AT ONLY 21 YEARS OLD, Nadia Murad Basee has had to demonstrate remarkable courage. She was one of hundreds of women taken captive by ISIS fighters in August 2014. At that time, she was living with her family in Kocho, a small village in northern Iraq. Shortly after ISIS descended into her village, the men were separated from the women and children, and most were killed. Fighters then separated Nadia and other younger women to be traded and sold.

Murad shared her story at the Harvard Kennedy School during a conversation at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. Her testimony shed light on the commodification and enslavement of thousands of women in Iraq and Syria.

“I found my soul, my body, my emotions…to be occupied and used by people who look like humans, but they are not human,” Murad said. She explained that captives were given two choices – to convert or to die. Regardless of the decision, ISIS fighters then killed thousands, including those that were disabled, and she described how fighters brought the children to training camps.

Murad is a Yazidi woman, an ethno-religious minority, most of who live in Iraq and Syria. As a community they have been targeted and brutalized by ISIS, who consider Yazidis non-believers. Murad has the painful understanding that her story is not singular. While she recounted the fact that eighteen of her own family members are missing, she recognized that they represent such a small number of the victims of ISIS in that region.

“All the people and communities in the area are victims,” she said. She continued, “ISIS has killed thousands of innocent people, and they have forcefully displaced millions of others in Iraq and Syria. ISIS destroyed the humans, destroyed the civilization in Iraq and Syria, and brought laws from the middle ages, laws that are based on the ignorance, on extremism, on force, and on injustice.” 

Recently, Murad presented her testimony at the U.N. Security Council, asking them to act now on behalf of enslaved Yazidis. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and is determined to continue to advocate on behalf of those she left behind. 

What can we do?

After listening to her painful testimony, audience members asked: What can we, as members of the Harvard community, do to help?

“One thing, for the students here, and students everywhere, is to follow this case, is to be aware of this case, and to be part of it,” she said. “We need more work to be done on this. Many people don’t even know who the Yazidis are, so we need to shed more light on this case in general.”

Murad also encouraged anyone who can to visit refugee and IDP camps. “When I was at the camps, we were very happy every time that someone would come, and would look at our situation. So for the students, for the faculty, if anyone had a chance, I invite you to go and see the situation on the ground yourself…whether at the camps, or the mass graves, or the situation with the women…it’s very good to go see the situation yourself and make yourself aware by being there.”

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