For­mer sex slave wins No­bel Peace Prize

A for­mer Iraqi sex slave has been awarded the No­bel Peace Prize for her courage in speak­ing out about the or­deal faced by women like her


WHEN she was grow­ing up she day­dreamed about the ex­cit­ing life that awaited her – how she was go­ing to carve a ca­reer for her­self, ei­ther as a his­tory teacher or a make-up artist. But those were crushed in 2014 when mil­i­tants of the Is­lamic State ( Isis) stormed the tiny vil­lage in Iraq where Na­dia Mu­rad lived with her fam­ily. She was sold as a sex slave and for months on end she was beaten, burnt with cig­a­rettes and raped on a daily ba­sis.

By a stroke of pure luck Na­dia (then 21) man­aged to es­cape. And once she made it to safety in ex­ile in Ger­many she knew ex­actly what she had to do. Aware that there were thou­sands of other girls and women still trapped in Iraq and liv­ing as sex slaves, she vowed she wouldn’t rest un­til she made the whole world aware of their plight.

At first she felt help­less. What could one woman stranded in a for­eign coun­try do? And then she had an epiphany.

“I re­alised my story, told hon­estly and mat­ter-of-factly, is the best weapon I have against ter­ror­ism,” she says.

And so she started speak­ing – and peo­ple were riv­eted. Her story was so har­row­ing and emo­tive she was in­vited to ad­dress the United Na­tions. Even Pope Fran­cis wanted to meet her, while high-pro­file hu­man rights lawyer Amal Clooney threw her weight be­hind help­ing her bring the ter­ror­ists to jus­tice.

And now af­ter win­ning the No­bel Peace Prize the whole world is talk­ing about her. Na­dia was re­cently an­nounced the joint win­ner of the pres­ti­gious award along with Dr De­nis Muk­wege (63), a gy­nae­col­o­gist treat­ing vic­tims of sex­ual vi­o­lence in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo.

Although many had ex­pected to see the pres­ti­gious prize go­ing to North Korean dic­ta­tor Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in for their peace en­deav­ours in the re­gion, the award ended up go­ing to the two rel­a­tively un­known ac­tivists for their “ef­forts to end the use of sex­ual vi­o­lence as a weapon of war”.

“Na­dia Mu­rad is her­self a vic­tim of war crimes,” the No­bel com­mit­tee said in a state­ment. “She’s shown un­com­mon courage in re­count­ing her own suf­fer­ings and speak­ing up on be­half of other vic­tims.”

SHE’LL never for­get the look in her usu­ally proud mother’s eyes. On this day she looked scared and bro­ken, her hair wild and messy. Na­dia wished she could tell her ev­ery­thing would be okay – but deep down she knew it would be a lie.

Just a short while ear­lier she and her mother had sat help­lessly at the school where they were be­ing held cap­tive along with hun­dreds of other res­i­dents of Ko­cho, a vil­lage in the moun­tains of north­ern Iraq, and lis­tened as Isis mil­i­tants shot 312 of their men in an hour. Among those ex­e­cuted were her six broth­ers.

“Nearly 6 500 women and chil­dren from the Yazidi [a Kur­dish re­li­gious mi­nor­ity] were ab­ducted and about 5 000 peo­ple from the com­mu­nity were killed dur­ing that day [3 Au­gust 2014].”

Once all the men were dead the mil­i­tants turned their at­ten­tion to the women and chil­dren. As one of them grabbed Na­dia and dragged her away her mother’s last words to her were, “I’m go­ing to die.”

She never saw her again. Na­dia was put on a bus and taken to Mo­sul in north­ern Iraq where she was pa­raded at a mar­ket and sold as a sex slave.

From then on her life was a daily hell of sex­ual and phys­i­cal abuse – she was beaten on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, burnt with cig­a­rettes, spat on and gang-raped.

But three months into her cap­tiv­ity Na­dia man­aged to es­cape. She even­tu­ally ended up in a refugee camp and from there she was able to flee to Ger­many.

But even once she was safe Na­dia couldn’t just get on with her life. Not while she knew there were thou­sands of other Yazidis who were trapped, serv­ing as sex slaves.

And so she kept on telling her story to who­ever would lis­ten. In Novem­ber 2015 – just over a year af­ter her own cap­tiv­ity, she de­liv­ered an elec­tri­fy­ing speech at the UN fo­rum on mi­nor­ity is­sues. She re­lived the hor­ror, re­veal­ing how Sal­wan – the high-rank­ing Isis mil­i­tant who bought her – looked like a mon­ster with his sunken eyes and smelt of rot­ten eggs and cologne.

By the time she was fin­ished hun­dreds of diplo­mats were in tears. What she said made such an im­pact she was in­vited to be­come the first Good­will am­bas­sador for the dig­nity of sur­vivors of hu­man traf­fick­ing of the UN. And now it’s earned her some­thing to­tally un­ex­pected: a No­bel Peace Prize. She’s the first Iraqi to win the award and at age 25 is the youngest re­cip­i­ent af­ter Malala Yousafzai, who won in 2014 at 17 for cam­paign­ing for girls’ ed­u­ca­tion in Pak­istan.

BUT in typ­i­cal style Na­dia re­mains mod­est about the achieve­ment. “I share this award with all Yazidis, with all the Iraqis, Kurds and all the mi­nori­ties and all sur­vivors of sex­ual vi­o­lence around the world,” she says.

She now lives in Stutt­gart but although she’s grate­ful to the Ger­mans for of­fer­ing her a safe haven she still des­per­ately misses home. Na­dia ad­mits she finds the food a bit strange and doesn’t like the damp weather.

But one com­fort has been her ro­mance with fel­low Yazidi hu­man rights ac­tivist Abid Shamdeen (30), a for­mer trans­la­tor for the US army who also lives in Ger­many. “The strug­gle of our peo­ple brought us to­gether and we’ll con­tinue this path to­gether,” she re­cently tweeted when she and Abid an­nounced their en­gage­ment.

Even though Na­dia still dreams of one day be­ing able to open her own make-up and hair sa­lon she knows a long road still stretches ahead. “Many peo­ple may think my story is dif­fi­cult, but many more had more dif­fi­cult than mine,” she says.

And it’s for these women that she con­tin­ues to fight.

‘I share this award with all sur­vivors of sex­ual vi­o­lence’


ABOVE: No­bel Peace Prize win­ner Na­dia Mu­rad. She shares the award with Dr De­nis Muk­wege from the DRC (FAR LEFT).

The for­mer Isis sex slave ad­dresses the United Na­tions in 2015 with hu­man rights lawyer Amal Clooney.

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