Nadia Murad (L) and Lamia Haji Bashar, public advocates for the Yazidi community in Iraq and survivors of sexual enslavement by the Islamic State jihadists, are awarded laureates of the 2016 Sakharov human rights prize at the European parliament in Strasbourg in 2016. Photo: Frederick Florin / AFP

Nadia Murad, who went from Islamic State captivity to become one of the foremost advocates for victims of sexual violence by the extremists, was on Friday awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

She was one of two recipients, alongside Denis Mukwege, a physician from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who were recognized for their “efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.”

Denis Mukwege is the helper who has devoted his life to defending these victims. Nadia Murad is the witness who tells of the abuses perpetrated against herself and others. Each of them in their own way has helped to give greater visibility to war-time sexual violence, so that the perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions,” read a statement by the Nobel Prize Committee.

Murad was one of thousands of Yazidi girls and women who were taken captive by Islamic State in August 2014 and subjected to rape and other forms of abuse when the militants overran their home region of Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. 

After escaping three months in captivity, Murad took the unlikely path of becoming a spokeswoman for her people and other survivors of sexual violence.

“She refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed of the abuses to which they have been subjected. She has shown uncommon courage in recounting her own sufferings and speaking up on behalf of other victims,” the committee said.

The Islamic State at the height of its power controlled huge swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, subjecting local populations to its austere interpretation of Islamic law and brutal tactics of repression. After a major military effort, Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi last December declared victory over the extremists. 

While Islam contains specific rules governing the treatment of other Abrahamic faiths, the Yazidis were heretics in the eyes of the conquering militants, and subjected to massacre in the case of the men and sexual enslavement in the case of the women and girls.

Murad in 2016 was named the United Nations’ first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking and has traveled across the globe to raise awareness about the impact of such crimes.

It has been one decade since the UN Security Council declared the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and a war crime under international law.

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