10 key moments in Nadia Murad’s journey: From ISIS captivity to Nobel Laureate

Iraqi Yazidi human rights activist Nadia Murad’s Instagram is filled with photos of her discussing women’s rights on the world stage with notable names such as Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna. 

Most recently, she was invited by Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska to meet survivors of the war. 

Murad is in a position to spotlight the atrocities of women being used as weapons of war, because she has been one herself. 

Looking at her beautiful, and often smiling face on social media, one could never fathom the horrors she has survived.

In 2014, when she was 21 years old, Murad was kidnapped from her home in Iraq by members of the militant organization Islamic State—commonly referred to as ISIS, and later IS—for three months. 

Following her escape, Murad has channeled her pain and horrific experience into becoming a powerful crusader and advocate for women living in conflict zones and for women who are also survivors of sexual violence. 

Here are ten things you need to know about the woman who escaped ISIS against all the odds.  

1) She was kidnapped by the Islamic State 

Murad grew up in the village of Kocho in the Sinjar Mountain region of northern Iraq. She is from the country’s Yazidi—an ethnoreligious group—minority. 

In 2014, the Islamic State conquered Kocho and massacred several hundred men and elderly women. ISIS claimed that the Yazidis were devil worshippers whose population needed to be wiped out. 

On August 15, Murad was kidnapped from her home in Iraq by ISIS. Other women were also abducted and forced into being sex slaves. 

Murad was held as a slave in the city of Mosul, where she was coerced into converting to the IS version of Islam. Refusing meant immediate execution. 

But living meant being routinely raped, beaten, and burned with cigarettes. 

After a few months, Murad miraculously managed to escape when her captor left the house unlocked. 

In 2015, after courageously traveling between countries, she made it to Germany. 

After escaping captivity, she began to speak out.

In Germany, Murad decided that she wasn’t going to remain silent about her plight. She told the international community what she had gone through.

Her hope was that telling her story would help bring her abusers to justice for the atrocious crimes they committed against her.

This wasn’t just about herself: Murad wanted to speak out on behalf of her Yazidi community and the survivors of sexual violence. She shared her harrowing story, speaking about the thousands of girls and women still captive and constantly abused by ISIS. 

“The fate of most of 3,500 Yazidi women and girls who remain in captivity is known and probably most will face a similar fate if the world does not act now. This is why I ask the world to act and act fast. The longer [ISIS] stays in power, the deeper our wound becomes,” Nadia told Women in a 2016 interview with Women in the World.

2) She was represented by Amal Clooney in her case against IS

In 2016, prominent human rights lawyer Amal Clooney confirmed that he would represent Murad, alongside other Yazidi victims of the genocide in a case against ISIS. 

“It is time that we see IS commanders in the dock in The Hague, and I am honored to have been asked to represent Nadia and the Yazidi community in their quest for legal accountability,” Clooney said at the time.

Amal and her husband, actor George Clooney, welcomed Murad into their home. “They listened passionately to my story, and Amal gifted me by representing my case. Amal gave me renewed hope by being my voice,” Murad told Women in the World

3) She was appointed the United Nations first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking 

In 2016, she was appointed the United Nations’ first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking

In 2008, the United Nations has made the determination that use of sexual violence in war and conflict is a war crime.

4) She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work advocating for women in conflict 

In 2018, Murad was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize—the first Iraqi and Yazidi to be so honored. 

Murad was jointly awarded the prestigious prize alongside Denis Mukwegen for “their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict,” the Nobel committee said in a statement. 

5) She founded Nadia’s Initiative 

The same year she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Murad founded Nadia’s Initiative—an organization dedicated to to helping women and children who are victims of genocide, mass atrocity, and human trafficking. The goal of the organization is to help women and children heal and rebuild their lives. 

“I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine,” Murad has said. “We must not only imagine a better future for women, children, and persecuted minorities; we must work consistently to make it happen—prioritizing humanity, not war.”

Murad stresses that reparations can not be an abstract principle of justice or just a topic for a legal debate. “Reparations are the difference between going hungry—and having enough food to put on the table. Between being outcast from their communities—and being able to put a roof over their heads,” she has said. 

Nadia’s Initiative, in collaboration with the Global Survivors Fund, is implementing an interim reparative measures (IRM) project in Sinjar and Duhok, empowering thousands of survivors to heal, rebuild, and thrive.

6) She wrote a memoir about her horrific ordeal

Nadia Murad 2 10 key moments in Nadia Murad's journey: From ISIS captivity to Nobel Laureate

Murad’s memoir, entitled The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State with a foreword by Amal Clooney. 

The book goes in-depth into early life in her village Kocho and having a quiet life with her brothers and sisters. Growing up, Murad had alternate dreams of becoming a history teacher or opening her own beauty salon. 

These dreams died on August 15, 2014, as the terrorist group targeted her village in a mass murder. Islamic State killed the men who refused to convert to Islam as well as the women who were too old to become sex slaves. 

Six of Murad’s brothers were murdered, and so was her mother. They were put into mass graves alongside many others. Murad and other Yazidi girls were taken to Mosul and sold into the ISIS slave trade. 

The memoir also delves into her dangerous escape through the streets of Mosul, where she was taken in by a Sunni Muslim family whose son put his own life in danger when he smuggled Murad to safety.

8) In 2021, a member of the Islamic State was convicted for crimes against humanity for the first time

On November 30, 2021, a German court in Frankfurt convicted Taha Al-J, an IS member of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes for enslaving and abusing a Yazidi woman and her five-year-old daughter. The child died as a result. 

The Iraqi national was sentenced to life in prison. This was the first trial—and indeed the first conviction—of an IS member for genocide in the world. 

Nadia Murad’s statement on the conviction: 

“This verdict is a win for survivors of genocide, survivors of sexual violence, and the entire Yazidi community. Thank you to Germany for today’s historic conviction. Germany is not only raising awareness about the need for justice but is acting on it. Their use of universal jurisdiction in this case can and should be replicated by governments around the world.”

It was Amal Clooney’s commitment to bring ISIS members to court. 

Continued Murad:

“When survivors seek justice, they look for someone to give them hope that justice is possible. Amal gave me and many survivors hope that we will achieve justice. I am grateful to Amal for her tireless work to bring ISIS members to court.”

9) She has campaigned for countries to recognize the atrocities of ISIS as a genocide and was proud of Germany for its official recognition 

In January 2023, Germany recognized the atrocities of IS on the Yazidi people as genocide

“More than eight years ago ISIS tried to destroy my people,” Nurad posted on her Instagram. “The more countries that recognize these actions as genocide, the more awareness we can raise about the ongoing needs of the community.”

She continued:

“I’m proud of Germany for their official recognition of the genocide, and I look forward to continuing to partner with them on efforts to assist survivors and rebuild Sinjar.”

Just last week, Murad met with Austrian Foreign Minister, Alexander Schallenberg, and called on him and his government to recognize the Yazidi genocide and to condemn the recent resurgence of hate speech against Yazidis in Iraq. 

“We need support from politicians if we are to hold those responsible for conflict-related sexual violence to account,” she said. 

10) Murad’s niece as well as many of her classmates taken captive by IS remain unfound

This past International Women’s Day, Murad made mention of the progress that still needs to be made regarding the plight of women in conflict regions. 

“I cannot forget those that are still missing,” she wrote on Instagram. “Despite eight years having passed, my niece and many of my classmates who were taken captive by ISIS remain unfound. Look at their faces,” she said, referring to the photos she posted of the young women. “They could be any one of us. We must bring them home!”

Picture of Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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