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Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad (center) examining potential war crimes sites from Russian bombing in the village of Borodyanka with Olena Zelenska (right), the First Lady of Ukraine, in May 2023.
Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad (center) examining potential war crimes sites from Russian bombing in the village of Borodyanka with Olena Zelenska (right), the First Lady of Ukraine, in May 2023.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad (center) examining potential war crimes sites from Russian bombing in the village of Borodyanka with Olena Zelenska (right), the First Lady of Ukraine, in May 2023. Image: Courtesy of Murad


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Reporter’s Guide to Investigating War Crimes: Preface by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Nadia Murad

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I never knew how small my village was, until I realized the schoolyard could hold every last one of us.

It was August 15, 2014, and for two weeks ISIS had prowled the outskirts of our village Kocho in Iraq, teasing and tormenting us. Finally, they moved in. My school, which had been a place of such happiness and joy, was transformed into a sinister holding pen, a waiting room, bringing us a step closer to genocide.

It took an hour for ISIS to shoot 400 of our fathers, brothers, and sons.

Then, the women and children were rounded up onto buses and sold into the indescribable horror of sexual slavery. The trauma of what happened that day in our village will never leave us. And while the world was aware that ISIS was taking vast swaths of territory in Iraq, our intimate tragedy simply wasn’t covered.

In peacetime, Yazidi women were at the margins of society, but as the conflict raged, we became invisible. Yet, if someone had been looking for us, the clues were there. Written plainly in the manifesto of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was the desire to eradicate Yazidis through murder, forced conversions, and rape. Plus, the militants were openly selling Yazidi women and girls on social media.

If a journalist had told our story earlier would anything have changed? I don’t know the answer to that. But I would urge investigative journalists to look for us, and look for us earlier, the hidden and the vulnerable, before the atrocities start. You are, quite often, our only hope.

Maybe you’ll find us in refugee or internally displaced people (IDP) camps. Perhaps we are hiding in what’s left of our towns and villages. We might have survived, but lost everything. Our only strength lies in our stories.

I’d urge journalists to find out why there is no legal or political system to protect people like us, and to investigate the root causes of our problems. Yes, ISIS wanted to wipe the Yazidis from the face of the earth. But perhaps the bigger question is why they so very nearly managed it?

Once I had fled my captors in Iraq, I began to talk. I wanted the world to know about the systematic sexual violence that was being perpetrated by ISIS. My voice was the only tool I had to try and save my female friends and family members who were still in captivity.

war crimes, Nadia Murad United Nations testimony Yazidi sexual slavery

Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and UNODC Goodwill Ambassador, briefs the United Nations Security Council meeting on women and peace and security. Image: United Nations Photo, Evan Schneider

I will be forever grateful to the journalists who came to the camps to give us a voice. Many of them, like Jenna Krajeski, the co-author of my memoir, were kind, sensitive, and took the time to understand me before they started asking questions.

However, I met many reporters whose callous approach to interviewing survivors was akin to the infamous tale of a British journalist in the Congo in 1964, who was overheard asking women fleeing civil war: “Anyone here been raped and speaks English?

I too was asked incredibly personal and intimate questions about my experiences, but never about my needs. I left these exchanges feeling like nothing more than a walking headline. A commodity once more. It is why, incidentally, I co-founded the Murad Code, a survivor-centric guide for investigators and journalists to use when they interview traumatized victims of sexual violence.

As a survivor of conflict related sexual violence and genocide, I am asked what it is we want to see happen.

The answer I give is always the same: justice.

Justice, of course, can take many different forms. Overwhelmingly, though, we want to see our perpetrators held accountable for their crimes. We need to know that crimes will not go unpunished. That the men who held and abused us in the most heinous of ways will not threaten us, or any other woman, again.

So, while the work done by investigative journalists is important for opening the world’s eyes to atrocities, your reporting can also be a vital part of the documentation process. The evidence you find can be used to demonstrate that a war crime has been committed or that a group has been subjected to genocide. This is particularly important when it comes to sexual violence, which is one of the most widespread weapons of war — but all too often overlooked and sidelined.

As a global community we cannot let those people who perpetrate these crimes continue to operate with impunity. Collecting evidence and then holding them to account helps to make the world a safer place.

Thousands of pieces of evidence have been collected in Iraq by journalists and the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD). Evidence that shows thousands of Yazidi women and girls were trafficked and raped. There is evidence from mass graves that confirms thousands of Yazidi men were murdered. Yet only three people have been prosecuted.

As survivors, we know that journalists move on. There is always another crisis to cover. More heartbreak and more suffering to report on. However, I think there is merit to sticking with the story after the “hot” conflict is over to see what happens or — in our and many other cases of war crimes — does not happen next.

The work done by investigative journalists in war zones has the power to truly make a difference and this guide is a vital tool for reporters who choose to bring our stories to light.

war crimes Nadia MuradNadia Murad is a human rights activist and co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. She is a leading advocate for survivors of genocide and sexual violence. Her New York Times bestselling memoir, “The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State,” is a harrowing account of the genocide against the Yazidi ethno-religious minority in Iraq and Nadia’s imprisonment by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). In her capacity as a member of France’s Gender Advisory Council, Nadia advocated G7 member states to adopt legislation that protects and promotes women’s rights. Nadia worked with the German Mission to the United Nations to pass UN Security Council Resolution 2467, which expands the UN’s commitments to end sexual violence in conflict. Nadia was also a driving force behind the drafting and passing of UN Security Council Resolution 2379, which established the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD). 

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