Security was tight around the Norwegian Nobel Institute on Sunday, after a week in which news broke about threats against Norway’s justice minister and politicians in Oslo’s City Hall. Inside the institute, this year’s highly acclaimed Nobel Peace Prize winners were calling for far more security and justice for victims of arguably the worst sort of war crimes, especially against women.
Both winners know all too well about the sexual assault and torture that traumatizes not just actual targets of it but also their families and entire communities subject to armed conflict. It’s used not just to hurt, maim and overpower but to humiliate. Nadia Murad was held captive and used as a sex slave by the Islamic terror group IS. Dr Denis Mukwege has spent decades trying to at least physically mend the wounds suffered by women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Both have devoted their lives to bringing world attention to the use of sexual violence in armed conflict. Their work won them this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, and they instantly were deemed among the most worthy winners of the prize in years.
“Women’s bodies have become a battlefield,” Mukwege stated at the traditional press conference with Nobel Peace Prize winners that’s always held at the institute the day before the prize is awarded on December 10. “We can’t accept this today. We have to do something to stop such use of violence.” As a doctor specializing in gynecology, he has treated thousands of women who’ve been raped and otherwise sexually abused during years of conflict in Congo.
His co-winner Murad is one of the thousands of Yazidi women and girls kidnapped by Islamic State (IS) warriors who stormed into Northern Iraq, destroyed their homes and set off what’s been called genocide against Murad’s religious minority. They shot and killed men and boys while many of their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters were abducted, ordered to convert to Islam, repeatedly raped and used as sex slaves who were bought and sold among their male captors and supporters. Murad, who lost six brothers and her mother in IS’ genocide, managed to escape in 2014 and arrived as a refugee in Germany in 2015m where she received treatment at a trauma clinic along with hundreds of other Yazidi women. She’s among the very few who rebelled against the shame her captors tried to instill upon her, and has worked ever since to bring attention to victims of sexual violence in wars and hold IS men responsible for what they’ve done.
“This is a big day for us,” Murad, who rarely smiled, told reporters. “This prize gives a voice to all the girls and Yazidi who are under pressure from IS.” She reminded her listeners that an estimated 3,000 women remain prisoners of IS today.
Both Murad and Mukwege hope the Nobel Peace Prize that they were to receive in Oslo on Monday will lead to more prosecution of war crimes against women. That was also high on the list of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in choosing this year’s winners, along with stressing how women are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence during wars and other conflicts.
“While there is increased criminal prosecution of sexual violence in armed conflicts, we see that groups use it in new and systematic ways,” Henrik Urdal, head of the Oslo-based peace research institute PRIO, said earlier this fall when singling out Murad and Mukwege as among PRIO’s own top choices for the Peace Prize. “Highlighting Murad’s case, and her fight for prosecution of Islamic State members, takes on a new dimension of importance.”
The two Peace Prize winners arrived in Oslo during the weekend. After their traditional first stop at the Nobel Institute, they were hailed at a large public concert Sunday evening outside Oslo City Hall, where the Peace Prize ceremony will take place Monday afternoon. Before that they’ll be hailed again at a large annual outdoor gathering with Oslo school children and an audience with King Harald and other members of the royal family at the Royal Palace.
A traditional torchlight parade will be held to honor the Peace Prize winners just before they’re hailed once again at the annual Nobel Peace Prize banquet at the Grand Hotel Monday evening.