The Council of Europe on Monday awarded its Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize to Iraqi activist Nadia Murad, who was a an IS sex slave before becoming the face of a campaign to protect her Yazidi people. The award, which honours outstanding civil society action in defence of human rights, comes with prize money of 60,000 euros ($67,000).
The slight, softly spoken young woman was taken by IS from her home village of Kocho near Iraq's northern town of Sinjar in August 2014 and brought to the city of Mosul. Among the first things the IS forced on her was to disavow her Yazidi faith, an ancient religion with more than half a million adherents concentrated near the Syrian border in northern Iraq.
As a captive of the reviled extremist group, Murad, who today is 23, said she was tortured and raped for three months until she managed to escape and flee to Germany. Since then, she has become a human rights activist, bringing the plight of the Yazidi community, especially the forced sexual enslavement and human trafficking of women and children captured by IS to the forefront of international attention.
The Vaclav Havel prize is instituted in memory of the former Czech president and playright whose writings and opposition to totalitarianism turned him into a global icon. Murad, in her acceptance speech in Strasbourg, called for the creation of an international court to judge crimes committed by Islamic State jihadists. She recalled the plight of some 12,000 Yazidis who have fallen victim to IS persecution, branding it a "genocide."
"The free world is not reacting," said Murad, 18 of whose family members have either been killed or enslaved by the IS. The prize is awarded by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
The other two shortlisted candidates this year were Serbian journalist Gordana Igric, an active campaigner for human rights and media freedom, and the International Institute of Human Rights/Rene Cassin Foundation, which has worked since 1969 to promote human rights and peace. Murad was last month named a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN's office on drugs and crime, working for the victims of human trafficking.