INTERVIEW - "Most wanted" Yazidi urges others to help keep focus on her people's plight

by Belinda Goldsmith | @BeeGoldsmith | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 24 May 2017 11:19 GMT

Yazidi member of the Iraqi Parliament, Vian Dakhil, arrives for the opening night of the Women in the World summit in New York April 22, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

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By Belinda Goldsmith

OSLO, May 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An Iraqi parliamentarian and Yazidi activist known as Islamic State's "most wanted woman" wants other Yazidis to step onto the global stage to keep the plight of her people in the spotlight.

Vian Dakhil hit world headlines in August 2014 when she broke down in tears in Iraq's parliament when she plead for help for the religious minority under attack by Islamic State militants in Sinjar, northern Iraq, home to about 400,000 Yazidis.

In just days about 3,100 Yazidis were killed and 6,800 kidnapped to become sex slaves or fighters for Islamic State, according to a report this month by John Hopkins University and the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The militants are still holding about 3,400 girls as sex slaves and 1,000 children, according to the United Nations, despite global condemnation for the campaign of rape and murder.

Since 2014 Dakhil, one of only two ethnic Yazidis in Iraq's 328-member parliament, has campaigned tirelessly to keep world attention on her people, becoming, alongside former Islamic State sex slave Nadia Murad, the face of the Yazidis globally.

But Dakhil said she needed help and urged other Yazidis to put themselves forward for Iraq's 2018 election.

"At the moment trying to keep us in the spotlight is falling largely on my shoulders but I can't be everywhere at the same time," Dakhil told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the ninth annual Oslo Freedom Forum where her emotional speech received a standing ovation.

"Nearly three years on people forget about us but the misery and tragedy is still there and just as real with 420,000 Yazidis living as refugees in Kurdistan in very miserable conditions and thousands of girls still in captivity and tortured."

POLTICAL ROLE

Dakhil, the first and only female Yazidi in parliament, said she had no political ambitions before 2010 but found herself thrust into politics after stepping in as a university teacher in Mosul to help Yazidis and Christians coming under attack.

She said at that time no one could have imagined what the Yazidis were to face at the hands of Islamic State militants who considered them devil worshippers and infidels.

"You'd never have thought in the 21st Century, in a world of technology, there would be people believing in death, kidnapping and torture like this," she said through an interpreter as she propped up one leg on a chair.

"Before 2014 most Yazidis did not feel the need to get politically active because they were living peacefully but now they want to be well represented in parliament."

Her campaigning has taken its toll - not just mentally.

In 2014 Dakhil was on a helicopter carrying aid supplies to the Sinjar region that crashed when a crowd of Yazidis tried to board as it landed. Dakhil survived with a broken leg, but the pilot and dozens of others were killed.

Dakhil said she hoped to run again for election next year to win a third term in office but no matter what the outcome she would continue her campaign to get funding and assistance.

She voiced concern that funds raised internationally were not reaching those in need in Yazidi refugee camps in Iraq and Syria and is determined to get the Yazidis' treatment declared officially as genocide and fully investigated.

The release of the girls still in captivity was also a priority with progress slow. Two days ago Dakhil received a call from someone who had found two Yazidi girls enslaved in Mosul.

"Our fight is not over. We aren't even half-way through what we need to do. Staying in government gives me more power to help my people," she said.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith, Editing by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)