By Robin Gomes
Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, has added her signature to an open letter by several international NGOs and Iraq’s civil society groups, welcoming the current visit of Pope Francis to her native Iraq.
The letter, signed by 34 organizations, calls for adequate protection for the minority communities of Iraq, which are being threatened by terrorist groups and also by unjust laws.
Murad signed the open letter on behalf of ‘Nadia’s Initiative’, an NGO she founded in 2018 to advocate for survivors of sexual violence and help rebuild communities in crisis. Murad was awarded the Noble Prize for her activism to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.
Addressing the Holy See, the open letter notes that the papal visit, which comes at a critical moment in Iraq’s history, is an important opportunity to promote peace and tolerance by bringing together the country’s ethnic and religious communities and inspiring collective action to prevent further atrocities of the kind that has caused so much suffering for generations.
Persecution, IS threats continue
The NGOs and civil society groups note that in recent times minority groups in Iraq have faced increasing levels of persecution and violent attacks based on religious beliefs. Ongoing genocides have forced communities to flee their ancestral homelands.
The signatories recall the misuse of Sharia Law led to the institutionalized marginalization of non-Muslim minorities in Iraq. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, they point out, led to state collapse, sectarian warfare, and the proliferation of extremist ideologies and armed groups.
“The Christian population has been reduced to a mere 300,000 today,” and “other minority communities such as Yazidis, Sabean-Mandaeans, Turkmen, Kak’ais, and Shabaks have faced existential threats in recent years.”
Since August 2014, the so-called Islamic State (IS) terrorist group exploited the chaotic situation to launch a genocidal campaign against ethno-religious minorities in Iraq. They aimed at exterminating the country’s religious minorities, particularly the Yazidis, decrying them as devil-worshippers. IS executed those who refused to convert and destroyed countless shrines, churches, temples, and other cultural sites.
The 34 groups note that the threat of future atrocities from Da’esh, another name for IS, remains clear and present despite the terrorist group’s territorial defeat. Meanwhile, hate speech by some extremist clerics continues against minorities and intolerance remains deep-rooted.
Inadequate basic services and infrastructure and the ongoing security threat from an increased presence of militia groups in the Nineveh plains, they say, leave communities with a sense of hopelessness and despair.
Call for justice and accountability
While welcoming the efforts already taken to safeguard religious freedom in Iraq, the group of 34 warn that without justice and accountability for past atrocities, religious communities will continue to face persecution and the threat of repeated violence.
The NGOs and civil society groups regard Pope Francis’ Iraq visit as an ideal opportunity to promote cooperation and unity of purpose among the Government of Iraq, the Kurdish Regional Government, religious leaders, and the wider international community in order to comprehensively address the needs of affected communities. In this regard, they recommend 6 measures, including legislation and education, to remedy the situation.
Nadia Murad a native of the village of Kocho in Iraq’s Sinjar district, Iraq, has become the face of her Yazidi people, a minority community brutalized and murdered by IS.
She was among the more than 6,000 Yazidi women and girls that IS rounded up as slaves in 2014, in a bid to erase the community. She herself was beaten, burned with cigarettes, and raped repeatedly during her captivity in the city of Mosul.
Eventually, she was able to escape and sought shelter in refugee camps away from IS territories. Finally, in 2015, Germany accepted her as a refugee, from where she used her freedom to become an advocate for the thousands of Yazidi women who remain missing or are still in IS captivity.
The Pope and Nadia
Murad has met Pope Francis twice.
The first time was on 3 May 2017, at the end of a General Audience in the Vatican. She met him again on 20 December 2018, in a private audience, during which she and her husband shared her story with him.