, Oslo, Norway, Oct 5 – 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 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.
– ‘The world hears you’ –
Mukwege, who was in surgery at his hospital in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo when the winner was announced, dedicated his award to all women suffering sexual violence in war.
“This Nobel prize is a recognition of the suffering and the failure to adequately compensate women who are victims of rape and sexual violence in all countries around the world,” he said outside Panzi hospital in Bukavu.
Addressing women victims, he said: “I want to tell you that with this prize, the world hears you and refuses to remain indifferent. The world refuses to sit there with its arms crossed when confronted with your suffering.”
For the past two decades, this 63-year-old doctor has been helping women recover from the violence and trauma of sexual abuse and rape in DR Congo’s war-torn east.
Mukwege has treated tens of thousands of victims — women, children and even babies just a few months old — at Panzi hospital which he founded in 1999 in South Kivu.
Known as “Doctor Miracle”, he is an outspoken critic of the abuse of women during war, describing rape as “a weapon of mass destruction”.
– ‘A voice for all women’ –
The Nobel committee also 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.
After her escape, she quickly became a figurehead for efforts to protect the Yazidi community and was later named a UN ambassador for victims of human trafficking.
Reacting to the award, she said it was a significant victory for all women suffering from sexual violence.
“It means a lot, not just for me, for all of these women in Iraq and all the world,” she told the Nobel Foundation’s website, speaking in English.
Switching to Kurdish, with a translation given by her fiance Abid Shamdeen, she said: “For those small communities that are being persecuted, this prize tells me that their voices are being heard.
“We hope (it) will be a voice for all the women that are suffering from sexual violence in conflict in many other places.”
The Nobel committee hailed her “uncommon courage”, saying Murad had “refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed of the abuses to which they have been subjected.”
– Hospital erupts in celebration –
When the announcement was made, staff at Panzi hospital broke into ecstatic celebrations, cheering and ululating wildly.
“I was just at the end of the second operation when suddenly (people) started to cry and make noise” outside, Mukwege told the Nobel Foundation’s website.
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”.
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.
– Leaving shame, speaking out –
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,” 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.