around the world should unite and advocate to protect their heritage and culture in the post-IS era.
"When IS launched its bloody campaign on Sinjar, we had to leave everything behind, and life as we knew it was shattered," Saleh told VOA.
Dawood Saleh, a Yazidi from Sinjar who has resettled in the U.S., is pictured in 2017. He has published a collection of poems in the U.S., depicting his traumatic experience during the Sinjar attack.
He has published a collection of poems in the U.S., depicting his traumatic experience during the Sinjar attack. He said his bond with the city and community would remain with him as he continued a new chapter in the diaspora.
"I miss my family every day. I think of the men, women and children who were kidnapped, and of their families who still don't know where they are," he told VOA.
Yazidi genocide survivors say ISIS supporters returning to northern Iraq
Locals say Baghdad is not ensuring the protection of survivors.
By Seth J. Frantzman, August 30, 2018
Yazidi activists accused Baghdad of allowing people who “took part in the 2014 genocide” to return to villages near Sinjar in northern Iraq. On Tuesday, video and photos were posted online showing a long line of trucks and cars waiting near a checkpoint to return to a village east of Sinjar Mountain.
“Yazidis concerned over return of families involved in Islamic State Shingal massacre,” tweeted one activist. “The return of these people will become a threat to the lives of people in Shingal, and bad things may happen which we do not accept.”
In August 2014, Islamic State attacked the area around Sinjar mountain where hundreds of thousands of Yazidis, members of a religious minority, live. ISIS captured more than 10,000 people and systematically separated women and men, murdering the men and selling women and children into slavery. The horrific crime has been called genocide by international organizations. More than 3,000 Yazidi women and children are still missing.
Since Sinjar was liberated in 2015, many Yazidis have not returned due to an unstable security situation and changing control of the area from Kurdish Peshmerga to Iraqi federal forces. However, since Iraq’s federal government and Shi’ite militias took control in October 2017, some Arab families who fled the area have returned. The Shi’ite militias are called Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU).
Local Yazidis accuse some of the local Arab tribes of having supported ISIS and think that the government hasn’t screened the returnees. They are also angry that Yazidis have not been given infrastructure in Sinjar and security, even though these other groups displaced by the fighters are able to return.
The recent statements came after Amy Beam, a human rights advocate for Yazidi survivors of the 2014 genocide, posted a video on Facebook Tuesday showing more than 35 cars and trucks waiting at a checkpoint on a road that leads from Tal Afar to Snune in northern Iraq.
“Video of Sunni Arabs returning August 28 to Gholat village on the east end of Shingal mountain,” she wrote on Facebook. “Residents of Gholat are accused by Ezidi [Yazidi] neighbors of participation with ISIS to attack them August 3, 2014.” She says that she is hoping for “peace and justice” and would try to speak with some of the returnees. “Shia and Sunni Arabs also suffered from Daesh and lost their family members and houses. How will the innocent Arabs be separated from the guilty Daesh,” she wrote.
YAZIDIS EXPRESSED concern when they heard of the return. One man noted in reaction to the video that he had also passed the same convoy of vehicles. “They were waiting for their names to be checked on the security forces’ computer.”
But others wondered why the US and UN were not doing more to revive life in Sinjar. Dawood Saleh, author of a memoir on the genocide called Walking Alone, said that the government was allowing these residents to return to land “taken from Yazidis in the time of Saddam Hussein’s regime.”
Under Saddam, many Yazidis say their villages were forcibly collectivized, Sunni Arab tribes settling from Sinjar to Mosul as a way for Saddam to cement his control of northern Iraq. “For more than 4 years... Yazidis fled their homes to refugee camps and yet no one helps them to clear their homes from bombs or return them back safely,” Saleh wrote.
ISIS destroyed many Yazidi villages in 2014 and laced them with mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) during its occupation of the area. This makes it difficult for Yazidis to return, whereas ISIS did not carry out the same systematic destruction of Arab villages.
