Sexual violence in conflicts happens with haunting frequency - and the world is failing to act
Our world has become deaf to news of brutality. But women cannot be expected to speak out about the horrific crimes inflicted upon them unless the international community is ready to protect them, says Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad
ISIS savagely attacked Sinjar in August of 2014 with the intention of eradicating all Yazidis from Iraq. It was not a matter of circumstance; it was a planned attack. Through execution, conversion and sexual enslavement – ISIS sought to exterminate all Yazidis – simply because of our beliefs.
My peaceful existence as a young farm girl was unexpectedly interrupted and a nightmare emerged in its place – I was taken captive and forced to be an ISIS sex slave. My story is not unique – thousands of young girls and women were taken captive and almost 3,000 Yazidis remain in captivity today.
I made the difficult choice to tell my story because I truly believed that if the world heard what really happened, the world would act. I believed my story and the story of others would compel governments to bring ISIS to justice, but unfortunately, I have learned that the world doesn’t act swiftly and that testimonies of survivors are not enough to bring tormentors to justice.
I am often asked if I believe the international community is doing enough to protect minorities, prevent sexual violence in conflict and bring perpetrators of mass atrocities to justice. The answer to this question rests in evidence and is simple and straightforward – NO. We bear witness to such crimes each and every day, so it impossible to say that the global community is doing enough to protect victims and prevent crimes.
The phrase “never again” has become meaningless. The more accurate phrase I believe is “until next time”. We could pretend this wasn’t the case – but what purpose would that serve. We must be honest and confront the harsh reality – sexual violence in conflicts happens with haunting frequency. Our world has become deaf to news of such brutality. We see, we listen, we express sympathy – and sometimes outrage – but we fail to act. For only if we accept this truth, can we have meaningful dialogue – and begin to create transformative change.
Initiatives such as the Murad Code and an international investigative body for sexual violence in conflict zones are steps in the right direction and hopefully, such actions will create meaningful dialogue and start a shift from inaction to action. Most importantly I hope such initiatives will create the foundation for justice.
Justice is a powerful tool. It is not only about accountability or punishment – it is recognition for survivors. Survivors need justice. It is the legal acknowledgment of the truth about what happened to victims. Formalized justice – prosecuting perpetrators of mass atrocities is crucial – but informal mechanisms such as reparations for victims is equally as important. International law recognizes that victims of serious crimes, including rape, are entitled to reparations, yet few are actually compensated.
Courageous women from across the globe, come forward to recount tragic stories of abuse and violence hoping their bravery will make a difference. They hope telling their stories will lead to formal or informal justice. But it rarely does. This must change. I believe if victims knew justice would be served, they would be more willing to step forward and tell their stories.
Women cannot be expected to speak of the horrific crimes inflicted upon them unless the world is ready to protect them. We must ask ourselves, when will the world be ready to prioritize humanity? When will the world push politics aside and guarantee human beings their fundamental human rights? When will women be protected from being the targets of sexual violence? When will there be justice? Most importantly, when will the world care enough to work collectively to prevent such atrocities?
Collectively, we have a choice. We can choose to ensure every human being possesses the same rights – is guaranteed the same freedom – provided the same security – free of persecution. I have the courage, resilience and belief that we can choose humanity over war. I know there is a better way. We must refuse to be complicit in allowing evil to overshadow good. I believe it is possible to raise our voices and actions together and say no to violence and yes to peace, freedom and human rights for all.
Nadia Murad is an Iraqi Yazidi human rights activist and winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. For more information see http://nadiasinitiative.org
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