The Norwegian Nobel Committee turned the spotlight on the horrors of sexual violence, especially as a weapon in war, when it awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize on Friday to a Congolese doctor who has treated victims for years and a young woman who’s been a victim herself. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad were hailed for their courage and “crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and combating, such war crimes.”
Mukwege was described as “the helper who has devoted his life to defending these victims,” while Murad, a member of the Yazidi minority in Northern Iraq when the Islamic State (IS) attacked villages in her community, is “the witness who tells of the abuses perpetrated against herself and others.”
Mukwege, who’s been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for years, has spent most of his professional life helping physically repair rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Nobel Committee noted that most of the rapes were committed “in the context of a long-lasting civil war” that also has killed more than 6 million people in Congo. Mukwege has also outspokenly condemned systematic and mass rape as a strategy and weapon of war, and criticized the Congolese government and other countries for not doing enough to stop the ongoing sexual violence.
Murad, who was repeatedly raped and turned into a sex slave by IS soldiers in 2014, escaped and has since “defied social codes” that expect women to keep quiet and ashamed by what they experienced. The Nobel Committee cited her “uncommon courage in recounting her own suffering and speaking up on behalf of other victims.”
Both had been among those favoured among the 331 people and organizations nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. It’s no coincidence that the award comes after a year during which the “MeToo” campaign against sexual harassment and violence has also swept the globe, and even at a time when a nominee for the US Supreme Court has been confronted with allegations of committing sexual offenses himself. Some experts who follow the Nobel Peace Prize closely had speculated, and even hoped, that “MeToo” initiator Tarana Burke would share in any prize recognizing the fight against sexual violence.
The leader of the Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, noted that she’s not allowed to comment on the deliberations of the Nobel Committee, in accordance with the terms of prize benefactor Alfred Nobel’s will. She said at the press conference following the announcement, however, that “‘MeToo’ and war crimes are not quite the same thing.” The committee chose to award the prize to two of those fighting against sexual violence as an instrument of war, but Reiss-Andersen added that it’s also important to speak up about sexual violence in general, and not hide it. Reiss-Andersen noted in the committee’s announcement that “a more peaceful world can only be achieved if women and their fundamental rights and security are recognized and protected in war.”
She also stressed that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize is “solidly embedded” in the criteria spelled out in Alfred Nobel’s will. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has often been criticized over its interpretation of the will in naming winners, but Andersen noted that both Mukwege and Murad “have put their personal security at risk by courageously combating war crimes and seeking justice for the victims. They have thereby promoted the fraternity of nations through the application of principles of international law.”
Read the committee’s own announcement of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize here (external link).
Among those hailing the committee’s choice was Karin Andersen, a member of the Norwegian Parliament who’s among those who have nominated Mukwege over the years. “It’s about time,” Andersen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), calling “gruesome attacks on women among the most dangerous weapons used in war, because they also tear apart families and communities.”
“I’m very, very glad, these are both brave people who have been right in the middle of terrible things in war,” Andersen told NRK. She also called on leaders all over the world to “work to stop this!” The work of both Mukwege and Murad, who has became the UN’s first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking and continues to speak out about her experiences, is “a great inspiration,” according to Andersen.
The actual use of rape and other sexual violence in war is far from a recent phenomenon, the Nobel Committee leader, said, but Mukwege’s and Murad’s efforts to boost its visibility and make the world more aware of it is new. That also helps efforts to make perpetrators of sexual violence “accountable for their actions.”
The Nobel Peace Ceremony will be formally awarded on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death, at the Oslo City Hall.