The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) started an offensive in early August 2014, massacring thousands of Yazidi men in Iraq’s Sinjar region. Many analysts say through that Sinjar massacre the infamous ISIL essentially pursued a tactics to push most of the Kurds out of strategic Yazidi areas and bring in Arabs, obedient to ISIL. Since June 29, 2014 declaration of ISIL as a caliphate in areas of Syria and Iraq, it took control of significant territories in northern Iraq. The following events were unfolded centring the ISIL-led genocidal killings of minority Yazidi community members, rapes and tortures of Yazidi women and later retreat of the notorious ISIL forces with Iraq-Syria turning into a multi-country war theatre – these all are history now.
Born in 1993 in a poor family in northern Iraq, Nadia Murad belongs to the Yazidi community, a religious minority linked to ancient Mesopotamian beliefs. Yazidis are ethnically Kurdish (though there are different views on this among some Yazidis) and have been subject to persecution over the years, even during the time of fallen Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Nadia Murad, a victim of war crimes who has gone through horrific tortures and sexual assaults at the hands ISIL men, refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed of the abuses to which they have been subjected. She has shown uncommon courage in recounting her own sufferings and speaking up on behalf of other victims.
Last week Nadia Murad was recognised for her bravery and fight for a cause, with the Norwegian Nobel Committee deciding to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 to her along with Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege. They were honoured for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. Both laureates have made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and combating, such war crimes. Denis Mukwege is the helper who has devoted his life to defending these victims. Nadia Murad is the witness who tells of the abuses perpetrated against herself and others. Each of them in their own way has helped to give greater visibility to war-time sexual violence, so that the perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions.
In August 2014, so-called jihadists belonging to ISIL, otherwise also known as ISIS, attacked Sinjar, the largest Yazidi town, which was defended by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. When the Peshmerga withdrew, the Yazidis were at the mercy of jihadists who told them they would have to convert to Islam to save their lives. During 12 days, a mullah tried in vain to convince them to convert; most Yazidis refused. That is when the horror took place: the village inhabitants were summoned, and women, girls, and children were separated from men. Nasia Murad saw six of her brothers shot dead or decapitated. Two thousand (in some counts it is 4,000) Yazidi men were killed in the massacre.
Nadia Murad was abducted, taken to Mosul, and sexually enslaved. For months, she was beaten and was made subject to sexual abuses on a daily basis. Eventually, Nadia Murad managed to escape and took refuge in a neighboring house. There, an Iraqi Sunni family helped smuggle her to the Kurdistan border. As a refugee living in a camp, Nadia Murad contacted a Yazidi refugee aid organization and was resettled in Germany. Her story attracted international law and human rights attorney Amal Clooney’s attention. Clooney has represented her ever since.
In Nadia Murad’s village, several hundred people were massacred. The younger women, including underage children, were abducted and held as sex slaves. While a captive of the ISIL, Nadia Murad was repeatedly subjected to rape and other abuses. Her assaulters threatened to execute her if she did not convert to their hateful, inhuman version of Islam.
Nadia Murad is just one of an estimated 3 000 Yazidi girls and women who were victims of rape and other abuses by the ISIL men. The abuses were systematic, and part of a military strategy. Thus they served as a weapon in the fight against Yazidis and other religious minorities. After a three-month nightmare Nadia Murad managed to flee. Following her escape, she chose to speak openly about what she had suffered. In 2016, at the age of just 23, she was named the UN’s first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.
On the other hand this year’s co-recipient of Nobel Peace Prize, Congolese physician Denis Mukwege has spent large parts of his adult life helping the victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since the Panzi Hospital was established in Bukavu in 1999, Dr. Mukwege and his staff have treated thousands of patients who have fallen victim to such assaults. Most of the abuses have been committed in the context of a long-lasting civil war that has cost the lives of more than six million Congolese.
Denis Mukwege is the foremost, most unifying symbol, both nationally and internationally, of the struggle to end sexual violence in war and armed conflicts. His basic principle is that “justice is everyone’s business”. Men and women, officers and soldiers, and local, national and international authorities alike all have a shared responsibility for reporting, and combating, this type of war crime. The importance of Dr. Mukwege’s enduring, dedicated and selfless efforts in this field cannot be overstated, said the Nobel Committee. He has repeatedly condemned impunity for mass rape and criticised the Congolese government and other countries for not doing enough to stop the use of sexual violence against women as a strategy and weapon of war.
The year 2018 marks a decade since the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1820 (2008), which determined that the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict constitutes both a war crime and a threat to international peace and security. This is also set out in the Rome Statute of 1998, which governs the work of the International Criminal Court. The Statute establishes that sexual violence in war and armed conflict is a grave violation of international law. A more peaceful world can only be achieved if women and their fundamental rights and security are recognised and protected in war.
This year’s Nobel Peace Prize is firmly embedded in the criteria spelled out in Alfred Nobel’s will. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad have both put their personal security at risk by courageously combating war crimes and seeking justice for the victims. They have thereby promoted the fraternity of nations through the application of principles of international law.
(Acknowledgement: This writer substantially borrowed information for this article from the Nobel Prize’s official site)