Her Royal Highness, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg received the winners of the Sakharov Prize 2016, in an audience at the Grand Ducal Palace on Thursday, 15 November 2016.
Nadia Murad Basee Taha and Lamiya Aji Bashar are survivors of sexual enslavement by the Islamic State (IS) and have become spokespersons for women afflicted by IS’ campaign of sexual violence. They are public advocates for the Yazidi community in Iraq, a religious minority that has been the subject of a genocidal campaign by IS militants.
On 3 August 2014, IS attacked and pillaged Murad and Aji Bashar’s hometown in Sinjar, Iraq. After brutally slaughtering all of the men in the village, IS enslaved all of the women and children including Aji Bashar, Murad and their sisters. Following their initial kidnapping, the girls were bought and sold several times and exploited as sex slaves. During the massacre in her village, Murad lost six of her brothers and her mother, who was among a group of 80 older women deemed too old to be of sexual value. Aji Bashar was also exploited as a sex slave along with her six sisters. She was sold five times among the militants and was forced to make bombs and suicide vests in Mosul after IS militants executed her brothers and father.
In November 2014, Murad managed to escape with the help of a neighbouring family who smuggled her out of the IS-controlled area, allowing her to make her way to a refugee camp in northern Iraq before going on to seek refuge in Germany. A year later, in December 2015, Murad addressed the UN Security Council’s first-ever session on human trafficking with a powerful speech about her experience. In September 2016, she became the first United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking, participating in global and local advocacy initiatives to raise awareness about the plight of the countless victims of trafficking. In October 2016, the Council of Europe honoured her with the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize.
Aji Bashar tried to flee several times before finally escaping in April with the help of her family, who paid local smugglers. On her way over the Kurdish border, and while racing towards Iraq’s government-controlled territory with IS militants in pursuit, a landmine exploded, killing two of her acquaintances and leaving her badly injured and almost blind. Luckily she managed to escape and was eventually sent for medical treatment in Germany, where she was reunited with her surviving siblings. Since her recovery, Aji Bashar has been active in raising awareness about the plight of the Yazidi community and continues to help women and children who were victims of IS enslavement and atrocities.
On 13 December 2016, the two activists received the EU’s Sakharov human rights prize from the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. The prize (established in 1988) is awarded to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the fight for human rights across the globe, drawing attention to human rights violations as well as supporting the laureates and their cause. Past winners of the prize include Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Kofi Annan and Malala Yousafzai.
It was appropriate that the two women were received by the Grand Duchess, herself an avid advocate for human rights and particularly the rights of women and children.
As a student, Maria Teresa was interested early on in social and humanitarian causes, pursuing a degree in political science at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, in the same course as Henri, Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg. Following the couple’s marriage in 1981, Her Royal Highness, began to engage herself in different humanitarian issues both within Luxembourg and abroad.
On 10 June 1997, the then Princess Maria Teresa was made a Goodwill Ambassador for UNESCO, through which she aims to promote the education of young girls and women and fight against poverty through micro credits. The Grand Duchess places particular emphasis on the cause of child soldiers and the protection of children and orphans affected by HIV/AIDS. For her ongoing commitment, Her Royal Highness was named an “Eminent Advocate for Children” of UNICEF in 2007.
The Grand Duchess also tweeted about the audience on 15 December.
Thank you Nadia Mourad Bassi & Lamiya Aji Bachar for your courage and your commitment to peace and dignity of Yazidi women. Maria Teresa pic.twitter.com/FsJXxxJVWe
— Cour Grand-Ducale (@CourGrandDucale) December 15, 2016