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Forgotten Voices: New Virtual Reality Project Brings Yazidi Genocide to Global Stage

[Featured Image Credit to Sadiq Khedar]

Stephanie Miller

Editor in Chief

Almost six years after the so-called Islamic State (IS) began its genocidal campaign at Sinjar, Iraq, the Yazidi community may finally receive justice. Al Jazeera reports an Iraqi man has gone to trial in Frankfurt, Germany for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and human trafficking during the Yazidi genocide, which began in August 2014 and saw the deaths of an estimated 12,000 Yazidis and kidnapping of over 6,000. According to a joint statement from victim’s counsel Amal Clooney and Yazidi activist organization Yazda, this case is the first prosecution anywhere in the world of an IS militant for the crime of genocide against Yazidi civilians.

Under universal jurisdiction, Germany intends to begin prosecuting former Islamic State fighters and their affiliates for mass atrocity crimes committed in the context of the Yazidi genocide. While judicial efforts to hold the Islamic State responsible for its crimes have received much attention in recent years, less notice has been paid to the Yazidi advocacy networks, organizations, and projects responsible for pushing for accountability and support for survivors.

One such project is Nobody’s Listening, a new immersive exhibition commemorating the Yazidi genocide. Ryan D’Souza, its founder and executive producer, sat down with The Diplomatic Envoy to discuss the project’s new virtual reality experience.

“This is a human rights campaign using art and virtual reality,” Mr. D’Souza said, describing Nobody’s Listening and its advocacy goals. “We hope to build public awareness and put pressure on governments around the world to recognize the genocide and bring ISIS to justice for their heinous crimes against the Yazidis and other ethno-religious minorities in northern Iraq.”

Launched in August 2019, the Nobody’s Listening exhibition uses cutting edge immersive technology to recreate and transport viewers to the sites where the genocide took place. Based off existing testimonies from survivors in Kocho village, Sinjar, it allows the viewer to follow the stories of one of three different characters: an enslaved Yazidi woman; her brother, who survives a massacre; and an IS fighter who attacks their village.

The exhibition has been shown to academics, religious leaders, representatives from UNHCR-Iraq, and even the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng, who described it in a video as “powerful”.

“I found the testimony very moving,” Special Advisor Dieng went on to say. “This is the journey of suffering where you discover the inhumanity of ISIS but also the courage of the Yazidis who never lost hope.”

In addition to the virtual reality experience, Nobody’s Listening also features a collection of photographs and artwork from Yazidi, Assyrian, and Christian artists, many of whom are also genocide survivors. Both the artwork and the artists’ stories are on display side-by-side in the exhibit.

Creators of the exhibition paid special attention to the psychosocial dimensions of the genocide, choosing to emphasize survivors’ roles as leaders and advocates as opposed to victims. The team employs a clinical psychologist with experience in psychological support and sensitive testimony collection to advise on the project. Nobody’s Listening does not report on specific experiences in captivity or depict graphic material and does not interview genocide survivors. Instead, the exhibition relies on pre-existing testimonies like that of Nadia Murad, a Yazidi genocide survivor-turned-activist and Nobel Laureate.

Mr. D’Souza was inspired to act following a meeting with Murad. The idea for a virtual reality experience was inspired while he was on UN assignment in Mogadishu, Somalia.

“[Nobody’s Listing] is also a feminist project, lifting up the profiles of these incredible women who are delivering messages of accountability, and really changing patriarchal norms within Yazidi society,” he said.

Mr. D’Souza also spoke of Nadia Murad’s attorney, Amal Clooney, who has lobbied the UN Security Council to establish an investigative team for domestic support in efforts to hold the Islamic State accountable for the genocide. Mrs. Clooney endorsed Nobody’s Listening as an exhibition, stating “Nobody’s Listening is a moving exhibition that pays tribute to the courage of the survivors of genocide and amplifies their call for justice.”

As a new exhibit and the first of its kind, Nobody’s Listening plans to fully launch in Stuttgart, Germany in late 2020 – a fitting location given the ongoing Islamic State trials. The exhibit will then travel to the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, and Asia. The Nobody’s Listening team hopes the project will eventually find a permanent home in Sinjar, Iraq alongside a future genocide memorial museum.

Until then, Nobody’s Listening relies upon goodwill partnerships with a number of prominent human rights organizations such as Freedom House, the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. To bolster advocacy efforts surrounding the project and its overarching mission, the exhibition encourages viewers to take action by using social media platforms to pledge their commitment to genocide recognition and accountability.

“The Yazidi genocide is still ongoing,” Mr. D’Souza said. “I’ve spoken to many Yazidis who believes that another genocide will happen again. There are strong grounds to believe that this will be true unless we take action today. We need the international community to show that we are still listening to the survivors of genocide.”

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