KOCHO, Iraq (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A prominent Yazidi activist held as a sex slave by Islamic State militants returned to her home in Iraq on Thursday for the first time since she was captured three years ago, tearfully pleading for international help to free other Yazidi women still captive.
Nadia Murad, 24, was one of about 7,000 women and girls captured in northwest Iraq in August 2014 by the hard-line Sunni Muslim fighters who view Yazidis as devil worshippers.
She was abducted from Kocho near Sinjar, an area home to about 400,000 Yazidis, and held by Islamic State in Mosul where she was repeatedly tortured and raped. She escaped three months later, reaching a refugee camp, then making her way to Germany.
Murad has taken to the world stage to appeal for support for the Yazidi religious minority, in the United Nations Security Council in 2015 and to all governments globally, earning her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination and U.N. Goodwill Ambassador role.
Making her first visit home since she was kidnapped in 2014, she cried as she visited her former school in Kocho. The village was retaken from Islamic state fighters late last week.
“I am a daughter of this village,” she said.
At the school three years ago, the militants gathered all the Kocho residents, sending children to training camps, forcing women and girls into slavery and killing the men, she recalled in tears.
An estimated 3,500 women and girls still are enslaved.
“We hoped that our destiny would be like the men and be killed, but instead Europeans, Saudis and Tunisians and other fighters came and raped us and sold us,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Seven mass graves lie in Kocho, and Murad called for them to be exhumed.
“Open a case for those that lost everything, their parents, people who can not go back to their villages and exhume their loved ones buried around their villages,” she said.
The international community has failed to help free the women and girls still held captive, she said.
“The international community has not delivered on its responsibility,” she said. “I tell anyone that you are being unjust for not supporting a minority like the Yazidis.”
Murad has called for the massacre of Yazidis to be officially recognized as genocide.
She visited her village in the company of her sister, surrounded by Yazidi fighters, and stood on the roof of the school to speak.
Many in the crowd cried as they listened to her speak and thank the forces fighting to liberate the Yazidi villages.
Murad said she never thought she would get back to Kocho, an agricultural village once home to about 2,000 Yazidis, of whom about half were killed in the 2014 attacks or are missing.
Murad’s sister Khayriyah, 30, who also was enslaved for five months but escaped, said she too never imagined returning home.
“I never thought I would come back to Kocho again,” she told the Foundation. “I thought I would be killed.”
One of Murad’s nieces is still held by Islamic State.
The visit, under heavy security, came after militias loyal to Iran and fighting alongside Iraqi armed forces managed to fight their way to border with Syria for the first time last week, freeing the last Yazidi villages from Islamic State.
On her website Murad explains how six of her nine brothers were killed in the Kocho massacre and her mother was executed as she was considered too old for sexual enslavement.
In total around 18 of her family members were murdered or are missing, with mass Yazidi graves uncovered in the area north of Sinjar mountain.
United Nations investigators estimate more than 5,000 Yazidis were rounded up and slaughtered in the 2014 attack that a U.N. commission called a genocide by Islamic State which declared a “caliphate” over parts of Iraq and Syria.
If such a designation were made official, it would mark the first recognized genocide by non-state actors, rather than a state or paramilitaries acting on its behalf.
International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney last June said she aimed to prosecute Islamic State through the International Criminal Court for their crimes against the Yazidi community.
Murad, who now lives in Germany, is planning to release a memoir this year titled “The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State”.
“People are very proud of Nadia for publicizing the Yazidi cause. When she comes home to the camp everyone comes to see her. Yazidis love her,” her sister, who lives in Rwanga camp in Dohuk Governate in Iraqi Kurdistan, told the Foundation.