The concern in Sinjar is that the government is not checking the returnees sufficiently. Nasir Pasha Khalaf, a member of the Yazidi community, says that many Yazidis who live in Sinjar were prevented from carrying weapons for self-defense after the Iraqi government and Shia militias arrived last year. He says that measures like this and the road closure from Sinjar – and Dohuk, where many Yazidi IDPs live – have prevented his own people from returning.
“We ask the United Nations, the US and the Government of Iraq and people of conscience all over the globe to not allow criminals to return to their places of residence while victims are being tortured under the tents of the displacement.”
In the last seven months, the area of Sinjar has been rocked by many controversies. Visitors say that there are more than 30 checkpoints to get from Mosul or Dohuk to Sinjar, which makes it difficult for people to travel. There is also a network of different militias controlling the checkpoints.
In recent weeks the PMU said it wants to reorganized the control of Sinjar into a new command and withdraw some of its forces. However, Iraq still lacks a new government three months after elections and areas around Mosul and Sinjar have become part of political negotiations between the parties that back the PMU, the Prime Minister’s office and the Kurdish parties. The PMU’s allowing of some Sunni Arabs to return may be in the context of getting a coalition agreement with Sunni political parties.
Only three Yazidis – despite numbering around 500,000 in Iraq – were elected to parliament this year, and their concerns are often ignored or subverted to the political whims of the larger parties.
Beam says many Yazidis now feel a lack of hope and express interest in moving abroad. However, a recent report from Germany says that Yazidis who escaped there are being denied asylum and risk being sent back to Iraq where they can’t return to their homes.
I was an Isis sex slave. I tell my story because it is the best weapon I have
Nobel peace prize winner Nadia Murad describes her extraordinary journey from suffering at the hands of Islamic State to human rights campaigner
6 Oct 2018
Nadia Murad: ‘Deciding to be honest was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, and also the most important.’ Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images
The slave market opened at night. We could hear the commotion downstairs where militants were registering and organising, and when the first man entered the room, all the girls started screaming. It was like the scene of an explosion. We moaned as though wounded, doubling over and vomiting on the floor, but none of it stopped the militants. They paced around the room, staring at us, while we screamed and begged. They gravitated toward the most beautiful girls first, asking, “How old are you?” and examining their hair and mouths. “They are virgins, right?” they asked a guard, who nodded and said, “Of course!” like a shopkeeper taking pride in his product. Now the militants touched us anywhere they wanted, running their hands over our breasts and our legs, as if we were animals.
It was chaos while the militants paced the room, scanning girls and asking questions in Arabic or the Turkmen language.
Nadia Murad carries the fight for traumatised Yazidis
“Calm down!” militants kept shouting at us. “Be quiet!” But their orders only made us scream louder. If it was inevitable that a militant would take me, I wouldn’t make it easy for him. I howled and screamed, slapping away hands that reached out to grope me. Other girls were doing the same, curling their bodies into balls on the floor or throwing themselves across their sisters and friends to try to protect them.
While I lay there, another militant stopped in front of us. He was a high-ranking militant named Salwan who had come with another girl, another young Yazidi from Hardan, who he planned to drop off at the house while he shopped for her replacement. “Stand up,” he said. When I didn’t, he kicked me. “You! The girl with the pink jacket! I said, stand up!”
His eyes were sunk deep into the flesh of his wide face, which seemed to be nearly entirely covered in hair. He didn’t look like a man – he looked like a monster.
Attacking Sinjar [in northern Iraq] and taking girls to use as sex slaves wasn’t a spontaneous decision made on the battlefield by a greedy soldier. Islamic State planned it all: how they would come into our homes, what made a girl more or less valuable, which militants deserved a sabaya [sex slave] as incentive and which should pay. They even discussed sabaya in their glossy propaganda magazine, Dabiq, in an attempt to draw new recruits. But Isis is not as original as its members think it is. Rape has been used throughout history as a weapon of war. I never thought I would have something in common with women in Rwanda – before all this, I didn’t know that a country called Rwanda existed – and now I am linked to them in the worst possible way, as a victim of a war crime that is so hard to talk about that no one in the world was prosecuted for committing it until just 16 years before Isis came to Sinjar.
