Skip to main content

Two Yazidi survivors of IS group win Sakharov prize

Nadia Murad and Lamia Haji Bashar have become figureheads for Yazidi victims of kidnapping, rape and slavery by the Islamic State
Nadia Murad, human rights activist, testifying during Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC (AFP)

Two Yazidi women who survived a nightmare ordeal of kidnapping, rape and slavery at the hands of Islamic State militants won the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov human rights prize on Thursday.

Nadia Murad and Lamia Haji Bashar have become figureheads for the effort to protect the Yazidis, followers of an ancient religion with more than half a million believers concentrated in northern Iraq. 

"They have a painful and tragic story" but "they felt compelled to survive to bear witness", European Parliament chief Martin Schulz told the assembly in Strasbourg.

"The courage of these two women, the dignity they represent defies all description."

According to UN experts, around 3,200 Yazidis are currently being held by IS, the majority of them in war-ravaged Syria. 

Given each year by the European Parliament, the award is named after the dissident Soviet scientist Andrei Sakharov, who died in 1989, and honours individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression, often falling foul of their governments as a result.

Murad, a slight, softly spoken young woman, was taken by IS from her home village of Kocho near Iraq's northern town of Sinjar in August 2014 and brought to the city of Mosul.

As a captive of the reviled extremist group, Murad, who today is 23, said she was tortured and raped.

Bashar, who was just 16 when she was taken and is also from Kocho, witnessed family and friends being slaughtered by IS before being enslaved and sold. 

After 20 months in captivity she escaped but then fell into the hands of an Iraqi hospital director who also abused and raped her and several other victims.

Lived through a nightmare

In a final tragedy, Bashar suffered horrific burns to her face and lost her right eye when one of her friends stepped on a landmine following their flight from the hospital director. 

The 2014 massacre perpetrated against the Yazidis by IS fighters in Sinjar forced tens of thousands to flee, and left an already vulnerable community under perilous threat. 

UN investigators have said the IS assault on the Yazidis was a premeditated effort to exterminate an entire community - crimes that amount to genocide.

In speeches and interviews, Murad has voiced deep frustration with the international community for abandoning her people in the hands of grotesquely violent criminals.

Bashar said in a voicemail message left with Mirza Dinnayi, founder of the German-Iraqi aid group Air Bridge Iraq: "I am so happy about the prize because I won it in the name of the Yazidi victims.

"It is important that the world does not forget the women and children imprisoned by IS and that such crimes are not perpetrated against anyone," she said in Kurdish. Dinnayi, who has been looking after Bashar since her arrival in Germany in April, translated the message into German.

Last year, the European Parliament awarded the prize to Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, jailed for "insulting" Islam. 

Past winners include Pakistani education campaigner Malala Yousafzai, late South African rights icon Nelson Mandela and Myanmar activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

Exiled Turkish journalist Can Dundar and Crimean Tatar activist Mustafa Dzhemilev were also shortlisted for prestigious award.

The prize, worth 50,000 euros, will be presented at a ceremony on December 14 in Strasbourg.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.