Headline: Translating Trauma from the Theater of Conflict to International Action
Lead: When receiving the 2016 Clinton Global Citizen Award, Nadia Murad, a young Yazidi woman who survived human trafficking by ISIS, delivered a speech in English for the first time. Anthea Jay Kamalnath considers languages necessary to translate pain and suffering for the international community and the next generation of war criminals.
Last night, Nadia Murad Basee Taha, a young woman who survived human trafficking by ISIS and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, spoke to an audience in English for the first time. At the Clinton Global Initiative 2016 Annual Meeting, Ms. Murad was honored with the Clinton Global Citizen Award for her courageous advocacy to end the Yazidi genocide. The Clinton Global Citizen Awards are given to “outstanding individuals who exemplify global leadership through their vision and leadership.” This year’s honorees included Dr. Hawa Abdi, Jon Bon Jovi, Adi Godrej, and President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón of Colombia. Addressing Advice Ibrahimovic, a survivor of the Srebrenica genocide, Ms. Murad reflected, in punctuated speech pausing between each word, “The two of us share a bond that no one should ever have to share.” In his treatise Monolingualism of the Other or the Prosthesis of Origin, Jacques Derrida wrote, “I wonder if one can love, enjoy oneself, pray, die from pain, or just die, plain and simple, in another language or without telling anyone about it, without even speaking at all.” Many have called, rightfully so, Ms. Murad’s narrative “a testament to the triumph of the human spirit.” Yet, the translation of pain and suffering, be it through the stories we tell our loved ones, the stories we tell ourselves, as well as those that reach us second-hand through the press, Security Council reports, law enforcement interviews, or even images captured on mobile devices and shared through social media, is never an easy undertaking. All mediums attempt to reconstruct the traumatic event and the chosen avenue may help describe the event but fail to locate a meaning that moves its audience to act.
In December 2015, Ms. Murad briefed the UN Security Council at its first-ever thematic session on human trafficking in conflict. With grace and courage beyond her years, she shared her account of unspeakable violence committed by ISIS when it took Sinjar on August 3, 2014. Earlier this year, the Government of Iraq and Norwegian Parliament nominated Ms. Murad for the Nobel Peace Prize. On September 16, 2016, Ms. Murad was appointed a UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. She is the first survivor of atrocities to be awarded with this distinction. In the past year alone, Ms. Murad has lobbied governments, UN agencies, international organizations, civil society groups, and the public far and wide, always speaking in plain sight, unrobed, and with her full name.
Since Ms. Murad’s plea for help at the Security Council in December 2015, response from the international community has been slow. In June 2016, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria determined that ISIS has committed, and continues to commit, the crime of genocide, as well as crimes against humanity and war crimes, against the Yazidis. Its report included recommendations to the United Nations, the Governments of Syria and Iraq, and the international community at-large. The Commission called on the Security Council to act and its recommendations included a referral to the International Criminal Court or an ad hoc tribunal, engaging its Chapter VII powers, including regular briefings by the Commission of Inquiry as part of the Security Council formal agenda, and supporting a finding that ISIS has committed, and continues to commit, the crime of genocide, as well as crimes against humanity and war crimes, against the Yazidis. This past summer, British barrister and celebrity-wife Ms. Amal Clooney announced her representation of Ms. Murad and other victims of the Yazidi genocide and pledged to take ISIS to task at trial before the International Criminal Court.
Yet if history has imparted any lesson, particularly in the context of slavery and genocide, it is that these acts of violence will reoccur with a haunting refrain, each time with new images, new reports, and new modes of cruelty. The Commission of Inquiry on Syria’s June 2016 report noted that ISIS continues to employ technological and scientific advancements to its advantage, such as using birth control to facilitate sexual slavery and sexual violence and social media platforms like Telegraph and Facebook to hold online slave auctions. Counter-trafficking efforts, like counter-terrorism or countering violent extremism strategies, only go so far if their only aims are protection or punishment. Even prevention, if its focus is solely on victim assistance, fails if it does not consider how to change the mindsets of present and future perpetrators of these crimes. They belong to an audience that does not grace United Nations chambers. The international community must learn to speak their language and change their mindsets before they act too. This requires forging new partnerships, specifically with the private sector and media, and underscores the importance of cross-sectoral forums like the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting. Otherwise, Ms. Murad will join a sea of speechless emissaries from past and present conflicts and her efforts will be in vain.
Author: Anthea Jay Kamalnath
Key Word: Yazidi genocide, Nadia Murad
Propose Tags: Clinton Global Initiative, Clinton Global Citizen Awards, Nadia Murad, Yazidi genocide, Human Trafficking, United Nations, Security Council
Date: September 20, 2016