Former Yazidi sex slave makes tearful return to home village


KOCHO (Iraq): A prominent Yazidi activist held as a sex slave by Islamic State (IS) militants returned to her home village in Iraq on Thursday where she was captured three years ago, pleading for international help to free other Yazidi women still held prisoner.

Nadia Murad, 24, was one of about 7,000 women and girls captured in north-west Iraq in August 2014 by the hard-line Sunni Muslim fighters who view Yazidis as devil worshippers.

She was abducted from Kocho near Sinjar, an area home to about 400,000 Yazidis, and held by IS in Mosul where she was repeatedly tortured and raped. She escaped three months later, reaching a refugee camp, then making her way to Germany.

Murad has taken to the world stage to appeal for support for the Yazidi religious minority, in the United Nations Security Council in 2015 and to all governments globally, earning her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination and UN Goodwill Ambassador role.

Murad cried as she visited her former school in Kocho which was retaken from IS fighters late last week.

At that school, the militants had gathered all the Kocho residents, sending the children to training camps, forcing women and girls into slavery and killing the men, she recalled in tears.

An estimated 3,500 women and girls still are enslaved.

“We hoped that our destiny would be like the men and be killed, but instead Europeans, Saudis and Tunisians and other fighters came and raped us and sold us,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Seven mass graves lie in Kocho, and Murad called for them to be exhumed.

“Until now not a single mass grave has been exhumed,” she said. “The international community has not delivered on its responsibility.

“I tell anyone that you are being unjust for not supporting a minority like the Yazidis.”

Murad has called for the massacre of Yazidis to be officially recognised as genocide.

“I am a daughter of this village,” she added.

The visit, under heavy security, came after militias loyal to Iran and fighting alongside Iraqi armed forces managed to fight their way to border with Syria for the first time last week, freeing the last Yazidi villages from IS.

Murad said she never thought she would get back to Kocho, an agricultural village once home to about 2,000 Yazidis, of whom about half were killed in the 2014 attacks or are missing.

On her website, Murad explains how six of her nine brothers were killed in the Kocho massacre and her mother was executed as she was considered too old for sexual enslavement.

In total around 18 of her family members were either murdered or are missing, with mass Yazidi graves uncovered in the area north of Sinjar mountain.

One of Murad’s nieces is still held by IS and her sister, Khayriyah, 30, who joined Murad on the trip to Kocho on Thursday, was also enslaved for five months but escaped.

United Nations investigators estimate more than 5,000 Yazidis were rounded up and slaughtered in the 2014 attack that a UN commission called a genocide by IS which declared a “caliphate” over parts of Iraq and Syria.

If such a designation were made official, it would mark the first recognised genocide by non-state actors, rather than a state or paramilitaries acting on its behalf.

International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney last June said she aimed to prosecute Islamic State through the International Criminal Court for their crimes against the Yazidi community.

Murad, who now lives in Germany, is planning to release a memoir later this year titled The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State.

Her campaigning has won her respect among her community.

“People are very proud of Nadia for publicising the Yazidi cause. When she comes home to the camp everyone comes to see her. Yazidis love her,” her sister, who lives in Rwanga camp in Dohuk Governate in Iraqi Kurdistan, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.