On the lower floor, a militant was registering the transactions in a book, writing down our names and the names of the militants who took us. I thought about being taken by Salwan, how strong he looked and how easily he could crush me with his bare hands. No matter what he did, and no matter how much I resisted, I would never be able to fight him off. He smelled of rotten eggs and cologne.
Nobel peace prize goes to campaigners against sexual violence
I was looking at the floor, at the feet and ankles of the militants and girls who walked by me. In the crowd, I saw a pair of men’s sandals and ankles that were skinny, almost womanly, and before I could think about what I was doing, I flung myself toward those feet. I started begging. “Please, take me with you,” I said. “Do whatever you want, I just can’t go with this giant.” I don’t know why the thin guy agreed, but taking one look at me, he turned to Salwan and said, “She’s mine.” Salwan didn’t argue. The skinny man was a judge in Mosul, and no one disobeyed him. I followed the thin man to the desk. “What’s your name?” he asked me. He spoke in a soft but unkind voice. “Nadia,” I said, and he turned to the registrar. The man seemed to recognise the militant right away and began recording our information. He said our names as he wrote them down – “Nadia, Hajji Salman” – and when he spoke the name of my captor, I thought I heard his voice waver a bit, as if he were scared, and I wondered if I had made a huge mistake.
Nadia Murad eventually escaped her Isis captors. She was smuggled out of Iraq and in early 2015 went as a refugee to Germany. Later that year she began to campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking.
In November 2015, a year and three months after Isis came to [my home town] Kocho, I left Germany for Switzerland to speak to a UN forum on minority issues. 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. My community was scattered, living as refugees inside and outside of Iraq, and Kocho was still occupied by Isis. There was so much the world needed to hear about what was happening to Yazidis.
I wanted to tell them that so much more needed to be done. We needed to establish a safe zone for religious minorities in Iraq; to prosecute Isis – from the leaders down to the citizens who had supported their atrocities – for genocide and crimes against humanity; and to liberate all of Sinjar. 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.
Nobel peace prize joint winner Nadia Murad's powerful 2016 speech to the UN – video
I shook as I read my speech. As calmly as I could, I talked about how Kocho had been taken over and girls like me had been taken as sabaya. I told them about how I had been raped and beaten repeatedly and how I eventually escaped. I told them 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.
My story, told honestly and matter-of-factly, is the best weapon I have against terrorism, and I plan on using it until those terrorists are put on trial. There is still so much that needs to be done. World leaders and particularly Muslim religious leaders need to stand up and protect the oppressed.
I gave my brief address. When I finished telling my story, I continued to talk. I told them I wasn’t raised to give speeches. I told them that every Yazidi wants Isis prosecuted for genocide, and that it was in their power to help protect vulnerable people all over the world. I told them that I wanted to look the men who raped me in the eye and see them brought to justice. More than anything else, I said, I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.
• Nadia Murad was abducted with other Yazidi women in August 2014 when their home village of Kocho in Sinjar, northern Iraq, was attacked by Isis. Captured alongside her sisters, she lost six brothers and her mother. She was awarded the 2018 Nobel peace prize jointly with Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege. This is an extract from her autobiography, The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State, published by Virago
Sexual violence is a widespread weapon of war – it's time international law caught up
The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to two campaigners against gender-based violence in wartime – but international treaties are still yet to prohibit it in a way that is legally binding
Nov 9, 2018
The decision to award the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize to Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege – two campaigners against sexual violence in war – has rightly been hailed as a much-needed signal that the international community recognises the severity of this problem in an increasingly conflict-ridden world.
Violence against women has been a topic engaging feminist legal scholars and international lawyers for a long time. A sustained feminist advocacy emerged around widespread reports of sexual violence experienced by women during the armed conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the early 1990s.
This culminated in the creation of the International Criminal Court in 2002, whose statute enables the prosecution of a range of sexual harms.
