Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege and Yazidi campaigner Nadia Murad won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their work in fighting sexual violence in conflicts around the world. The pair won the award “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict,” Nobel committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said in unveiling the winners in Oslo, an announcement which won international praise.
One a doctor, the other a former Islamic State sex slave, both have come to represent the struggle against a global scourge which goes well beyond any single conflict, as the #MeToo movement has shown. The prize was announced as #MeToo marks its first anniversary after a year in which allegations of sexual abuse, rape and harassment have toppled dozens of powerful men. By recognising the pair’s work, the Nobel committee has placed a spotlight on the use of sexual violence in war as a global problem. – ‘Weapon of mass destruction’ –
Mukwege, 63, was recognised for two decades of helping women recover from the violence and trauma of sexual abuse and rape in war-torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Women, children and even babies just a few months old, Mukwege has treated tens of thousands of victims at Panzi hospital which he founded in 1999 in South Kivu.
Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukege is known as ‘Doctor Miracle’ [Photo: AFP] Known as “Doctor Miracle”, he is an outspoken critic of the abuse of women during war, describing rape as “a weapon of mass destruction”. Alongside Mukwege, the committee honoured Murad, a 25-year-old Iraqi woman from the Yazidi community who in 2014 was kidnapped by Islamic State militants and endured three months as a sex slave before managing to escape. She was one of thousands of Yazidi women and girls who were abducted, raped and brutalised by jihadists during their assault that year on the Kurdish-speaking minority, which the United Nations has described as genocide. Her nightmare began when the jihadists stormed her village in northern Iraq in August 2014.
“The first thing they did was force us to convert to Islam. After conversion, they did whatever they wanted.” The Nobel committee hailed Murad’s “uncommon courage”, saying she had “refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed of the abuses to which they have been subjected.” – Mukwege informed ‘in theatre’ – In eastern DR Congo, staff at Panzi hospital broke into ecstatic celebrations, cheering and ululating wildly although Mukwege himself was in surgery at the time. “It was good because I was just at the end of the second operation when suddenly (people) started to cry and make noise” outside the theatre, Mukwege said in a phone call with the Nobel Peace Prize website. “I can see in the face of many women how they are happy to be recognised and this is really so touching.”
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said it was “hard to imagine two more worthy winners”, describing the prize as “richly-deserved recognition of two extraordinarily brave, persistent and effective campaigners”. “We salute you, we admire you beyond words. You have fought for the pain women have suffered through sexual abuse to be recognised and confronted, and for their dignity to be restored,” she said. Nadia Murad was kidnapped by Islamic State militants in 2014 and endured three months as a sex slave before managing to escape. [Photo: AFP] New Iraqi President Barham Saleh hailed Murad’s win as an “acknowledgement of the tragic plight” of the Yazidis as well as recognition of “her courage in defending the human rights of victims of terror & sexual violence”. In Kinshasa, the government of President Joseph Kabila offered Mukwege muted congratulations but warned him against politicising his humanitarian work.
The recognition of Mukwege’s work “is merited but we will continue to oppose anything that mixes humanitarian work with politics,” a spokesman said. – ‘Personal security at risk’ – Both Mukwege and Murad had “put their personal security at risk” by focusing attention on and combating such war crimes, Reiss-Andersen said. “Denis Mukwege is the helper who has devoted his life to defending these victims. Nadia Murad is the witness who tells of the abuses perpetrated against herself and others. “Each of them in their own way has helped to give greater visibility to war-time sexual violence, so that the perpetrators can be held accountable.” Sexual violence as a weapon of war has been going on for centuries, but it was only recently acknowledged as a crime against humanity with the UN’s adoption in 2008 of Resolution 1820.
And the #MeToo movement, which rose up a year ago following allegations of rape, sexual abuse and harassment against Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein and has since swept the globe, has also had a very sobering effect. “#MeToo and war crimes is not quite the same thing. But they do, however, have that in common: that it is important to see the suffering of women, to see the abuses and to achieve that it is important that women leave the concept of shame and speak out,” said Reiss-Andersen. Mukwege and Murad will receive the prize at a ceremony in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the death of prize creator Alfred Nobel, a Swedish philanthropist and scientist who died in 1896.