United Nations: Two Yazidi women activists who escaped the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq won the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov human rights prize on Thursday, European sources told AFP.
The prize will be awarded to Nadia Murad and Lamia Haji Bashar during a midday session of the assembly in Strasbourg, France, the sources said shortly before the official announcement.
Icons in their own right
The women have become figureheads for the effort to protect the Yazidi community after having survived a nightmare captivity at the hands of the jihadists.
Exiled Turkish journalist Can Dundar and Crimean Tatar activist Mustafa Dzhemilev were also shortlisted for prestigious award.
Named after dissident Soviet scientist Andrei Sakharov, who died in 1989, the prize is awarded every year to honour individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression, often falling foul of their governments as a result.
Last year, the European Parliament awarded the prize to Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, jailed for “insulting” Islam.
Faces of Yazidis didn’t have it easy
Ms. Murad and Ms. Haji Bashar endured a months-long nightmare as sex slaves of the IS before becoming the faces of a campaign to protect their Yazidi people from a genocidal threat.
Ms. Murad, a slight, softly spoken young woman, was taken by the IS from her home village of Kocho near Iraq’s northern town of Sinjar in August 2014 and brought to the city of Mosul.
As a captive of the reviled extremist group, Ms. Murad, who today is 23, said she was tortured and raped.
Converted to Islam
The IS made her disavow her Yazidi faith, an ancient religion with more than half-a-million adherents concentrated near the Syrian border in northern Iraq.
“The first thing they did was they forced us to covert to Islam,” Ms. Murad told AFP in an interview earlier this year at the United Nations in Geneva, through an Arabic translator.
In a December speech at the U.N. Security Council in New York, Ms. Murad recounted her so-called “marriage” to one IS captor. He mocked her, beat her and then ordered her to wear makeup and revealing clothes, she told the council.
“I was not able to take any more rape and torture,” she said, explaining why she decided to flee.
Ms. Bashar is also from Kocho and was just 16 when she was taken.
“This is a remarkably strong woman who endured things I wouldn’t wish on anyone,” a psychologist who helped arrange for her to receive treatment in Germany, Jan Kizilhan, told AFP. “Many of her close acquaintances and relatives were killed by the IS before her eyes before she was captured, enslaved, sold several times and repeatedly raped along with other Yazidi girls.”
She tried to break free of her captors several times during her 20 months in captivity before finally succeeding.
But even after her escape, Ms. Bashar fell into the hands of an Iraqi hospital director in the town of Hawjiah who also abused and raped her and several other victims. She finally made it out with two friends. But en route to the city of Kirkuk, one trod on a landmine, killing her instantly, said Mirza Dinnayi, founder of the German-Iraqi aid group Air Bridge Iraq.
Mr. Dinnayi has been looking after Ms. Bashar since her arrival in Germany in April. BMs. ashar escaped with her life but suffered horrific burns to her face from the blast, losing her right eye.
‘Genocide must be recognised’
On the run in Mosul — IS’s last remaining stronghold in Iraq — Ms. Murad said she was terrified that no one would take her in. But she ultimately found shelter with a Muslim family in the city.
“They made me an Islamic ID,” which she used to cross the border into Iraqi Kurdistan, she told AFP.
In some respects, Ms. Murad’s life lay in ruins after her harrowing escape.
The 2014 massacre perpetrated against the Yazidis by IS fighters in Sinjar forced tens of thousands to flee and left an already vulnerable community under perilous threat.
United Nations investigators have said the IS assault on the Yazidis was a premeditated effort to exterminate an entire community — crimes that amount to genocide.
She lost her family
Ms. Murad said she lost six brothers and her mother in the Sinjar assault.
While living in a displaced persons’ camp in Kurdistan, Ms. Murad contacted the Yazidi welfare organisation Yazda, which helped her move to Germany to live with her sister.
In speeches and interviews, Ms. Murad has voiced deep frustration with the international community for abandoning her people in the hands of grotesquely violent criminals.
World powers failed to “rescue us from this genocide,” she told AFP after addressing a Human Rights Council side event in June.
“For you to regain the trust of the Yazidis will take a lot of work,” she said at the event. She has become a Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N.’s office on drugs and crime, working for victims of human trafficking.
Wants to become a teacher
Ms. Bashar, for her part, is living with her sister in southern Germany and working towards recovery from her debilitating injuries. She is now able to walk again independently, Mr. Dinnayi said.
She dreams of becoming an elementary school teacher and staying in Germany.
“She is a very lively, funny person with a lot of friends,” Mr. Kizilhan said. “She did not lose her courage and is fighting to survive.”