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'I was kidnapped by Islamic State, sold into slavery and endured rape, torture and humiliation'

UN Goodwill Ambassador Nadia Murad writes how six of her brothers were shot and buried in irrigation ditches when Islamic State invaded the Sinjar region in northern Iraq.

FOUR YEARS AGO I was one of thousands of Yazidi women kidnapped by Islamic State and sold into slavery. I endured rape, torture and humiliation at the hands of these militants before I escaped.

I was relatively lucky. Many Yazidi girls and women went through worse and for much longer. Over 2,000 are still missing. Many have been killed.

In early August 2014 Islamic State invaded the Sinjar region in northern Iraq with the mission of exterminating the Yazidis. They called us a “pagan minority”, and because we don’t have a holy book we have been described as “devil worshippers”.

In Kocho, my village of 1,800 people, over 300 men were shot and their bodies buried in irrigation ditches. Six of them were my own brothers.

Since then the Yazidis have received sympathy and solidarity all over the world. Rightly, many countries and the United Nations have recognised the genocide committed against us by Islamic State. But we now need concrete action to get justice and allow us to rebuild our community and homes. We have been displaced and dispersed around the world. Many countries, including Germany, Canada and the United States have given us refuge.

‘We want to return home’

My lawyer, Amal Clooney, and Yazda, a global Yazidi rights organisation, helped me highlight our cause internationally. Last September, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2379 which led to the establishment of an international team that will now investigate and help the prosecution of those responsible for the atrocities of Islamic State. This will include exhuming the dozens of mass graves containing Yazidi victims discovered so far in Iraq.

A contribution from the Irish government of funds and expertise in criminal investigations and prosecutions to the UN Investigative Team would send a powerful moral message to the world and to those who perpetrate terror against defenceless families and communities everywhere.

Ireland can help contribute to this important step in the recovery of the Yazidis. If not, the harm inflicted on us will only continue. We want to return home.

Conditions in the Yazidi areas of Iraq remain bleak; many of it unsafe and uninhabitable. The worst of Islamic State’s terror may have passed, but the challenges for the Yazidis remain immense.

Land mines, homemade bombs and other improvised devices litter the region and many of our homes and buildings have been booby trapped with these deadly weapons. An overwhelming majority of the buildings in the Sinjar area have been destroyed; basic services like sanitation, electricity and water are lacking or non-existent. Even the olive groves were burned or died from neglect by Islamic State.

Thousands of Yazidi families remain in makeshift tents in northern Iraq, In Syria, Yazidis are facing new dangers including from Turkish-backed militants, many of them former Islamic State and Al-Qaeda fighters.

‘Need more than sympathy’

We remain hopeful that one day we can rebuild our families, homes, towns and farms, and that our captors who sold and raped us, and killed our brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, will face justice.

While many western governments can and must do more, there is an increasing acceptance of the need for action. French President, Emmanuel Macron, pledged to help demine parts of Sinjar, work which has begun. Just last month, the US government, through USAID, announced significant funding to help rebuild our communities around Sinjar.

More governments, international organisations, private entities and individuals should now contribute to our Sinjar Action Fund so that the momentum of support and recovery can continue.

The Irish government, as part of its current strategic review of overseas development aid, can help assist in the reconstruction of Yazidi and other vulnerable ethnic and ethno-religious groups in Iraq and Syria. The need for redevelopment funding linked to the impact of genocide and the wanton destruction of minorities, should be built into Irish development aid policy over the next decade.

Irish higher education institutions should consider replicating initiatives in other European countries, by offering scholarships or developing distance learning programmes for Yazidi students.

As UN Goodwill Ambassador, I have learned how often women in particular are brutally abused in war and terror, from Rwanda to Bosnia, from Syria to Myanmar.

Yazidi women are the latest in a vast network of survivors of rape and misogyny. We, and the Yazidi community generally, need more than sympathy.

Nadia Murad is a former captive of Islamic State (ISIS); UN Goodwill Ambassador and author of the memoir “The Last Girl”.

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