Pope Francis meets Nobel Peace Prize-winning Yazidi rights activist


ROME – Pope Francis on Thursday welcomed Yazidi Nadia Murad, who won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for her work against the use of rape as a weapon of war.

The Vatican confirmed the meeting early afternoon Rome time, but gave no details, beyond noting that Murad was accompanied by her husband.

Murad is a member of the Yazidi religious community, and was sexually assaulted when the Islamic State Group took over much of western Iraq.

She and Francis had met briefly in 2017, at the end of one of the pope’s general audiences, and then again in 2018.

During her last visit with the pope, the human rights activist gave him a signed copy of her autobiography The Last Girl. Pope Francis mentioned the meeting during his flight back from Iraq in March, saying that he’d been deeply touched by the book.

“It is the story of the Yazidi,” Francis said. “And in it, Nadia Murad describes something terrifying, terrifying. I recommend you read it. At certain points, since it is biographical, it might seem rather depressing, but for me this was the real reason behind my decision.”

“That book affected me…. And when I heard Nadia, who came here to tell me about things…. Terrible! Then, with the book, all these things together, led to the decision [to visit Iraq].”

Speaking with Vatican News after the end of the pope’s Iraq trip, Murad said, “I am glad that my story stayed with him and that he felt called to bring this message to Iraq. His advocacy for the Yazidi cause is an example for other religious leaders in the region to amplify the message of tolerance of religious minorities like the Yazidis.”

She also said that the fact that 2,800 Yazidi women and children remain missing in captivity after nearly seven years “exposes the lack of political will to protect women’s basic human rights and safety. It shows that sexual violence and slavery are not taken seriously by the international community. A multilateral task force must be established immediately with the sole purpose of locating and rescuing these women and children.”

Murad’s own three-month ordeal began Aug. 15, 2014, when the Islamic State took over her town, in the Sinjar region, in northern Iraq, populated mostly by Kurdish Yazidis.

In a matter of 60 minutes, the terrorist organization killed some 300 men, women and children, including her six brothers — murdered for refusing to convert to Islam — and her mother. She and many of the young women who survived were abducted and taken to Mosul.

She spent three days in captivity before being given to an Islamic State fighter as a “present.” The man humiliated her and tortured her daily. She was also sexually assaulted repeatedly by him and other Islamic State fighters.

After three months, she managed to escape, and has since then been living in Germany and campaigning for the international community to recognize the horrors committed against the Yazidis as genocide.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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