On Friday the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 to Nadia Murad, a Yazidi survivor of Islamic State’s crimes against humanity. She will share the prize with Denis Mukwege for their activism and work “to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.”
Congratulations have poured in from around the world. David Milliband of the International Rescue Committee wrote that in light of the “Me Too” era it was important to recognize those fighting for women facing violence “in the midst of difficult situations.” USAID chief Mark Green tweeted that Murad and Mukwege were heroes in a world torn apart by armed conflict and they “inspire us to answer the moral imperative to protect children.” Other congratulatory platitudes included a statement from Peace Direct that “women make strong effective peacebuilders.” The UN was pleased that Murad, who was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador in 2016, had won. Udo Bullmann, president of The Progressives in the EU Parliament typed a note. The Party of European Socialists noted in their praise that Murad had first won the Sakharov Prize in 2016 from the European Parliament.
In Iraq the new President Barham Salih called Murad and wrote that the prize was important because it represents an acknowledgement of the “tragic plight of Ezidis [Yazidis], recognition for her courage in defending human rights of victims of terror and sexual violence.” Masrour Barzani, chancellor of the Kurdistan Regional Security Council, tweeted that he congratulated her for her work on behalf of Yazidis and victims of human trafficking, giving them a “powerful voice.”
Amid the congratulations, Murad wrote her own statement, recalling that there were still thousands of missing Yazidis who were kidnapped when ISIS attacked their area in northern Iraq in August 2014. “Many Yazidis will look upon this prize and think of family members that were lost, are still unaccounted for and of the fate of 1,300 women and children, which remain in captivity.”
I interviewed Murad last year, and she said that she and other survivors were still searching for family members. In all the congratulations for the Nobel victory, the reality of ongoing sexual violence and genocide is not widely recognized. ISIS crimes have been dismissed or even whitewashed since they began. Murad recalled that ISIS first targeted Shi’ites in northern Iraq in June 2014 before targeting Yazidis. “ISIS in Iraq reportedly tried not to alienate local population,” Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth tweeted on June 11, 2014. The opposite was true, ISIS was in the process of systematic ethnic cleansing and genocide of minorities in Syria and Iraq.
Commentators speak of human trafficking and sexual violence in conflict in general terms when there are a specific number of Yazidis still missing, still held by ISIS. US Anti-ISIS envoy Brett McGurk wrote of “heartfelt congratulations,” for Murad and noted that in September the United Nations Security Council had voted to preserve evidence of ISIS atrocities and “pursue justice.” This came after Murad toured the US, including the Holocaust museum, where she saw similarities between Nazi atrocities and ISIS actions.
But the reality on the ground in northern Iraq is that not enough is being done to preserve evidence of ISIS atrocities. I was one of the first journalists to see newly found mass graves near Sinjar after part of the city was liberated from ISIS in November 2015. The graves were in open areas, human hair, blindfolds the victims wore and bones on the surface of a dried river bed.
While scant attention was paid to preserve the mass graves, little has been done to invest in rebuilding dozens of Yazidi communities or aiding the return and security of hundreds of thousands who still live as IDPs. I spoke to a volunteer in Sinjar recently who says women, some of them survivors of ISIS crimes, still have to go to Mosul where they were sold into slavery to get medical care. There is a lack of medical care, educational facilities and basic security in the areas where Yazidis used to live.
ISIS criminals are also not being brought to justice. In Syria there are numerous ISIS members, including two of the infamous British-born ISIS members known as the “Beatles” who allegedly tortured and executed people including journalist Steven Sotloff. Yet the British government stripped them of citizenship, instead of pursuing justice, leaving two of them in limbo, held in a detention center by the Syrian Democratic Forces. There are no Nuremburg-style trials for ISIS members. Instead most countries seek to pass responsibility for their own ISIS volunteers to other countries.
Despite more than seventy countries signing on for the Coalition against ISIS, none of them have specifically tasked resources to finding the remaining missing Yazidis. Much of the technology ISIS used to sell women, including apps like Telegram, were developed in the West. ISIS carried out a high-tech genocide in which technology was used to trade women, and there is no program in the US to use the same apps to track the victims.
The Nobel Prize this year is symbolic and important, but it also shows the gap between how the West gives prizes, but does little, or nothing, for actual survivors and people still in plight. As the prize was being announced CNN ran a story about a Paris park where Nigerian women are forced into prostitution. It revealed a network stretching across Europe, yet little is done to prosecute people forcing, actually enslaving, women into sexual assault across the EU. So, the prize will be awarded not far from where women are still being enslaved. And it will be rewarded while the wealthiest nations do not invest in holding perpetrators to account or aiding the victims of ISIS genocide. Even today Yazidis are still leaving northern Iraq, paying smugglers to get them to Europe, risking abuse in camps in Greece where The Times reported on Thursday that jihadists and former ISIS members still operate.