Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar, two young Yazidi women who were abducted and forced into sex slavery by the Islamic State, were awarded the European Union’s Sakharov human rights prize.
Both suffered indescribable torture at the hands of their terrorist captors as they were bought and sold several times. Both managed to escape. They have since become vocal advocates for the estimated 3,000 Yazidi women and girls remain in captivity.
Guy Verhofstadt, president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group in the European Parliament, said the winners were “inspirational women who have shown incredible bravery and humanity in the face of despicable brutality. I am proud that they have been awarded the 2016 Sakharov Prize.”
The Yazidis, a religious minority in Iraq, were attacked by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) when the brutal group swept through the Sinjar region in the summer of 2014, killing the Yazidi men and boys as well as the women they deemed too old to be sold as sex slaves.
As the world watch in horror, the younger Yazidi women were auctioned off, given as booty, raped and forced into slave labor.
Aji Bashar, now 18, was taken captive, beaten and raped, and forced to help her captors make bombs and suicide vests. After trying to escape several time, she was successful last March but was severely injured when a land mine exploded, killing her two companions and leaving her blind in one eye and disfigured by burn scars.
She joined five of her sisters in Germany who also managed to escape, but tragically, her sixth sister, only nine years old, remains in captivity. Her brother and father were killed by ISIS and her mother is presumed dead.
Murad, who is now 23, escaped in November 2014 and also took refuge in Germany. She was taken captive along with her sisters. ISIS killed her six brothers as well as her mother.
Murad was recently awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize by the Council of Europe. She is also the first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In September, she launched an advocacy organization called Nadia’s Initiative.
Awarding these brave women is a good first step both in recognition of the work they are doing but also in keeping the plight of the still captured Yazidi women and girls in the public eye.
As coalition forces move in the Islamic State’s stronghold in Mosul where many of the captive women were initially taken, their prospect of freedom lessens. Besides the very real threat to use civilians as human shields, the Islamic State now maintains a database of its slave women, posted on encrypted messaging systems such as Telegram and WhatsApp.
Now, when a woman escapes, her captors message their fellow jihadis who are alerted in every corner of the country and at every checkpoint instantaneously.
This time, the world must not just watch the carnage but be in active player in preventing it.
Meira Svirsky is the editor of Clarion Project.org