Yazidi survivors of IS torture win Europe rights prize

AFP , Thursday 27 Oct 2016

This file photo taken on December 30, 2015 shows former Islamic State group, Iraqi Yazidi Nadia Murad Basee Taha (L), speaking with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos (R) during a meeting in Athens. Two Yazidi women activists who escaped the Islamic State group in Iraq have been awarded the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov human rights prize for this year on October 27, 2016, European sources told AFP. The prize will go to Nadia Murad and Lamia Haji Bashar -- who campaign to protect their Yazidi people and were enslaved by IS -- during a midday session of the assembly in Strasbourg, France, the sources told AFP. ( AFP PHOTO)

Two Yazidi women who survived a nightmare ordeal of kidnapping, rape and slavery at the hands of Islamic State (IS) militants won the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov human rights prize on Thursday.

Nadia Murad and Lamia Haji Bashar have become figureheads for the effort to protect the Yazidis, followers of an ancient religion with more than half a million believers concentrated in northern Iraq.

"They have a painful and tragic story" but "they felt compelled to survive to bear witness," European Parliament chief Martin Schulz told the assembly in Strasbourg.

"The courage of these two women, the dignity they represent defies all description."

Murad hailed the prize as a "profound message to the ISIS terrorist group that their criminal inhumanity is condemned and their victims are honored by the free world".

In a statement she said the award told "our people and particularly to the more than 6,700 women, girls, and children who became victims of slavery and human trafficking under ISIS, that the genocide will not be repeated".

According to UN experts, around 3,200 Yazidis are currently being held by IS, the majority of them in war-ravaged Syria.

Bestowed annually, the award is named after the dissident Soviet scientist Andrei Sakharov, who died in 1989, and honours individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression, often falling foul of their governments as a result.

The prize, worth 50,000 euros ($55,000), will be presented at a ceremony on December 14 in Strasbourg.

Murad, a slight, softly spoken young woman, was taken by IS from her home village of Kocho near Iraq's northern town of Sinjar in August 2014 and brought to the city of Mosul.

As a captive of the reviled extremist group, Murad, now 23, said she was tortured and raped.

Bashar, who was just 16 when she was taken and is also from Kocho, witnessed family and friends being slaughtered by IS militants before being enslaved and sold.

After 20 months in captivity she escaped but then fell into the hands of an Iraqi hospital director who also abused and raped her and several other victims.

In a final tragedy, Bashar suffered horrific burns to her face and lost her right eye when one of her friends stepped on a landmine following their flight from the hospital director.

The 2014 massacre perpetrated against the Yazidis by IS fighters in Sinjar forced tens of thousands to flee and left an already vulnerable community under perilous threat.

UN investigators have said the IS assault on the Yazidis was a premeditated effort to exterminate an entire community -- crimes that amount to genocide.

In speeches and interviews, Murad has voiced deep frustration with the international community for abandoning her people in the hands of grotesquely violent criminals.

Bashar said in a voicemail message left with Mirza Dinnayi, founder of the German-Iraqi aid group Air Bridge Iraq: "I am so happy about the prize because I won it in the name of the Yazidi victims.

"It is important that the world does not forget the women and children imprisoned by IS and that such crimes are not perpetrated against anyone," she said in Kurdish. Dinnayi, who has been looking after Bashar since her arrival in Germany in April, translated the message into German.

Last year, the European Parliament awarded the prize to Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, jailed for "insulting" Islam.

Past winners include Pakistani education campaigner Malala Yousafzai, late South African rights icon Nelson Mandela and Myanmar activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

Exiled Turkish journalist Can Dundar and Crimean Tatar activist Mustafa Dzhemilev were also shortlisted for the prestigious award.

Separately, the EU assembly called on Turkey to free all journalists detained without solid evidence, saying in a resolution that the failed coup in July should not serve as a pretext to silence the media and opposition.

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