KOJO, IRAQ // Nadia Murad made an emotional return to the Yazidi village in northern Iraq where she was captured and sold as a slave by ISIL three years ago.
She broke down in tears as she approached the school where the extremists rounded up the population of Kojo and separated the men from the women, part of a series of crimes the United Nations described as a genocide against the Yazidi minority.
“We hoped our fate would be to be killed like the men instead of being sold and raped by Syrians, Iraqis ... Tunisians and Europeans,” Ms Murad said after composing herself, speaking from the roof of the school. “Today the village is surrounded by mass graves.”
Ms Murad received the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, along with another Yazidi woman, Lamiya Aji Bashar.
Now aged 24, Ms Murad was taken in the summer of 2014 to Mosul, ISIL’s self-declared capital in Iraq. She escaped in November 2014. She told her story to the UN Security Council in 2015 and since then she has become active as an advocate for the Yazidis and for refugee and women’s rights in general.
Ms Bashar, now 19, was captured in the same raid as Ms Murad and also kept as a sex slave. She was badly disfigured and blinded in one eye when a landmine went off as she fled.
More than 3,000 women are believed to be still held captive by ISIL, according to Yazidi community leaders.
Kojo is one of the villages recaptured over the past few days by Popular Mobilisation, an Iraqi Shiite paramilitary force trained by Iran.
US-backed Kurdish forces dislodged ISIL from other Yazidi villages in the Sinjar region in 2015. Mosul is about to fall to a US-backed Iraqi offensive.
The Yazidis are a religious community of about 400,000, whose beliefs combine elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions but ISIL militants consider them to be devil worshippers.
International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who represents Ms Murad and other Yazidi victims, is lobbying the Iraqi government and the international community to allow a United Nations investigation into ISIL’s crimes.
“All we want,” Ms Murad said in Kojo, “is people to save 3,000 women in the Daesh prisons and to document our graves.”