Friday, April 14, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Amal Clooney at the UN on Nadia Murad

(Editor's note: Leonoor Russell, speechwriter in the Senate of the Dutch Parliament, recommended this Amal Clooney speech, saying, "this speech might be a good addition to The Eloquent Woman. Not only because of the language (ISIS is described as "a bureaucracy of evil on an industrial scale") but also because it is a great example of using emotion in a speech. I remember you talking about that once: "Write from the head, speak from the heart." My favorite quote from the speech is this: "She has defied all the labels life has given her." Let's take a look at this stirring speech. Thanks, Leonoor! And a personal point of pride: This is the 250th speech in The Eloquent Woman's Index of Famous Speeches by Women.)

Human rights attorney Amal Clooney may be more famous in some circles due to her actor husband George Clooney, but she has long held her own as a public speaker--in court, and in world forums about human rights. In September 2016, the United Nations was appointing one of her clients, Nadia Murad, as its first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. Murad, a Yazidi human rights activist from Iraq, was kidnapped when she was 19 by the so-called Islamic State, beaten, tortured, and raped. After her escape, Clooney decided to represent her in legal action against the Islamic State.

Here's how Clooney described Murad's experiences:
Two summers ago, her life as a 21-year-old student was shattered when ISIS took over her village. She was forced to watch her mother and brothers be marched off to their death. She saw an ISIS militant take her niece Rajan, a 16-year-old girl so slight that you could circle her waist with your hand. 
Nadia herself was traded from one ISIS fighter to another. She was forced to pray, forced to dress up and put makeup on in preparation for rape, and one night, brutally abused by a group of men two at a time, until she was unconscious. She has shown us scars from cigarette burns and beatings. And she has told us that throughout her ordeal, ISIS soldiers would call her a dirty unbeliever and brag about conquering the Yazidi women and wiping their religion from the face of the earth. 
Nadia was one of 6,700 Yazidi taken by ISIS 2 summers ago, to be sold in markets and on Facebook, sometimes for as little as 20 dollars. Nadia’s mother was one of 80 older women who were executed and buried in an unmarked grave. Her brothers, part of a group of 600 who were murdered in a single day. 
Clooney also used her remarks to call on the UN security council to set up a legal mechanism for bringing the Islamic State to justice for the genocide being committed. She framed that request in personal terms in her role as a speaker:
Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen, this is the first time I have spoken in this chamber and the first time I have had a chance to address a crowd in front of the UN secretary-general. I wish I could say I was proud to be here, but I’m not. I am ashamed, as a supporter of the UN, that states are failing to prevent or even punish genocide, because they find their own interests get in the way. I am ashamed as a lawyer that there is no justice being done and barely a complaint being made about it. I am ashamed as a woman that girls like Nadia can have their bodies sold and used as battlefields. I’m ashamed as a human being that we ignore their cries for help.
Clooney, pregnant with twins now, spoke more recently at the UN about ISIS, and most of the coverage was about her "baby bump," not her subject matter. But in both speeches, her substantive command of the issues was on display. What can you learn from this speech?
  • Put some of yourself into your recommendation for another: Clooney's role was to speak in support of her client and friend. But couching her request in terms of her own personal perspective added value to her remarks--not only because of her expertise, but her emotional perspective. She underscored it by highlighting her many perspectives--supporter of the UN, lawyer, woman.
  • Do the same for the person you're endorsing: Following Leonoor's favorite line--"She has defied all the labels life has given her"--Clooney enumerates those labels: "She has defied all the labels life has given her: rape victim, slave, refugee. She has instead created new ones: survivor, leader, women’s advocate, Nobel peace nominee, and now, as of today, UN goodwill ambassador." We often limit the ways we describe women's roles in the world. Not so this speech.
  • Even when seated for delivery, have presence: There's little room in this setting for movement to accentuate remarks. Nonetheless, it is a gripping piece of testimony. Clooney uses varied vocal tones, her gaze, and vocal emphasis to put across the urgency of her words. And this is a well-written speech, which aids in the delivery. We don't miss having her move across a stage here.
Watch the video of this speech below.


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