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Nobel Peace Prize honours champions of fight against sexual violence

3 min 9Approximate reading time

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.

"A more peaceful world can only be achieved if women and their fundamental rights and security are recognised and protected in war," she said.

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 work to help women recover from the violence and trauma of sexual abuse and rape in the 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 of rape 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 who has described rape as "a weapon of mass destruction".

"Denis Mukwege is the foremost, most unifying symbol, both nationally and internationally, of the struggle to end sexual violence in war and armed conflicts," Reiss-Andersen said.

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 said Murad had shown "uncommon courage" in recounting her own sufferings, 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 as the winner was announced -- although Mukwege himself was in surgery at the time.

"Dr Mukwege was in the middle of an operation when he heard the news," said visiting Swedish doctor Ellinor Adelroth, telling Sweden's TT news agency he was "very happy" at the news. "It was the sixth time he was nominated. But he was convinced he wouldn't win."

The UN hailed the Nobel awards as "a fantastic announcement", with spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci saying it would "help advance the cause of ending sexual violence as a weapon of conflict".

EU President Donald Tusk hailed the pair for their "courage, compassion and humanity" while German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert described them as "two excellent prize winners, both of whom stand for the cry for humanity amid unimaginable horrors that people commit against one another."

- '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.


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