So giving this prestigious prize to two frontline human rights activists does highlight the growing global recognition of the widespread and endemic sexual harms women suffer during wartime. But despite this welcome recognition – and the widespread reporting of sexual violence incidents in conflict – the international legal system lacks a binding convention on the prohibition of violence against women. There is therefore a gap between symbolism and legal reality.
Murad was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy work in relation to her experience as a Yazidi-Kurdish woman who had survived sexual violence and assaults – including numerous rapes and prolonged sexual enslavement at the hands of Isis in northern Iraq in 2014. In 2016 she became UN goodwill ambassador for the dignity of survivors of human trafficking, using her appointment to raise awareness of the trafficking of women before the United Nations Security Council.
In 2017 she published her memoir, The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State, in which she recounts her ordeal at the hands of Isis and advocates for the prosecution of Isis fighters before the International Criminal Court. She has also continually reiterated the idea that rape and sexual slavery need to be conceptualised as weapons of war and treated as such by international criminal law.
In a recent interview she said: “Rape has been used throughout history as a weapon of war. I never thought I would have something in common with women in Rwanda – before all this, I didn’t know that a country called Rwanda existed – and now I am linked to them in the worst possible way, as a victim of a war crime that is so hard to talk about that no one in the world was prosecuted for committing it until just 16 years before Isis came to Sinjar.”
Mukwege gained worldwide acclaim for his work as a surgeon, gynaecologist and women’s rights activist. He founded the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1999 as a clinic specialising in gynaecological and obstetric care, performing complex surgeries on women who had been raped and suffered vicious sexual assault during armed conflict in the DRC from 2003 to 2016.
Having treated 40,000 survivors of sexual violence, he is today considered one of the world’s leading experts on “repairing” the internal physical damage caused by gang rape. In addition to restorative surgery, the hospital also provides psychological support for victims and offers a one-stop hospital for rape survivors, as well as providing financial support for the women affected in order to enable them to reintegrate into society.
Both activists have brought to the world’s attention the gendered nature of armed conflict and have shone a light on a pervasive phenomenon of modern wars. This has also been one of the central concerns of the UN Security Council, which has passed eight resolutions on its Women, Peace and Security agenda since 2000.
Time for action
But despite the powerful symbolic victory of the Nobel Peace Prize, the reality on the ground remains that a binding convention on the prohibition of gender-based violence in all its forms is still lacking. The 1979 Women’s Convention (CEDAW), often heralded as the most significant treaty for the elimination of discrimination against women, does not contain a specific prohibition against gender-based violence.
Neither does the 1992 CEDAW Committee Declaration No 19 – a landmark declaration defining gender-based violence, which is symbolic rather than binding in nature. The UN resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, such as UN Resolution 1325 – which calls on all state actors and those involved in post-conflict reconstruction efforts to incorporate a gender-based perspective into the transitional peace process and emphasises the full and equal participation of women in all peace-related efforts – have not led to the securing of a binding resolution on the prohibition of gender-based violence.
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There remains a persistent moral gap between rhetoric and practice when it comes to addressing gender-based violence. What is lacking is a clear political will to implement a multilateral convention that would impose obligations on state parties. As former UN special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Rashida Manjoo told me when I interviewed her in 2015: “One of the challenges is that, whereas the rhetoric is that violence against women is a human rights violation, the reality is that there is an absence of responding to that in a deeper way that demands a different response. So when the rhetoric is that it is a human rights violation, and we do not acknowledge that it is pervasive, that it is systemic and that it has numerous structural causes, including socioeconomic causes, then actions must reflect this reality.”
This is especially important in light of the fact that gender-based violence almost always exists on a continuum of violence. Frequently, there is a link between the prolonged incidents of domestic violence in peacetime and the levels of sexual violence seen in armed conflict. This has been seen time and time again, in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, as well as in the DRC.
The recent recognition of the advocacy efforts of the two Nobel laureates therefore serves as a vital reminder that the actual work of drafting and putting into effect a binding convention for the prohibition of violence against women is an urgent priority, which can no longer go unaddressed by the international community.