BRUSSELS – Two Yazidi women who escaped sexual enslavement by the Islamic State group and went on to become advocates for others have won the European Union's Sakharov Prize for human rights.
Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the European Parliament's liberal ALDE group, said Thursday that Nadia Murad Basee and Lamiya Aji Bashar are "inspirational women who have shown incredible bravery and humanity in the face of despicable brutality. I am proud that they have been awarded the 2016 Sakharov Prize."
Parliamentarian Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea, who backed their nominations, said the prize is "a recognition of Nadia's and Lamiya's fight throughout their life. Both have impressively overcome the brutal sexual slavery they were exposed to by jihadist terrorists and become an example for all of us."
Murad has become a spokeswoman for other women abused by IS. In December, she told the U.N. Security Council how she and thousands of other Yazidi women and girls were abducted, held in captivity and repeatedly raped after the Iraqi area of Sinjar fell to Islamic State militants in August 2014. She escaped after three months in captivity.
Bashar tried to flee four times before finally escaping this past March. As fighters pursued her, a land mine exploded, killing the two people she was with and leaving her scarred and unable to see out of her right eye. Still, she said, she considered herself among the lucky.
"Even if I had lost both eyes, it would have been worth it, because I have survived them," she told The Associated Press in an interview earlier this year in her uncle's home in the northern Iraqi town of Baadre.
The prize comes as Iraqi forces backed by the U.S. are waging an offensive aimed at retaking the northern city Mosul, the Islamic State group's last major holding in Iraq. Hundreds of Yazidi women and girls are still captives of IS militants in Iraq and Syria. The Yazidi minority follows an ancient religion that IS and other Muslim hard-liners consider heretical.
The award, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, was created in 1988 to honor individuals or groups who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms. Last year's winner was Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. Other former winners include Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Aung San Suu Kyi from Myanmar.
Among the finalists this year were the Crimean Tatars and a former Turkish newspaper editor.