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 (ISIS) 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 Miliband of the International Rescue Committee wrote that in light of the “Me Too” era, it was important to recognize those who are 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, who “inspire us to answer the moral imperative to protect children.” Other congratulatory platitudes included a statement from Peace Direct that said, “Women make strong, effective peacebuilders.” The UN was pleased that Murad, who was appointed a UN 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.
The new Iraqi president, Barham Salih, called Murad and wrote that the prize was important because it represents an acknowledgment 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 congratulations to Murad 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 home in northern Iraq in August 2014. “Many Yazidis will look upon this prize and think of family members who were lost, are still unaccounted for, and of the fate of 1,300 women and children who remain in captivity.”
I interviewed Murad last year, and she said then that she and other survivors were still searching for family members. In all of 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 first 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 the local population,” Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth tweeted on June 11, 2014. The opposite was true – ISIS was at the time in the process of systematic ethnic cleansing and genocide of minorities in Syria and Iraq.
Commentators speak of human trafficking and sexual violence in conflicts in general terms. Yet, there is a specific number of Yazidis still missing and 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 voted to preserve evidence of ISIS atrocities and “pursue justice.” This came after Murad toured the US, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, 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 where I saw human hair, victims’ blindfolds – and on the surface of a dried river bed – their bones.
Scant attention was paid to preserving these mass graves, and little has been done to invest in rebuilding dozens of Yazidi communities, or in aiding the return and security of hundreds of thousands who are still living as internally displaced persons. I spoke recently to a volunteer in Sinjar who said women, some of them survivors of ISIS crimes, still have to go to Mosul, where they were sold into slavery, in order to get medical care.
There are significant gaps in 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, instead of pursuing justice, stripped them of citizenship, leaving two of them held in limbo in a detention center run by the Syrian Democratic Forces. There are no Nuremberg-style trials for ISIS members. Instead, most countries seek to pass responsibility for their own ISIS volunteers onto other countries.
Despite more than 70 countries signing on for the coalition against ISIS, none of them have specifically tasked resources to find the remaining missing Yazidis. Much of the technology ISIS used to sell women, including apps like Telegram, was developed in the West. ISIS carried out a hi-tech genocide in which technology was used to trade women, yet there is no program in the US to use the same apps to track the victims.
The Nobel Peace Prize this year is symbolic and important. But it also shows the gap between how the West gives prizes in order to highlight certain plights but does little or nothing for the actual survivors of those plights and the people who are still experiencing them.
As the prize was being announced, CNN ran a story about a Paris park where Nigerian women have been forced into prostitution
. The story revealed a network stretching across Europe, yet little is done to prosecute the people who are brutalizing these women and selling them into sexual slavery across the EU. So, the prize will be awarded not far from where women are still being enslaved. And it will be awarded while the wealthiest nations fail to hold these perpetrators accountable or aid the victims of ISIS genocide. Even today, Yazidis are still leaving northern Iraq, paying smugglers to get them to Europe, and risking abuse in camps in Greece where The Times reported on Thursday that jihadists and former ISIS members still operate.
Seth Frantzman is The Jerusalem Post's op-ed editor, a Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.