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Girls & Women

Former ISIS sex slave calls on US Congress for justice

Nadia Murad, a Yazidi activist speaking to the US Congress about her escape from ISIS and the need for global action.
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An escaped sex slave of ISIS who’s become a global activist brought the brutality of the terror organization’s actions to members of the US Senate.

Nadia Murad Buress was one of thousands of Yazidi women kidnapped and put into sexual slavery by ISIS. After three months she escaped her brutalizers with the help of a Muslim family in Iraq. She escaped to a world where her small religious minority in Iraq had been decimated.

Thousands were killed just in the first few days of the attacks by ISIS. An estimated 80 percent of her people are displaced without even “the joy of having a tent to live in,” according to Nadia’s testimony to the US Congress.

This tragedy went largely unnoticed by the wider world. This is when Nadia went from a survivor to an activist. A young woman who had once simply “dreamed of opening a beauty salon” became an international voice for Yazidis and other religious minorities under threat from ISIS. A global tour telling her story and calling for ISIS to be stopped has put her in front of the UN Security Council, countless heads of state, and most recently in front of the US Congress.

Earlier this year, US Secretary of State John Kerry took the important step of labelling ISIS’ actions as “genocide.” Since then little to no action has been taken by the US. To keep momentum, Nadia took her story to the US Congress.

Yesterday, she shared her story, her dreams, and her call for justice with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Here are just a few of the powerful moments from the hearings. (A full transcript of her written testimony is at the bottom of this piece)

1) Connecting to the US experience of tragedy

“The first thing I would like to tell you is that I was heartbroken when I witnessed the crimes committed in Orlando. Because for the same reason — for no reason — these were committed and people were abused the same way that I was. But I was not surprised by this, because I knew that if ISIS was not stopped then they would deliver their crimes everywhere.”

Nadia opened her testimony sharing her emotional response to the tragic shooting in Orlando that left 49 people dead. Her visibly emotional response connected the tragedy to the larger struggle against extremism, hate and violence that she has so personally witnessed.

2) Nadia tells her story

Nadia then told her story of abduction and forced sexual servitude, a story she previously shared with Global Citizen in moving detail.

3) It was genocide

“What happened to the Yazidi people was genocide. Just the first day, thousands were killed.” It led to the “displacement of about 80% of the Yazidi people who do not have even the joy of a tent to live in.”

The genocide label is more than rhetoric. Genocide is a war crime punishable in the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is a key element of Nadia’s global campaign to bring ISIS to justice.

4) The call for justice

“I was freed but I do not enjoy the feeling of the freedom because those who have committed those crimes have not been held accountable.”

Despite the label of genocide being used by global leaders like the United States, so far no nation has agreed to refer the actions taken against the Yazidi to the ICC.

5) A safe zone

“The Yazidis and all other religious minorities, they are unable to protect themselves in Iraq and Syria. If a country as strong as your country cannot protect its citizens in Orlando or in Belgium or in France how can a small minority like us protect ourselves when we are in the heart of where the radicals are.”

Nadia has repeatedly called for a safe zone to be established in Iraq and Syria where religious minorities can be protected from ISIS.

“We are only seeking peace. We want to live in dignity wherever we are.”

This proposal has been rejected by US President Obama.

6) An important reminder about tolerance

“I am not saying these crimes are about religion. ISIS is using religion to commit these crimes… I don’t like anyone to be attacking an entire religion, for example the family that liberated me was Muslim. But at the same time this crime was committed under the name of Islam.”

This statement is a powerful reminder that ISIS is not representative of the religion of Islam. Twisting a religion to suit evil intentions should not color global perspective of a religion practiced by over 1.6 billion people. Nadia’s campaign is against ISIS not Islam.

7) A special call for Muslims to take a stand

“Racism should not be practiced against Islam. But these crimes have been committed under the name of Islam and the Muslim [people] must be the first one to resist this.”  

Reminding the world to be tolerant of Islam, Nadia still puts pressure on people in predominantly Muslim nations, particularly those in the Middle East and North Africa region, to resist ISIS.

8) Nadia’s call to the Arab world

(Note: Da’esh is the Arabic name for ISIS)

Da’esh will not give up their weapons unless we force them to give up their weapons. Before all, Arab countries must stop the flow of their citizens to Da’esh and prevent them from joining Da’esh. And we have to prevent the supply of money and weapons to them. And prevent that their oil must not be sold. And then we have to fight them militarily after that.

Nadia specifically highlighted shows of support for her and the Yazidi in Egypt and Kuwait. Yet stated this support has translated to little action or even official condemnation from leaders.

9) A reminder of who this struggle is for: the future

When I was a little girl I had a dream to open a beauty salon. I was prevented from this dream. And that is the exact same story of thousands of children… Over 1,00 children were taken to be subjected to ISIL brainwashing and terrorist ideology.

