This is the transcript of a Seeking Peace podcast episode featuring Nadia Murad.
Nadia Murad I wanted the world to know what happened to us and to help our community recover and to… to take some steps to make sure that what happened would never happen again in Iraq or anywhere else in the world.
Melanne Verveer From Georgetown University, this is Seeking Peace. I’m Melanne Verveer. These are the words of Nobel Prize Laureate Nadia Murad, the UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.
Nadia herself is a survivor. In 2014, when she was 19 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.
I had the privilege of speaking with Nadia about her story.
Melanne Verveer Nadia, 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 So 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.
Melanne Verveer And then, On August the 3rd, 2014, something terrible happened.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO – MALE NEWS REPORTER] “These are Yazidis taking to the barren Sinjar Mountains to escape the Islamic State fighters after the militants had seized the minority community stronghold.”
Melanne Verveer ISIS attacked the Mount Sinjar region, killing and kidnaping thousands of members of your community.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO – MALE NEWS REPORTER] “Followers of this ancient religious sect made the journey knowing they were likely to find themselves to find themselves stranded with little to nothing to survive on.”
Melanne Verveer You and your loved ones were directly affected by this terrible genocide. And fortunately, you managed to escape. You found refuge in Germany. And sometime later, you became United Nations goodwill ambassador for the dignity of survivors of human trafficking.
What was it that enabled you after going through so much difficulty, so many horrors? What enabled you to decide to share your experience?
Nadia Murad You know, I …when I decided to share my experience, it wasn’t easy. But I did it because I wanted more than anything to seek justice for my community, for my family, for… 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…I’m grateful that my words have reached so many people around the world. Before that… Not many people knew who the Yazidi were. And now they know … they know what has happened and what has been done to my community. But 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, as you know, to this day. They still need help.
Melanne Verveer What is the status of the Yazidi community today?
Nadia 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.
Melanne Verveer It is estimated that between six and ten thousand Yazidis were kidnapped, some of them held in captivity for years. And over half a decade since the massacre, two to three hundred thousand Yazidis remain in camps in northern Iraq, as internally displaced persons, or IDPs.
Melanne Verveer When the headlines are no longer, people do forget. But you haven’t forgotten. And your work goes on.
You also 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?
Nadia Murad Yeah, as you know, I have been working with Amal Clooney for the past few years to hold ISIS accountable. And I am lucky to call her a friend.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO – AMAL CLOONEY AT THE UNITED SECURITY COUNCIL] “I am legal counsel to Nadia and other Yazidi women and girls who were kidnapped, bought, sold, enslaved and raped by ISIS […] But it was clear from an early stage that this was going to be a challenge. The world’s powers were focused on a military solution and nobody wished to speak about justice. So we fixed on one imperative, we could not allow the evidence to disappear …”
Nadia Murad 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.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO – AMAL CLOONEY AT THE UNITED SECURITY COUNCIL] “…we celebrated the moment four weeks ago when the team, working alongside the Iraqi authorities, began to exhume mass graves and identify the victims’ remains. This first step in any criminal inquiry was a cathartic moment for many Yazidi families and we are encouraged to hear that the investigation in Iraq is now fully underway.”
Nadia Murad We want to see countries try their foreign nationals. And right 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.
Melanne Verveed You know, Nadia it’s so anguishing to hear about the conditions that you just described and…and what the Yazidi community is still going through. And I know that you have not stopped for a moment trying to help your people. Nadia’s Initiative, the initiative that you have set up to continue to help your community is something that you are devoting yourself to very, very significantly.
Nadia Murad So, 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 now, 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.
Melanne Verveer You know, 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?
Nadia Murad I think they can raise awareness on their platforms and they can do it in their communities and talk about the Yazidi case, because our struggle is… it’s 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.
Melanne Verveer You have gone through a great deal personally, but you have taken all of that experience and made a commitment to help your people. You have been resilient. You have been an inspiration. Being informed is critically important, but I also hope, Nadia, that many will step forward to support Nadia’s Initiative in support of a community of people who have gone through so much and continue to need all of the help and assistance to be able to survive and hopefully in the future truly thrive. So thank you so much, Nadia. We really appreciate your being with us today on Seeking Peace.
Nadia Murad Thank you so much. Thank you to you for having me. It was great to be with you.
Melanne Verveer In her book, The Last Girl, My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State, Nadia writes:
“I still think that being forced to leave your home out of fear is one of the worst injustices a human being can face. Everything you love is stolen, and you risk your life to live in a place that means nothing to you and where, because you come from a country now known for war and terrorism, you are not really wanted.”
You can learn more about Nadia and support the work of Nadia’s Initiative by visiting her website, nadiasinitiative.org.
Today’s interview was produced by Martine Chaussard. If you like what you heard, please share it far and wide. You’ll find all of our episodes on your favorite listening app or at seekingpeacepodcast.com.
In our next episode, we’ll hear the story of another young activist, this time in Libya, who will take us behind the scenes of a campaign challenging gender-based violence using a creative medium: comic strips.
Rawan Khalfallah If you’re a woman, if you’re young, if you’re facing this in the community, then there is no one who is more experienced than you to take a lead on something or talk about these issues.
That’s next time on Seeking Peace.
Melanne Verveer The second season of Seeking Peace is a production of Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security and Adonde Media, in collaboration with Our Secure Future.
I’m your host, Melanne Verveer. Thank you for listening.