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Op-Ed: Nadia Murad and the story of crushing of an inhuman tradition

Kurdish legal consultant, writer and journalist Chiman Salih discusses Nadia Murad Basee Taha’s recent appointment as a UN Goodwill Ambassador. Salih also highlights the UK’s initiative to bring ISIS terrorists to justice for committing serious crimes and calls on the UN to take more action against the murderous terrorist organization.
Chiman Salih

Recently, the United Nations Committee on Drugs and Crimes appointed Nadia Murad Basee Taha as a UN Goodwill Ambassador (an Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking). The ceremony took place in New York on September 16, 2016.

International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney expressed my thoughts precisely as she spoke out against the UN for failing to bring ISIS to justice for some of the most serious crimes it committed against the Yazidi population. Yes, if the UN was really committed to its fundamental duty, it would be doing everything to bring ISIS to justice.

I asked United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen J. Rapp how this could be achieved in Kurdistan against ISIS members because Malian terrorist Ahmed Faqi Mehdi was sentenced by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for carrying out terrorist attacks and planning to ruin a number of his country's landmarks.

He wrote back to me: “This is indeed a crime that could also be prosecuted in Kurdistan. However, the KR Parliament in Erbil or the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad would need to amend the criminal code to ‘domesticate’ international criminal law including Article 8(2)(e)(iv) of the Rome Statute. This does not require Iraq to join the ICC. Moreover, domestic enactment of international criminal law can be done retroactively under a special provision of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I discussed this with the all-party committee at the parliament in Erbil in April and believe it would help and not hinder any eventual international prosecutions.”

In addition, he talked about the British initiative that was presented to the UN Security Council regarding this matter: “Regarding whether these crimes committed in Kurdistan could be prosecuted before the ICC or another international court, the current situation is the same as with genocidal crimes committed by members of Daesh (ISIS).  At present, there is no international court that has jurisdiction over the territory. I hope that this will change. The strong UK support for the UN Security Council to create [an] "international independent investigative" commission for the crimes committed by Daesh in this area may open the way.”

Recently, the UK presented its initiative to the Security Council during the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly. The UK took this opportunity to remind the world leaders of the crimes committed by ISIS. While the appointment of Murad is a great accomplishment for the fight against these crimes, the UN should do more in order to restore the dignity of all the victims of the murderous terrorist organization by supporting the UK project.

Despite the importance of this appointment, which has been noted by many public figures, it has another deep and crucial influence on the Kurdistan society and in the wider region.

Why? Many people talked about the decision in some aspects of humanitarian suffering and ISIS brutality but I would like to add another aspect of importance.

Nadia suffered too much. She was just 21 years old when she was living with her family in the village of Kocho near Sinjar. In August 2014, ISIS raided the village and no one was able to escape. On the August 15th, the terrorist organization separated the men from the women. Eventually, ISIS terrorists shot the men, boys and many women mercilessly. Six of Nadia’s brothers and her mother were murdered that day while three of her brothers managed to escape.

Nadia was trafficked as a sex slave by ISIS before she was able to escape. She was among the thousands of women abducted by ISIS terrorists as they took over swaths of territories. Many of these women were sold as 'sabia' (slaves) and those who escaped have described brutal gang-rapes and being passed among ISIS terrorists, sold and gifted for free. Nadia escaped after three months of imprisonment and continuous rape. She went to a house in Mosul where the family helped her get to Kirkuk and then to the Kurdistan region where she was reunited with her brothers in one of the refugee camps. Currently, she is residing in Germany and has gone through physiological treatment there.

For a long time, social justice has been absent for women who suffered like Nadia because of a longstanding tradition. Is it reasonable to make the victim out to be the criminal and punish her? Throughout history, some social traditions promoted the killing of women who were raped. According to these traditions, the woman will bring shame and stigma to her family, tribe, district and community if she discloses what she was forced to do. In some communities, these traditions and beliefs are still upheld. Even though the man is the real criminal who raped the woman, he has the opportunity to escape the punishment by paying an amount of money and reconciling with the raped woman’s family.

In most cities, these traditions have died down. However, even where the tradition of killing the raped woman has died down, she might still be disgraced by her community. These women will never be able to live a normal life as long as this is how they are viewed.

The Kurdistan Regional Government in 2008 through the Kurdistan Parliament, which has the power of legislation, dared to amend some articles in the Iraqi Penal Code and the Law of Personal Status by restricting polygamy and changing the legal status of honor killings to murder. This amendment might have helped to punish some of criminals but because of the social traditions and tribal reconciliations that were mentioned above, the revised law could not really come into effect.

For the first time, Murad and those women who suffered like her are no longer considered a stigma for their societies. She has been recognized as the symbol for dignity. This global recognition certainly is a blow to one of the most unreasonable and inhuman mentalities, which is reflected in this bad tradition.

As the Iraqi forces along with international aid are preparing to expel ISIS from their last stronghold in Iraq, we should secure the expulsion of the most disturbing ISIS mentalities that have been the cause of suffering for a long time.

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