Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar were honored with the European Union’s top human rights award, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, on Thursday. The award, introduced in 1988, is named for Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, and is bestowed on “individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the fight for human rights across the globe.” Murad and Bashar are two Yazidi women who were both held as sex slaves by ISIS after the militant group stormed the Sinjar region of Iraq in 2014. The ISIS fighters brutally killed many of the Yazidi men and women. Those mostly younger women who weren’t killed were forced into sex slavery and tortured. Both Murad and Bashar managed to escape, but not without physical and emotional scars — and not without having since become vocal advocates for the estimated 3,000 Yazidi women still in ISIS captivity.
Murad, 23, was honored with the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize earlier this month, and last month was appointed by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime as a Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. The string of awards and honors is in recognition of her newly-launched Nadia’s Initiative, an advocacy organization that was introduced in September at an event held by Women in the World founder Tina Brown. On Thursday, Murad publicly accepted the Sakharov Prize with a post on Twitter.
Earlier this month, Murad appeared on stage at the Women in the World London Forum where she shared details of her terrifying experience after ISIS completely upended her family’s otherwise “happy” life in Iraq. She escaped ISIS in November 2014 and managed to find shelter in Germany. Watch the full video of her appearance below.
Bashar’s story is equally as tragic, if not more so. She, too, was captured in 2014, kept as a sex slave and tried several times to escape ISIS. She finally escaped in March, but nearly died when a land mine detonated, killing her two companions and leaving her blind in one eye and disfigured by burn scars. “I managed in the end, thanks to God, I managed to get away from those infidels,” the 18-year-old told The Associated Press in a July interview from the safety of her uncle’s home in northern Iraq. “Even if I had lost both eyes, it would have been worth it, because I have survived them.”
She said she was subjected to routine beatings by her captors and was forced to assist with bomb building and the making of suicide vests. Watch her interview with the AP in the below video.
Announcing the honors, Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said in a statement on Thursday, “I cannot put into words the courage and the dignity they represent. Today, Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar have become the voice for the women victims of the Islamic State’s campaign of sexual violence and enslavement.”
Read the full story at The New York Times.