Nobel Peace Prize 2018: Nadia Murad, a former ISIS slave turned laureate

File photo of Nadia Murad delivering a speech after being awarded co-laureate of the 2016 Sakharov human rights prize in Strasbourg, France, on Dec 13, 2016.
File photo of Nadia Murad delivering a speech after being awarded co-laureate of the 2016 Sakharov human rights prize in Strasbourg, France, on Dec 13, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Nadia Murad survived the worst cruelties ever inflicted on her people, the Yazidis of Iraq, before becoming a global champion of their cause and being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

On Friday (Oct 5), Murad and Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege were jointly awarded the prize for their "efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war", Nobel committee chairman Berit Reiss-Andersen said in unveiling the winners in Oslo.

The 25-year-old Murad, her thin, pale face framed by her long brown hair, once lived a quiet life in her village near the mountainous Yazidi stronghold of Sinjar in northern Iraq, close to the border with Syria.

But when the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group stormed across swathes of the two countries in 2014, her fate changed forever and her nightmare began.

One day in August that year, pick-up trucks bearing the black flag of the militants swept into her village, Kocho.

ISIS fighters set about killing the men, taking children captive to train them as fighters and condemning thousands of women to a life of forced labour and sexual slavery.

Today, Murad and her friend Lamia Haji Bashar, joint recipients of the European Union's 2016 Sakharov human rights prize, continue the fight for the 3,000 Yazidis who remain missing, presumed still in captivity.

ISIS fighters wanted "to take our honour, but they lost their honour", said Murad, now a United Nations goodwill ambassador for survivors of human trafficking.

 
 
 
 

It is an evil she personally experienced during a harrowing three months.

After being captured by ISIS fighters, Murad was taken by force to Mosul, the de facto "capital" of the militant group's self-declared caliphate.

During her ordeal, she was held captive and repeatedly gang-raped, tortured and beaten.

The militants organised slave markets for selling off the women and girls, and Yazidi women were forced to renounce their religion.

SEEN AS HERETICS

For the militants, with their ultra-strict interpretation of Islam, the Yazidis are seen as heretics.

The Kurdish-speaking community follows an ancient religion, revering a single God and the "leader of the angels", represented by a peacock.

Like thousands of Yazidis, Murad was forcibly married to a militant, beaten and forced to wear make-up and tight clothes - an experience she later related in front of the United Nations Security Council.

"The first thing they did was they forced us to covert to Islam", Murad told AFP in 2016.

Shocked by the violence, Murad set about trying to escape, and managed to flee with the help of a Muslim family from Mosul.

Armed with false identity papers, she managed to cross the few dozen kilometres to Iraqi Kurdistan, joining crowds of other displaced Yazidis in camps.

There, she learnt that six of her brothers and her mother had been killed.

With the help of an organisation that assists Yazidis, she joined her sister in Germany, where she lives today.

She has since dedicated herself to what she calls "our peoples' fight", becoming a well-known spokesman even before the #MeToo movement swept the world.

The Yazidis numbered around 550,000 in Iraq before 2014, but some 100,000 have since left the country.

Many others have fled and remain in Iraqi Kurdistan, reluctant to return to their traditional lands.

Slight and soft-spoken, Murad has now become a global voice, campaigning for justice for her people and for the acts committed by the militants to be recognised internationally as genocide.

And she and the Yazidis have won a high-profile supporter - Lebanese-British lawyer and rights activist Amal Clooney, who also penned the foreword to Murad's book The Last Girl, published in 2017.

The same year, the UN Security Council committed to helping Iraq gather evidence of ISIS crimes.

Yet in contrast to all the tragedies that have befallen her, recent pictures on Murad's Twitter feed show happier times.

In August, she announced her engagement to fellow Yazidi activist Abid Shamdeen.

"The struggle of our people brought us together & we will continue this path together," she wrote.

Underneath, a photo showed her next to a young man in a bow tie, her face still framed by her long brown hair, but this time, bearing a broad smile.