“Nadia Murad has been to hell and back and has remarkable courage to sit here with us today,” Women in the World founder and CEO Tina Brown told the London Forum audience on Thursday at the outset of the event’s opening panel. Turning to Murad, Brown, using an alternative name for the Islamic militant group ISIS, jumped into Murad’s tragically remarkable personal story and asked, “What happened when Daesh came?”
Speaking through an interpreter, Murad Ismael, the executive director of Yazda.org, Nadia Murad replied, “I’m from a farming family. We had a simple life. We were very poor, but we were very happy before Daesh came.” Brown pressed Murad for more on the brutality she and her family and community faced with the arrival of ISIS in the Sinjar Province a little more than two years ago.
“We had never heard of them,” Murad said. “We did not know they would attack us.” When ISIS stormed Mount Sinjar, “They said Yazidis are not people of the book and they wanted to wipe them out. And this is what they did to us,” Murad recalled. “They killed more than 5,000 people.”
Murad went on to discuss her personal plight after being taken captive by militants. “I was one of the girls who were taken … over the age of 9. They took us to Mosul and in Mosul they separated us … and they committed all types of rape against us.”
Brown asked her what had happened to the Yazidi men. Murad said militants demanded that they convert to Islam.
“They killed the men [who refused to convert to Islam],” Murad explained. “About 1,700 men were killed.” She then recounted the tragic fate of her mother. “For the women that were old — that they [militants] were not interested in for sex — they killed them, including my mother.” The rest, including her sisters and cousins, were taken as sex slaves by militants.
Ismael, the interpreter, pointed out that, to date, almost the entire Yazidi population has been displaced or killed and buried in mass graves in and around Sinjar, and not one ISIS perpetrator has been brought to justice for that genocide.
Brown then turned the conversation to what steps are being taken on an international level to address the crisis of not only the Yazidis in Iraq, but other at-risk women in developing and war-torn regions.
Baroness Valerie Amos CH, director of the SOAS, University of London, said not enough has been done to assist the Yazidi people, and that the military will inevitably play some part in enabling the protection of people. “We need much stronger political will and leadership not only at the [U.N.] security council but across the world,” Amos said.
Brown then brought up the news of Former Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres appointment as the new U.N. secretary-general and asked what he can do to help the Yazidi people — besides holding “talkathons.”
Amos said that the displaced people want to return home and, if the international community can’t end the fighting in those war-torn regions, it at least needs to set up safe zones “that people can return to and get some kind of semblance of normality. But to do that,” she continued, “you’d need to establish, for example, a no-fly zone so that people are kept secure. And the security council will not pass resolutions to enable that kind of no-fly zone.” Amos thinks some countries will eventually have to take unilateral action. “The government of Iraq has also got to be held to account, because they can refer these cases to the international criminal court,” she said, adding, “No one is saying anything.”
Ertharin Cousin, the executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, chimed in saying, “Daesh goes right through [Sinjar] on their way to Syria.” With a Mosul offensive by the Iraqi army imminent, Cousin voiced concerns that the Yazidi people not get caught up in the inevitable movement of ISIS forces between the two cities.
Later in the conversation, Brown threw a question at Cousin that drew laughs from the audience. “What would a Trump presidency do for your mission?” As the audience continued to chuckle, Brown said, “Seriously, we have to consider it.”
Although Cousin would not be drawn on any particular candidate, she said “Whomever becomes president in the United States, what we’re going to need to do is address the challenges of non-state actors, including D’aesh, Boko Haram and others.”
The leadership — whoever is the president — must also address climate change, she said.
“Unless we provide hope and opportunity for people where they live today, people are going to continue to move,” she said. “Unless, we as an entire global community demand of whomever sits in the chair that they invest in the political solutions, because humanitarian challenges are simply the fallout of lack of political solutions.”
“We need to be shaming our politicians to do better than they do. To act more responsibly in international fora and to be accountable,” Amos said. “They’re signing up to the values of the United Nations but not demonstrating those values in the way they behave.”
In conclusion, Brown turned back to Murad, with a question from a Facebook commenter. “What gives you hope and strength to continue your fight?”
“This is not an easy job to do,” she responded. “This is something very difficult for me to continue doing it. But every time I see people without homes, I see victims, I think or rethink what happened to me. Basically the tragedy I lived gives me the strength to continue.”
“We have to remember these crises very much have a woman’s face, very much have a child’s face,” said Amos. “These are the most dispossessed people in the societies in which we’re working. So without all of us and without the support of the international community things will get much, much worse. So there’s a great deal for us to do in terms of supporting people in the midst of those conflict situations.”
“I would say that each person in this room must become a voice,” Cousin concurred. “And it only through these voices that we build the public will that is necessary to ensure that our leaders take the bold decisions required to bring ISIS to the International Criminal Court, but more importantly that will stop the crisis and the tragedy that is occurring in too many places around the world.”
Watch Nadia Murad interviewed in the Women in the World offices in New York: