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Nobel Peace Prize Winner Nadia Murad Discusses Yazidi Genocide, Steps Forward

Read: 867     12:00     06 Февраль 2024    

Approaching the 10th anniversary of the Yazidi genocide, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) held an event featuring 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad on Jan. 31 in the Copley Formal Lounge.

The discussion, titled “Rebuilding After Atrocities: Accountability and Reconstruction in Sinjar and Beyond,” focused on Murad’s activism as a member of the Kurdish minority group Yazidi and as a survivor of sexual violence in the Sinjar region of Iraq, which the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) invaded in August 2014. 

The event began with an introduction from Melanne Verveer, the executive director of GIWPS and the former U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues. She spoke highly of Murad, who was also honored with a Hillary Rodham Clinton Award from GIWPS in 2018, and overviewed the toll of conflict-related violence around the world.

"The long-term impacts of trauma, displacement, curtailed education, disrupted economies make post-conflict rebuilding exceedingly challenging,” Verveer said at the event. “Moreover, the need for healthcare and psychological support for survivors is too often unavailable, and it is desperately needed.”

In just two weeks, ISIS militants displaced 400,000 Yazidis, enslaved 6,000 women and children and killed 5,000 men and older women. The genocidal campaign of mass murder and sexual violence was an attempt to eradicate the Yazidi religion and culture.

According to Murad, ISIS left no house untouched, systematically destroying Yazidi villages and rendering agricultural lands unusable. This left much of the Sinjar region uninhabitable for years and forced many of the displaced Yazidis, who had fled to the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, to remain in cramped refugee camps in northern Iraq, even 10 years after the initial genocide.

Murad herself lived in a camp for nine months and lost her mother and six brothers to the genocide.

Nadia’s Initiative, founded in 2018 by Murad, who also serves as the president and chairwoman of the board, aims to rebuild communities in crisis, specifically in Sinjar, while also advocating for survivors of sexual violence. Since its inception, the nonprofit has built schools, hospitals and women’s centers, prioritizing education and healthcare, as well as basic necessities such as clean water and sanitation.

At the event, Murad offered passionate remarks, tinged with hope, about her strong conviction that a Sinjar rebuilding process should be led by survivors.

“I firmly believe that the answer for them morally, politically and economically is to rebuild their homes, to invest in the regeneration of their fractured communities,” Murad said at the event. “And to do this work for the long term sustainably, with survivors leading the way.”

Verveer announced the release of a new GIWPS report on the current state of Sinjar, written in conjunction with Nadia’s Initiative, at the event. The report concludes that although ISIS was defeated in 2017, the remnants of the group’s violence still echo across the region — whether that be in the hundreds of thousands of Yazidis still displaced or the destroyed infrastructure that has yet to be reconstructed.

Murad also called on the Iraqi government to offer resources for the rebuilding process.

“Our biggest challenge is scale and resources. What has been achieved so far is thanks only to the grit and determination of survivors with support from the international community,” Murad added. “It is time for the Iraqi government to step up and help create an environment into which Yazidi survivors can live.”

Anjali Gulasingam (SFS ’26) said she particularly appreciated the survivor-first mindset the speakers offered at the event.

“My dad grew up during a civil war, so it’s something I’ve worked with before,” Gulasingam told The Hoya. “This greater insight of how those kinds of on-the-ground things work and just the way she does it with survivor-led reconstruction was really interesting.”

Later on in the event, Beth Van Schaack, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, and Elisa Massimino, the executive director of the Human Rights Institute at Georgetown Law, joined Murad for a panel moderated by Verveer.

The panelists spoke of the survivor-centered approach that Murad pioneered and the current ecosystem of international justice, which does not provide a clear path forward for holding former ISIS members accountable. 

Currently, Germany is the only country to try a former ISIS member involved in the Yazidi genocide, something Murad said she and her allies in the Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) have pushed for. 

The Murad Code, which prioritizes survivor well-being and protects the testimony of the afflicted Yazidis, has been utilized to formulate a database of victim-based evidence against ISIS. However, with the work of UNITAD set to end in a year’s time, the panel agreed that there is an urgency to use those records to bring about some sense of justice and closure for the Yazidis.

Massimino acknowledged this pressing need for accountability, no matter the legal system the trials move through.

“Genocide never happens in a vacuum,” Massimino said at the event. “So criminal liability, whether it’s through, you know, an international tribunal or universal jurisdiction or everyplace in between, all of that creates the kind of web of accountability that has to match the web of enablers that make genocide possible.”

As the international court system resolves the Yazidi genocide case, Murad said she will continue to fight on behalf of Sinjar and her Yazidi community to achieve justice for sexual violence survivors.

“We can’t prevent sexual violence from happening without accountability. Impunity should never be an option,” Murad said. “And it has been for so long, but I think now survivors are coming together, and that’s why we’re asking for accountability.”

“It’s not that my family recovered or I have recovered,” she added. “But I also have hope that we can have a better world if we work together.”


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