Nadia Murad: Nobel Peace Prize-winning sex slavery survivor who took on Isis

The 25-year-old has used her ordeal to plead with the UN and world leaders for justice for Yazidi women captives 

Jane Dalton
Monday 10 December 2018 10:21
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Nobel Peace Prize 2018: Winners announced as Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad

Nadia Murad never had any ambitions to become a global rights campaigner, nor to work with Amal Clooney, let alone win a Nobel prize.

But, growing up, she was not to know how her life would be terrifyingly turned upside down in 2014, as Isis terrorists would take her and other Yazidi women and imprison them as sex slaves.

Four years ago, when she was 21, she lived with her mother, her brothers, their wives and children in Kocho, northern Iraq. She worked on a farm and went to school, where she had just passed the eleventh grade.

And then Isis fighters arrived.

Murad and other young women were put on a bus, where the Isis members began groping the women – just the start of a traumatic ordeal that continued as she was offered up at a slave market, and dragged off by the first of her tormentors.

Pressured to convert to Islam, she and others were imprisoned and raped.

Describing her experience later on a visit to London, she said: “For us, the Yazidis, they killed the men and took the women and children.

“They were committing all kinds: murder, rape and displacing people by force in the name of Islam.

“Many people may think my story is difficult, but many more had more difficult than mine.

“They killed six of my brothers, but there are families that have lost 10 brothers.”

An escape attempt failed, and Murad was gang-raped as punishment.

But on a second attempt, she eventually fled via an unlocked door and walked swiftly through the darkening streets of Mosul, her face covered by a long veil. She banged on the door of a house to beg for help.

The family inside let her in and eventually smuggled her out of Isis territory, passing her off as the wife of one of the men. As they went through the last checkpoint, she spotted her photo on a flier showing wanted escapees.

But she made it to a refugee camp and was accepted as a refugee to Germany in 2015.

The Isis leadership had created a self-styled “religious” rationale to justify the sexual abuse of Yazidi women, and girls as young as nine.

Murad then embarked on a mission to speak out against the crimes inflicted on her community.

She has visited refugee camps, given evidence before the United Nations and addressed heads of state, describing her own ordeal to reinforce how genocide and slavery are still used as tools by Isis.

She and Clooney addressed the UN together, reminding members that no Isis members had been prosecuted for crimes against the Yazidis. They argued Isis should be brought before an international court and prosecuted for genocide.

She became the first UN goodwill ambassador for survivors of trafficking in 2016, pressing her concerns about thousands of Yazidi women and girls held in camps.

In October 2016 Murad was jointly awarded the Sakharov Prize, the most prestigious human-rights prize in Europe.

For her pains, she has received threats from Isis, and has heard that fighters want to recapture her.

The following year she produced her memoir, The Last Girl.

The 25-year-old now lives with her sister in Stuttgart, and travels around Europe to raise awareness of Isis brutality.

She has said: “It is a dangerous thing to speak against them publicly, but when you see the enormity of what they have done, of their crimes, what type of tragedy they have caused... If it’s going to take my life alone to save the lives of millions of people and to expose the crimes they have committed, that’s fine.”

But she also has a private ambition – to become a makeup artist and hairdresser, even opening her own salon – a haven for women.

Murad hopes that one day she will “look the men who raped me in the eye and see them brought to justice” and will be “the last girl with a story like mine”.

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