NEW YORK – Dr. Denis Mukwege, a surgeon in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nadia Murad, a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, were both presented the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to help female victims of sex crimes.
The decision to jointly award the prestigious prize has the potential to help end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, according to the United Nations – a cause which is central to the organization’s work.
“In defending the victims of sexual violence in conflict, they have defended our shared values,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres at the U.N. headquarters in New York.
He praised Mukwege’s “fearless” championing of women raped and abused in conflict, repairing “shattered bodies” as a skilled surgeon but also restoring “dignity and hope.”
He also commended Murad for giving a voice to “unspeakable abuse” in northern Iraq, when Daesh terrorists brutally targeted the Yazidi ethnic minority in 2014.
“She has pursued support for victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery, and justice for perpetrators,” stated the U.N. chief.
He went on to explain that the award was part of a “growing movement to recognize the violence and injustice” faced by women and girls the world over.
“Ten years ago, the Security Council unanimously condemned sexual violence as a weapon of war. Today, the Nobel Committee recognized the efforts of Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege as vital tools for peace,” he said.
“By honoring these defenders of human dignity, this prize also recognizes countless victims around the world who have too often been stigmatized, hidden and forgotten. This is their award, too. … Let us honor these new Nobel laureates by standing up for victims of sexual violence everywhere.”
Welcoming the announcement by the academy in Oslo, Norway, on behalf of the U.N. in Geneva earlier in the day, spokesperson Alessandra Vellucci explained that eradicating sexual violence in conflict remains a priority.
“I will recall that this is a cause that is very close to the United Nations, and as you know, we have a special representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, who is also working toward this,” Vellucci said. “I’m sure that this Nobel Peace Prize will help advance the cause of ending sexual violence as a weapon of conflict. Congratulations to the winners.”
Patten expressed her appreciation for all those working toward the effort.
“Today’s recognition of two champions in the fight to end wartime rape is an inspiration for all of us working in this field,” she said, adding that it shone “a spotlight on a crime that has long been hidden in the shadows of history and sends a strong message that all the women, girls, men and boys who have suffered sexual violence, deserve justice and redress.”
The joint prize was also welcomed by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, which appointed Murad the Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking in 2016.
UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov hailed Murad’s courage and resilience saying that it “reminds us that we must always listen to the people who have been most affected and harmed by the crimes we seek to stop.”
The testimonies of survivors like Murad “must inform and strengthen our efforts to achieve justice,” Fedotov added.
Her advocacy has helped to establish what Guterres described as “a vitally important” U.N. investigation “of the harrowing crimes that she and so many others endured.”
The man who mends women
Dubbed by the press “the man who mends women,” Dr. Mukwege gained international recognition for his work and had earned much recognition, including the U.N. Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 2008, and the Sakharov Prize in 2014.
Mukwege, who has treated thousands of rape victims at his hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been shortlisted for the Nobel Prize several times.
The Nobel Academy’s decision to honor him is in recognition of his years of work as one of DRC’s most prominent rights defenders.
As a surgeon, he is known for helping survivors of rape in eastern DRC and he was the focus of a film, The Man Who Mends Women.
He experienced conflict firsthand in the region, when patients and staff at the hospital he ran were reportedly killed by soldiers.
After founding a hospital offering free medical care to victims of terrible sexual abuse and violence, he turned to advocacy – reportedly realizing that some rape survivors were the daughters of women who had been raped years earlier.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said shortly after the announcement that it was “hard to imagine two more worthy winners.”
“This is richly deserved recognition of these two extraordinarily brave, persistent and effective campaigners against the scourge of sexual violence and the use of rape as a weapon of war,” she added.
“Nadia and Denis: I’m sure I speak for all human rights defenders when I say we salute you; we admire you beyond words. You have fought for the pain women have suffered through sexual abuse to be recognized and confronted, and for their dignity to be restored. We need more people to stand up the way you have stood up for the rights of women, for justice, for the rights of minorities, for the rights of everyone.”
The Executive Director of U.N. Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said she was celebrating “these gender equality leaders, along with their care and trust of women.”
“There can be no peace while women and girls are raped with impunity as a tactic of war. The 2018 Peace Laureates are doing vital work to bring visibility and voice to this violation of women’s rights and to bring justice to women and girls brutally harmed by sexual violence in conflict.”
Within the U.N., the issue of eradicating sexual violence in conflict has long been a top priority.
This work is carried out in collaboration with Member States by Special Representative on Sexual Violence, Pramila Patten of Mauritius, who also holds the rank of U.N. Under-Secretary-General. Her office was established in 2009 by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1888; its first representative was Margot Wallström of Sweden.
The U.N. Security Council resolution was one in a series, which recognized the harmful impact that sexual violence has on communities, while also undermining peace and security once conflict has ended.