How Virtual Reality is used to promote justice in Iraq

7 Sep 2021 9:47
Copyright: IOM/Yad Abdulqader

Virtual Reality is an innovative way of building awareness of mass atrocities and support for survivors, as an immersive exhibition on the Yazidi community demonstrates.

In mid 2021, a group of human rights advocates and partner organizations presented a Virtual Reality (VR) exhibition titled “Nobody’s Listening” in several cities across Iraq. It was designed as as a means of supporting the Yazidi community to raise awareness about the genocide they experienced and advocate for greater support and solidarity from the national and international community.

The experience starts with the voice of a Yazidi woman introducing the user to the history, culture, and religion of the Yazidi community as well as their geographic and historic ties to Sinjar Mountain. The female narrator then takes the viewer through the ruins of Kocho village, one of the hardest-hit Yazidi villages during the genocide. After the introduction, the viewer can choose to listen one of three characters whose stories are based on composites of real experiences.

Virtual reality as a peacebuilding tool

Research suggests that VR-based storytelling can bring about a positive shift in users’ human rights attitudes more effectively than the 2D or traditional format. In the case of the “Nobody’s Listening” VR experience, it means that the ability to generate increased levels of emotional connection and empathy makes it a potentially valuable peacebuilding tool that may inspire actions that strengthen social cohesion, prevent future atrocities, and build sustainable peace.

As a participant expressed: “I wish that every person would try [the VR experience] so they would learn better what happened. We know things as we hear them, but this makes you live through the experience. It is different.”

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These views are reflected in an assessment of the Iraq tour of “Nobody’s Listening”: 70.8% responders indicated that the experience changed their previous knowledge and impressions about the Yazidi culture. 92.2% highlighted the need for justice for the Yazidi genocide.

Curator and Executive Producer of “Nobody’s Listening”, Ryan D’Souza, concludes: “I am confident that VR tools can have a significant impact in enhancing empathy and understanding of genocide, which hopefully will help with issues relating to social cohesion. I would be keen to develop VR experiences for other situations where genocides occurred.”  

The VR exhibition “Nobody’s Listening” will be hosted by the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe (Germany) from October 2021. Find out more here.


“Nobody’s Listening was created by GAAMAC partner Yazda and by Upstream. Its exhibition in Iraq was sponsored by USAID, IOM and the Nahrein Network. The assessment report was authored by Dr. Rozhen Kamal Mohammed, Director of the Digital Cultural Heritage Research at Sulaimani Polytechnic University, in collaboration with Dr. Salah al-Jabri, UNESCO Chair on Genocide Studies in the Islamic World at the University of Baghdad.