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Nadia Murad & The Fight for Justice

On Saturday, April 15th, Nadia Murad spoke to Public Radio International at the Brooklyn Public Library. Nadia’s story is as horrific as it is empowering. Nadia appears to be roughly the same age as me, yet she approached the stage and comported herself with a poise and wisdom unknown to most 24 year-olds.

The interview commenced with an air of reticence as the interviewer tiptoed the tenuous line between asking too little and inquiring too deeply. However, as the interview progressed, Nadia’s responses lengthened as they sliced through the dense atmosphere that permeated the auditorium. I sat motionless on the edge of my seat, careful not to disrupt the deafening, lingering silence. The silence evoked pain, disbelief, awe, helplessness, resilience, despair and courage — a simultaneous bricolage of conflicting emotions.

In August 2014, Nadia Murad was kidnapped by the Islamic State. She was 19 years old, living in the village of Kocho in a town called Sinjar, which rests in Northwestern Iraq beneath the rocky peaks of Mount Shingal. Sinjar is a Yazidi community. Yazidis are ethnically Kurdish and their religious doctrine combines the more esoteric and spiritual elements of Zoroastrianism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. When ISIS militants marched maliciously upon Sinjar, members of the fundamentalist group set church crosses ablaze as they drove Christians out of their homes and demanded that they pay a tax or face a penalty of death. Nadia and other members of the Yazidi community were presented with an even more inhumane choice: convert to Islam or die.

Nadia recounted the afternoon of the attack, “We caught word that Daesh would arrive imminently and began fleeing north to the mountains in seach for higher ground. Few of us reached the foothills before bullets poured down. There were bodies everywhere. My family, my friends, and my village lay in pieces surrounded by pools of blood.” ISIS inundated the village and left 600 Yazidis dead in its wake, including 6 of Nadia’s brothers and stepbrothers. Nadia was taken into slavery with other young women from her village. Hours later, Nadia found herself in the City of Mosul surrounded by thousands of other Yazidi women. These seemingly helpless women were distributed among ISIS fighters and expected to surrender their bodies to ISIS militiamen. They were threatened with immediate death if they disobeyed orders or attempted to escape. During the interview, Nadia said, “For me the choice was simple. I would rather die than sacrifice my dignity. In fact, the conditions we were already living in a hell far worse than death.”

After being subjected to unconscionably degrading treatment by her captors, Nadia escaped and was taken in by a neighboring family. Nadia’s saviors helped her flee to a refugee camp in northern Iraq. By 2015, Nadia had been granted asylum status and moved into her new home in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. When asked about her new life in Germany, Nadia described it as “a place of solace that allows me to return to fleeting moments of peace and quiet. There is a park nearby and I like sitting in the park and just listening. I spend a lot of time alone.”

Two years after her escape in 2015, Nadia found herself in New York City to testify in front of the U.N. Security Council about the gruesome genocide of the Yazidi people. Since 2014, more than 5,000 Yazidis have been abducted and more than 400,000 have been forced to abandon their homes. Sexual enslavement and rape continue to plague Yazidi women throughout ISIS controlled territories. As a firsthand witness and victim of these atrocities, Nadia briefed the U.N. Security council on the issue of human trafficking as the Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. From 2015 to present day, Nadia has been telling her story through global and local advocacy initiatives to disseminate awareness about the plight of the Yazidis and issues related to trafficking and refugees.

For the past 8 months, Nadia Murad has been working alongside her attorney, Amal Clooney, to bring a case in the International Criminal Court against ISIS commanders who are undeniably guilty of genocide, rape, trafficking, slavery and a host of other internationally recognized crimes outlined in a number of treaties, such as ICCPR, ICESCR, CEDAW, the Convention Against Torture and the Genocide Convention, among others. Many of the crimes committed by ISIS commanders are considered jus cogens norms, which are a set of peremptory natural law principles from which no derogation is ever permitted in the field of international human rights law. All U.N. member states are obligated to prosecute these crimes under international human rights law.

At the end of the interview, the interviewer asked Nadia about her hopes and ambitions for future, to which Nadia responded, “What future? My life has become almost unrecognizable. I cannot begin to think of the future until Daesh is brought to justice. All I want for the future is normalcy for myself and freedom for my people.” Nadia Murad’s story is heartbreaking and, quite frankly, infuriating. The fact that U.N. member states are failing to prevent, much less punish, crimes of genocide, rape, torture, enforced disappearances, etc. due to national interests obfuscating their moral duty is appalling and demoralizing. Until the international community invokes the Rome Statute, R2P (Responsibility to Protect) and/or Universal jurisdiction to prosecute crimes by ISIS commanders in the ICC, justice will not be served and the ongoing tragedies befalling ethnic and minority communities like the Yazidi will persist.

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