Yazidi human rights leader won’t be able to pick up her award

Representatives of the Yazidis made a plea for support during a meeting with European Parliament President Martin Schulz on April 29, 2015. Vian Dakhil, right, the only Yazidi Kurd member of Iraq's Parliament, told him: "We seek help in releasing the 5,000 Yazidi women, elderly men and children who have been kidnapped by IS." Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari

(RNS) Vian Dakhil captured the world’s attention two years ago when she made an impassioned plea to save the Yazidi religious minority from annihilation by the Islamic State group in northern Iraq.

As the only female Yazidi in the Iraqi Parliament, Dakhil fought tirelessly for international assistance to stop the violence, including sexual slavery, targeting her beleaguered people.

Now she has been awarded the Lantos Human Rights Prize in Washington, D.C. But she is unlikely to make the ceremony on Feb. 8, since President Donald Trump banned all travelers from Iraq.

“I’m not against any president who is willing to protect his country and his people. He has the right to restrict the entrance of terrorists to U.S.,” Dakhil said.

“I just feel sad that we who have suffered from this terrorism inside Iraq, have now been treated the same as them. With this ban Mr. Trump has put the torturer and the victim on the same level.”

Dakhil has worked tirelessly on behalf of up to 700,000 Yazidis threatened by the Islamic State group’s ethnic-cleansing campaign, and personal death threats have not deterred her.

“The Yazidis were the most vulnerable and faced the worst sort of violence when ISIS attacked our villages in Sinjar,” she said. “They kidnapped women and raped them and killed the men. We still have more than 1,000 missing families under ISIS control and we are unsure about their fate.”

Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz and Iraqi MP Vian Dakhil at a session of the UN Security Council in New York concerning the protection of religious minorities in the Middle East on March 27, 2015. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Dragan Tatic

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, left, and Iraqi MP Vian Dakhil, right, at a session of the U.N. Security Council in New York concerning the protection of religious minorities in the Middle East on March 27, 2015. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Dragan Tatic

Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation, urged Trump to overturn the immigration order, saying it will have a “devastating effect” on human rights activists who work with the U.S. to promote religious freedom.

“When we have to question whether a hero like Dakhil, who has risked her life to fight the genocidal terrorists of ISIS, will be allowed into our country to receive a human rights prize in the shadow of the Capitol dome, we should all be deeply concerned,” said Lantos Swett.

“This ban undermines America’s security and our values by turning our backs on the friends and allies we desperately need by our side to defeat the butchers of ISIS,” she added.

The Lantos Foundation called on the Trump administration “to immediately rescind this ill-advised and counter-productive order.” The foundation is named for Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor and former California congressman.

Dakhil’s impassioned plea inspired former President Barack Obama to authorize airstrikes and humanitarian efforts to rescue thousands of Yazidis trapped in the assault by the Islamic State group back in 2014.

She has personally conducted rescue missions on behalf of thousands of women and girls who remain enslaved by the terrorist organization in Iraq and Syria.

She said she was honored to receive the recognition from the Lantos Foundation, whose previous winners include former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Dalai Lama and former Israeli President Shimon Peres.

“This award would bring lots of attention to our plight,” she said, “which is almost forgotten.”

(Josephine McKenna is RNS’ Rome-based correspondent)

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.