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Iraqi Yazidi activists Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar receive 2016 Sakharov Prize

Islamic State survivors and Iraqi Yazidi activists Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar received today Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The two women were honoured by Parliament for standing up for the persecuted Yazidi minority and the victims of sexual violence by Islamic State. “There remain more than 3,500 child and women held hostage as slaves under Daesh. Every day they die a thousand times,” Aji Bashar said in her acceptance speech.

Lamiya Aji Bashar: “Daesh militants sold me over four times” 

“I was sold four times by Daesh," Aji Bashar told MEPs. In an emotional speech she narrated her ordeal at the hands of Islamic State and how she was seriously disfigured during her escape while her childhood friend and another girl died.

"Together with a friend of mine called Kathrin and a nine-year-old girl, all of us were raped," she said. "The three of us did actually manage to escape but before we actually managed to arrive to safety, Kathrin accidentally walked over a landmine and it exploded and the last thing I heard was her death screams and it was the worst thing I have ever heard."

Aji Bashar continued: “I believe I can be a voice to the victims. And the Sakharov Prize gives me great strength and this is why I have taken the decision to become a voice for the voiceless." She added: “More than 3,500 child and women are still held hostage as slaves under Daesh. Every day they die a thousand times."

Protect the Yazidi community, urge laureates 

Murad told MEPs about the day most of her family were killed and she was taken as a sex slave. “Daesh and the extremists came in on the third of August [2014] to the Yazidis from existence. They gave us one option: death or [converting to] Islam."

"There is no doubt Daesh committed mass genocide. This genocide did not only consist of killings, it also sought to enslave women in a systematic manner and to take children,” she said. “Today, my community has disintegrated under the weight of genocide.” Murad called for the international prosecution of the perpetrators of what she called a genocide.

“The half million a Yazidisin Iraq are the last members of this community in the Middle East,” said Murad, who together with Aji Bashar called for the establishment of safe zones in the country for Yazidi and other minorities.  Alternatively, Europe could receive and resettle the Yazidis on its own soil, she said. “We see Europe as a symbol of humanity, and Europe is indeed confirming that today. Europe must remain as model for the world and a model for the coexistence of peoples and cultures."

Fighting for those left behind

During the ceremony Parliament President Martin Schulz said: “They have suffered unspeakable atrocities, survived captivity and they escaped and found exile. They overcame fear and pain and have finally found shelter with us here in Europe. Both, Nadia Murad and Lamiya, fight for those left behind. They fight against impunity and for justice."

Schulz said that the International Criminal Court must investigate the crimes committed by Islamic State and said that Europe had a duty to protect persecuted people. "We, the democratic communities living in more prosperous parts of the world we sometimes refuse however to give this people protection.. This is a source of shame. This is unbearable."

Schulz also welcomed the Sakharov Prize 2016 finalists Can Dündar and Mustafa Dzhemilev present in the public and called again on the Saudi authorities to immediately release last year's laureate, Raif Badawi.

The speeches by Murad and Aji Bashar were followed by a standing ovation. The EP president introduced Aji Bashar´s younger brother, who had been reunited with his sister yesterday, after 18 months in a camp.

Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar

Murad and Bashar, are from Kocho, one of the villages near Sinjar, Iraq. In August 2014, Islamic State militants slaughtered all the males in the village. Young women, including Aji Bashar, Murad and their sisters, were abducted  and forced into sex slavery.

They eventually managed to escape: Murad in November 2014 and Aji Bashar in April 2016.

Murad, 23 years old, and Aji Bashar, 18 years old, are now living in Germany and have become active in raising awareness of the plight of the Yazidi community in Iraq, a religious minority subjected to a genocidal campaign by Islamic State militants, and of the situation of women afflicted by the terrorist group’s campaign of sexual violence.

I first met Nadia at the UN's Commission on the Status of Women in New York in March 2016, and Nadia's story brought me to floods of tears. I have also met other Yazidi women refugees in a refugee camp near Diyarbakir, Turkey. I vow to continue to raise awareness of the mass atrocities facing the Yazidi people, and other women across the globe, in my capacity as a co-founder of EGAM's Elie Wiesel Network.

About the Sakharov Prize 

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was set up in 1998 and is awarded each year by the European Parliament to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. Laureates receive €50,000. Last year the prize was awarded to Raif Badawi.The Saudi blogger who has not been able to receive the prize in person is still in prison for hosting a website promoting social, political and religious debate.

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