The Ms. Q&A: Nobel Laureate Nadia Murad Fights for Justice for Yazidi People and for Survivors of Sexual Violence

The Ms. Q&A: Nobel Laureate Nadia Murad on Justice for Yazidi People and for Survivors of Sexual Violence
Iraqi Yazidi activists Nadia Murad (left) and Lamiya Aji Bashar (right) receive 2016 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. (European Parliament / Flickr)

Nadia Murad is a survivor. In 2014, when she was just 21 years old, ISIS militants carried out a genocide against her Yazidi community, a minority group of 500,000 people in Northern Iraq. During the genocide, ISIS killed her mother and six of her brothers and half-brothers. Nadia was kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery, along with 6,000 other Yazidi women and girls. She managed to escape and soon after began speaking out about human trafficking and sexual violence.

Today, she is working to bring ISIS to justice for their genocide against the Yazidi community and rebuild what ISIS destroyed in Iraq through her organization Nadia’s Initiative.

This interview with Nadia Murad was conducted by Ambassador Melanne Verveer, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security at Georgetown University (GIWPS). It originally appeared on GIWPS‘s Seeking Peace podcast.

Read the full episode transcript. Listen to the full episode below:

The Ms. Q&A: Nobel Laureate Nadia Murad on Justice for Yazidi People and for Survivors of Sexual Violence
Melanne Verveer. (World Bank / Flickr)

Melanne Verveer: You grew up in a Yazidi community in the Sinjar district of Iraq. Take our listeners back to your childhood. What was it like growing up in Sinjar? 

Nadia Murad:  I was born and raised in this small village of Kocho. It’s South of Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq. My family was large and close, as most families were in Kocho and in other villages in South Sinjar. We lived a simple life. We were farmers who worked the land. My mother, she was the head of our household—and I always looked up to her. She was strong and independent.  It was not a common thing in our community. She worked hard to support my family, my siblings. We were 11 siblings, so she worked hard to support us. And she is in large part why I am the person I am today. 

Verveer: On Aug. 3, 2014, something terrible happened. ISIS attacked the Mount Sinjar region, killing and kidnaping thousands of members of your community. You and your loved ones were directly affected by this terrible genocide. And fortunately, you managed to escape. Sometime later, you became United Nations goodwill ambassador for the dignity of survivors of human trafficking. What made you to decide to share your experience? 

Murad: When I decided to share my experience, it wasn’t easy. I did it because I wanted more than anything to seek justice for my community, family, for my mother. I wanted the world to know what happened to us and to help our community recover, and to take some steps to make sure that what happened would never happen again in Iraq or anywhere else in the world. I’m grateful that my words have reached so many people around the world. Before, not many people knew who the Yazidi were. And now they know what has happened and what has been done to my community. Unfortunately, like many vulnerable communities, once our story disappears or once they said ISIS was defeated. The world leaves us behind and my community continues to suffer. They still need help.

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Verveer: What is the status of the Yazidi community today? 

Murad: ISIS may have been defeated in Sinjar. But Yazidis, they continue to feel the effects of genocide.

Six years later, over half of the Yazidi community in Iraq is still displaced inside their own country. These people survived genocide and displacement, only to be left in camps without the support they need to return to their homelands and rebuild their lives.

Six years later, no efforts have been made by either the Iraqi government or the international community to rescue these women and children. They feel the world has forgotten them. Despite all of this, Yazidis are returning to Sinjar because the camps are not a solution. They are not sustainable. And Yazidis know they can not stay in that camp forever. 

Nadia Murad, at the Nobel Prize 2018, urges the world to protect Yazidis:

Verveer: You teamed up with Amal Clooney to bring justice to the Yazidi community. Tell us about your efforts to take ISIS to the International Criminal Court and what is happening in those efforts? 

Murad: As you know, I have been working with Amal Clooney for the past few years to hold ISIS accountable. I am lucky to call her a friend. Working with Amal and the member states at the U.N.—we were able to help create the UNITAD team, which is working to collect evidence of ISIS crimes. We are trying to build cases against ISIS perpetrators. Survivors of sexual violence and the Yazidi community would like to see ISIS held accountable in public court. We want to see countries try their foreign nationals.

Now, only a few of the European countries, including Germany, France and Netherlands, are holding their foreign nationals accountable. Many other states have refused to do so or have tried perpetrators as terrorists. 

Nadia Murad’s Speech at UN General Assembly opening session, Sept. 19, 2019

Verveer:  You have not stopped for a moment trying to help your people. Tell us about Nadia’s Initiative, the initiative that you have set up to continue to help your community.

Murad: Nadia’s initiative has been working in Sinjar for the past two years. Our primary focus is to rebuild what ISIS destroyed. We have rebuilt many schools and farms, health care centers, homes, water services and electricity. We also have projects that empower women, especially survivors, by providing them with tangible support. Something that is very much needed in the region is a new hospital. We are working on building a new hospital, with the support of the French government and the president Macron. We continue to advocate on behalf of the Yazidi community and survivors of sexual violence. We have worked with the French government to relocate the women and children. I also worked with Canada and Australia to relocate survivors and their families to those countries.

Verveer: It’s so inspiring to hear about what Nadia’s Initiative is doing to understand how critical your work is to continuing to help the community. It’s not possible to do this work, I know, without support. Our listeners are hearing you today and hearing how much need there is. How can they support Nadia’s initiative?

Murad: They can raise awareness on their platforms and they can do it in their communities—talk about the Yazidi case, because our struggle is not over. You can read more about what happened to my community in my book, The Last Girl. You can write to your government leaders and ask them to advocate for Yazidis—and support organizations who are working with Yazidis and survivors of sexual violence. 

Listen to other interviews with powerful women and their male allies on the Seeking Peace podcast.

Get caught up on the Ms. 16 Days of Activism collection.

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Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace & Security seeks to promote a more stable, peaceful and just world by focusing on the important role women play in preventing conflict and building peace, growing economies and addressing global threats like climate change and violent extremism. GIWPS engages in rigorous research, hosts global convenings, advances strategic partnerships and nurtures the next generation of leaders.