Nadia’s testimony was moving. Members of the US Congress expressed their support, compassion and horror at her story and the plight of the Yazidis.

In her written testimony she called for US action to work with their allies to bring ISIS to justice for their crimes. And she issued a powerful call for unity with the American people:

Please bring your powers to help, to heal, to solve.

Come share our tears.

Our crisis is your crisis.


To see an excerpt of Nadia’s testimony, go HERE.

Nadia’s full written testimony is here:

Honorable members of the Senate
I am deeply grateful to this committee for allowing me to share my story.
We Yazidis are a human society. We are at a critical stage. We love each other as you do. And we love your nation for its history of helping when all seems lost.
Terrorism has destroyed our world and threatens, no doubt, the existence of mankind and civilization as we know it.
Terrorism is destroying the human heritage we have collectively built, not as one people, one nation, one color, one religion, but the civilization we’ve built together as humans of different cultures and faiths.
I am one of thousands of Yazidi girls that were taken captive by the so-called Islamic State. I had a normal life before August 3rd 2014. I lived with my mother and siblings in peace. Our people go back thousands of years in the heartland of Mesopotamia where civilization was first started.
I was going to high school; I had dreams like every girl in the world.
I wanted to become a teacher and build a family.
My community of about half million people never harmed anyone. We lived in peace with Muslims, Christians and other groups, religious or not.
But our peaceful ways did not save us. The Islamic State militants attacked us in Sinjar with the clear intention to destroy the Yazidi people as a distinctive, non-Muslim religious group.
The Yazidis were given a choice: convert or die.
Unlike others attacked, the Yazidis were denied a third choice – the ability to pay Jeziyah or leave.
Daesh said we were not “People of the Book” - essentially authorizing our men to be killed, our women and children to be enslaved, our property to be confiscated. We were powerless.
More than 3,000 Yazidi men, women and children were killed in two weeks. Hundreds of disabled and elderly that could not escape were slaughtered. Tens of thousands of Yazidi watched in a 75-mile march from Mount Sinjar without water with many getting killed along the way.
Daesh killed my mother and six brothers in one day.
More than 1,600 children were taken from Sinjar to be subjected to ISIL brainwashing and terrorist ideology, including my 13-year-old nephew who has now been brain washed and tells his own mother that she is an Infidel. 
More than 3,000 women and girls as young as 8 years were forced to be sex slaves.
I was so forced. I was 19.
My niece Katherine, 19 years old, was killed by an IED as she tried to escape.
Lamia, a 9 years old girl, was also killed escaping with Katherine.
Today captive Yazidis are systematically used as human shields in combat by their ISIS captors.
Daesh has committed genocide against my people, against United Nations law, against US law, the UK parliament, in France and so many others, yet the ISIS or Daesh case has not been referred to the ICC or the international court.
I am sad that the world doesn't focus on bringing such genocidal perpetrators to accountability. It's painful to me as a survivor to see a world that turns away, averting its eyes, ignoring the worst crimes.
Some are old enough to remember what happened in Germany and other places. The civilized world did not act until it was too late.
The Yazidis are experiencing holocaust anew. We suffer a human brutality, murder, sex slavery, and forced displacement.
I have seen Daesh, I have lived under their barbaric rule, I well know the Daesh intention. And they make it clear in their statements. 
Daesh intends to rule and destroy the whole world.
The attack on Orlando was so motivated. San Bernardino was so motivated. I send condolences to the families and friends of all victims. There will be more.
Orlando will be repeated if the world doesn't put an end such terrorism. There is no sanctuary. With today’s weapons and bioterror, no place is safe for anyone!  Daesh is powerful. And it has been helped.
I appeal to you, to this committee, to the US senate and government, and to the American people formally to recognize Yazidi Genocide.
Please help my people. Please work with us to bring Daesh to Justice.
Today the circumference of Daesh control is about 3,000 miles. Help us bring an end to their rule. Do not let them grow more and more by indifference.
Any form of ambivalence will be felt as encouragement.
The world must act, definitely the USA must act. We must terminate Daesh and all such terror.
We need to act decisively now so that some of the remaining 3,200 Yazidi captives can come back.
I ask the US, also, to work with allies and foe alike to establish a safe and protected zone for Iraqi and Syrian religious minorities. All must agree on this, now. The Yazidi people cannot wait.
Established governments world-wide are threatened as never before.
Learn from the Yazidis experience. Come to us, sit with us, let us teach you what this is like… Visit our people, face and hug our orphaned children, see our unprotected mass graves, view our ravaged farms and hill tops…
Please bring your powers to help, to heal, to solve.
Come share our tears.
Our crisis is your crisis.