Nobel Peace Prize awarded to pair fighting sexual violence

The 2018 Nobel Peace prize has been awarded to two laureates who have been fighting against war crimes involving sexual violence and abuse.

Nadia Murad and Denis Mukege have been fighting against the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Commenting on the award, Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said that the pair have been ‘crucial’ in combating and bringing attention to these crimes. Adding, ‘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 wartime sexual violence, so that the perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions.’

Murad from Sinjar, Iraq, was imprisoned as a sex slave by ISIS and passed around militants. She now campaigns to raise awareness of the sufferings of Yazidi women and children, alongside being a global human rights campaigner. In 2016, at age 23, she was made a UN Goodwill Ambassador for the dignity of survivors of human trafficking.

Now the 17th woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Murad also becomes the second youngest recipient after Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for female education.

Donna McKay, Executive Director at Physicians for Human Rights, welcomed the award for both winners. In a statement she said, ‘Dr Mukwege is not only an extraordinary physician, but a courageous human rights leader who perfectly embodies the critical role that medical professionals play in witnessing abuse and speaking out against injustice.’

As a gynaecological surgeon in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mukwege has worked to treat thousands of women and girls affected by sexual violence.

Mukwege dedicated his award to the survivors of sexual violence across the world, he said, ‘for almost 20 years I have witnessed war crimes committed against women, girls and even baby girls not only in my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, but also in many other countries.

‘To the survivors from all over the world, I would like to tell you that through this prize, the world is listening to you and refusing to remain indifferent. The world refuses to sit idly in the face of your suffering.’

There were 331 candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2018, the second-highest number ever. Of those, 216 were individuals and 115 were organisations, according to the organisers.

Alfred Nobel’s will and testament established the Nobel Prize. The Nobel Foundation has recently commissioned a new English translation of the will in order to make Nobel’s original thinking more accessible.

Lars Heikensten, Executive Director of the Nobel Foundation, believes that Nobel’s intentions and values are more relevant than ever. Commenting on the most significant change following the new translation, he said, ‘one aspect that might attract interest is the central formulation that the prizes should be awarded to those that have conferred ‘the greatest benefit to humankind’. The earlier version of the English translation said ‘mankind’ but this was now a natural thing to update.’

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Roo Pitt

May 2021
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