Nadia Murad is a Yazidi woman that has been the victim of the brutal atrocities carried out by Daesh. Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea asks what better way to highlight her and her people’s plight, than awarding her the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea MEP (ALDE) is vice-chair of the European Parliament subcommittee on Human Rights.
I first met Nadia last February at the European Parliament when she took part in a hearing on crimes against humanity perpetrated by Daesh in the Middle East. I was privileged to speak at length with her, via her Kurmanji interpreter.
The 19-year-old is extremely slight. Her pained face sporadically lit up on showing me photos of how she and the girls of her town were before the murderers of the Caliphate arrived in Kocho in the summer of 2014. She was going to finish secondary school and wanted to go on to study history at university. Her sole concern now is to ensure that justice is done, return to her homeland and bury her dead loved ones.
Nadia is a survivor of the genocide that Daesh has been perpetrating against the Yazidi minority in Iraq for more than two years, when these jihadists, inflamed by the conquest of Mosul, launched a fierce offensive to expand their territory into the mountains which for centuries had been home to the Yazidis. In August 2014, Daesh stormed their villages on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, killing hundreds of men and abducting some 6,000 women and children.
The Daesh extremists deeply despise the Yazidis for their religion. According to Daesh’s insane worldview, not only are they infidels for not following its version of Islam, but also “devil worshipers”. Daesh sees Yazidi women and girls literally as objects. They kill their husbands, sons and brothers before their very eyes. Older women who are no longer considered to have sexual value are also murdered.
Daesh strips them of everything they own and takes every ounce of their dignity and humanity. They are then given an ultimatum to convert to the one true religion. They are then taken as wives, even the youngest, tiny girls of seven, eight or nine years old. They are continually bought and sold for the equivalent of 10, 15 or 20 dollars, swapped for mobile phones or given away as presents.
They are raped incessantly, individually or in groups of up to 20 (rape has always been a weapon of war that destroys women and crushes their people), subjected to every conceivable humiliation and kept in a constant state of hunger and thirst. They are kept as multipurpose slaves (forced to do tasks ranging from cooking and cleaning to make suicide vests) and if caught trying to escape they can expect the most unspeakable punishment.
Many of you might still be asking who the Yazidis actually are.
The Yazidi religion, an ancient faith that survives in parts of Iraq, Syria and Turkey, maintains certain pre-Islamic and Zoroastrian elements and practices. As Islamic law does not recognise Yazidis as “people of the Book” they have been the victims of violent persecution for centuries, although they have managed to survive in mountainous areas. The recent political pressure in Turkey has practically pushed them out of that country and the savage genocide initiated in 2014 by Daesh is imperilling their survival in Iraq.
Daesh has perpetrated countless atrocities in the name of a false form of Islam that discredits and condemns them out of hand. But we need to bear in mind at all times that what we are fighting and what Daesh stands for is terrorism, fanaticism and intolerance, something completely at odds with the shared values of democracy, freedom, solidarity and respect for human rights that we advocate. This is not, and never has been, a war against Islam; it is a war against murderous totalitarian fanatics. There are no excuses.
3,400 women and girls continue to be held in slavery by these jihadist terrorists. The close to 1,600 who were able to escape are living in appalling conditions in refugee camps in Kurdish areas of Iraq. Barely a thousand of them have managed to reach Europe, specifically Germany, where the government is running a special reception, asylum and integration programme.
It has to be asked: if Germany has realised what is at stake and has been able to take effective measures to protect them, providing asylum, shelter, financial aid and medical and psychological assistance, why can’t the other European countries contribute towards doing what is right?
We at the European institutions often complain about our limited scope for action. But we undoubtedly have a few enormously powerful tools at our disposal with which to alert the political, media and social spheres.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, awarded annually by the European Parliament, is certainly one of them. It is “awarded to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the fight for human rights across the globe, drawing attention to human rights violations as well as supporting the laureates and their cause”.
I am nominating Nadia Murad for the 2016 Sakharov Prize because, although she was just one of thousands of victims of brutality and jihadist barbarism, although her parents and six of her brothers were murdered before her eyes and she was kept for months as a sex slave by 12 Daesh thugs, Nadia has decided not to be a victim any more.
She has become an active agent of change in the face of violent extremism, an example to us all and an instrument of transformation in the world: a spokeswoman for all Yazidi women who have suffered and continue to suffer this brutal sexual slavery and a defender of human rights, freedom of thought and the rights of minorities.
Nadia has addressed the United Nations Security Council, the British Parliament, the Bundestag, the senates of France and the USA, met with the President of the European Parliament, the President of Egypt and the Norwegian Prime Minister… and has embarked on a path of no return to bring the case of the Yazidi genocide before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
This genocide has been recognised in a UN report, by the European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Washington and Westminster. She will be represented by the lawyer Amal Clooney in this process.
“Daesh took away my family, my future and my life. But what I keep in my heart, what I have always had and will always have is faith in justice,” Nadia said. “And all the women and girls who remain in their hands have justice on their side.”
Would you agree that this is reason enough to invoke this magnificent instrument and award Nadia Murad and the Yazidi people the 2016 Sakharov Prize? I think so.