Nobel Prize wins praise of its own

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This year’s winners of the Nobel Peace Prize were being widely viewed as especially worthy of it, even by one of the biggest critics of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. A young football player in Tromsø was also thrilled, after his “Uncle Denis” was named a Nobel Laureate.

Nadia Murad and Dr Denis Mukwege jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their contributions towards illuminating the brutality and prevalence of sexual violence as a weapon of war and conflict. PHOTO: Nobel Peace Center/Fred R. Conrad/Redux/NTB Scanpix

“This is huge, there aren’t words to describe how well-deserved this is,” Mushaga Bakenga, who plays for Tromsø Idrettslag, told state broadcaster NRK on Friday. He’s the nephew of Dr Denis Mukwege, the Congolese gynecologist who won the Nobel Peace Prize with Nadia Murad, a brave and outspoken victim of sexual violence, for their work in combating sexual violence as a weapon in armed conflicts. Bakenga was born and reared in Trondheim, where his mother, Mukwege’s sister, still lives and got the news herself at work in the offices of the state directorate for integration and diversity.

“I know that he (Mukege) does a tremendous job (at the hospital in Congo, where he was once again performing surgery when the prize was announced),” Mukwege’s sister Fiffi Namugunga told NRK. “He can’t carry on this work alone. He has put a very important issue on the agenda and if the Nobel Peace Prize can strengthen that, I can only say hipp hipp hurra!

‘An important and gratifying prize’
Prime Minister Erna Solberg was among the many congratulating both Mukwege and Nadia Murad on Friday. “Women are especially vulnerable in armed conflicts, and sexual violence is used as a weapon,” Solberg said. “We can’t accept that. The damage is great for the individual victim and inflicts deep wounds on their communities.” Murad, along with Mukwege, has made a huge contribution, especially during the past year, for being brave enough to publicly describe what happened to her as a prisoner of the Islamic State (IS) that forced her into slavery in her native Northern Iraq after other members of her Yazidi family were killed. That, along with Mukwege’s work, has brought attention to war crimes that have occurred for years but all too often go unpunished.

Henrik Urdal, director of the peace research institute PRIO in Oslo, had ranked both Mukwege and Murad high on his list of worthy winners for this year’s Peace Prize. “This was one of my absolute favorites and it’s both an important and a very gratifying prize,” Urdal told news bureau NTB.

Audun Lysbakken, leader of the Socialist Left party (SV) and a Member of Parliament, called the prize “fantastic, for “hailing and restoring the honour of all women who have borne trauma and scars, both physically and psychologically, after being threatened, raped and terrorized. Violence and assaults on women have been used as a systematic and gruesome weapon in war.”

‘MeToo lurking in the background’
Karin Andersen, another Member of Parliament who was among those who had nominated Mukwege for the Peace Prize, said that political leaders around the world now must follow up on the campaign against sexual violence, especially as a tool of war. “This should be a great inspiration, especially when we see that the world is electing leaders who aren’t exactly feminists,” Andersen told NRK, which reported that the government of Iraq had also nominated Murad.

Geir Lundestad, the former long-time director of the Nobel Institute, said he was surprised by the prize because the Norwegian Nobel Committee has mostly stayed away from awarding prizes connected to health. He also praised their decision, though, and said that even though Nobel Committee leader Berit Reiss-Andersen distanced the prize from the global “MeToo” campaign against sexual harassment, “it was clearly lurking in the background of this.”

Even a tough critic was pleased
Perhaps the most significant reaction came from Oslo lawyer and author Fredrik S Heffermehl of the Nobel Peace Prize Watch, a Scandinavian watchdog organization. Heffermehl has been a highly outspoken critic of the Norwegian Nobel Committee for years, claiming committee members have often failed to follow the intentions in prize benefactor Alfred Nobel’s will.

Even the Nobel Committee’s loudest critic, Fredrik Heffermehl, was pleased by this year’s Peace Prize. PHOTO: Nobel Peace Prize Watch

On Friday he was full of praise for the Peace Prize decision. “We congratulate Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, and women worldwide, with a highly deserved prize for their important battle against the most cruel consequences of military conflict,” Heffermehl wrote in a statement issue Friday. He believes the committee’s selection “serves Nobel’s overarching goal, it considers the particularly grim, painful and hate-provoking assaults on women as a weapon,” the removal of which would be “an important step on the road to abolishing all weapons and to creating a new world order, a demilitarized “brotherhood of nations.”

Heffermehl and colleague Tomas Magnusson in Sweden, wrote that they were “especially pleased that the committee again, as it did last year, has chosen its winners clearly within the purpose Nobel had in mind.” They added that the committee seems to have “embraced a new policy and now is determined to take seriously the idea Nobel intended to support.”

Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee have always defended their choices, and justified them as, in their view, being in accordance with Nobel’s will that set up the Nobel prizes and guides the process. This choice, however, has generated rare praise indeed.

Meanwhile, back up north in Tromsø, Mukwege’s nephew had received the news of his uncle’s honour while limping out of a training session Friday morning with an injury. Asked how he’d celebrate, he told NRK “with an icepack around my ankle and a call to mamma, who is surely screaming like never before. This is an extreme day. I’m proud now.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund