Photo: The two Nobel Peace laureates: and Denis Mukwege. Credit: Amnesty International.Photo: The two Nobel Peace laureates: Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege. - Photo: 2018

UN Hails Nobel Peace Prize Seeking to End Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK (IDN) – The United Nations has extended an enthusiastic welcome to The Norwegian Nobel Committee‘s announcement that it has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.

The Nobel Peace Prize 2017 was awarded to ICAN, the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition on such weapons.”

2018 marks a decade since the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1820 (2008), which determined that the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict constitutes both a war crime and a threat to international peace and security. Also the Rome Statute of 1998, which governs the work of the International Criminal Court, establishes that sexual violence in war and armed conflict is a grave violation of international law.

The decision to jointly-award the prestigious prize, has the potential to help end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war – a cause which is central to the Organization’s work, the UN said.

Speaking at UN Headquarters in New York on October 5, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that “in defending the victims of sexual violence in conflict, they have defended our shared values.” He praised Dr. Mukwege’s “fearless” championing of women raped and abused in conflict, repairing “shattered bodies” as a skilled surgeon but also restoring “dignity and hope”.

Nadia Murad, he said, had given voice to “unspeakable abuse” in northern Iraq, when Dae’sh 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.”

The UN chief said 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,” said Guterres.

“By honouring 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 honour these new Nobel laureates by standing up for victims of sexual violence everywhere.”

Both laureates have made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and combating, war crimes, said the Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen.

While 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 war-time sexual violence, so that the perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions.”

The physician Denis Mukwege has spent large parts of his adult life helping the victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Since the Panzi Hospital was established in Bukavu in 1999, Dr. Mukwege and his staff have treated thousands of patients who have fallen victim to such assaults. Most of the abuses have been committed in the context of a long-lasting civil war that has cost the lives of more than 6 million Congolese.

Reiss-Andersen described Denis Mukwege as “the foremost, most unifying symbol, both nationally and internationally, of the struggle to end sexual violence in war and armed conflicts”. His basic principle, she said, is that “justice is everyone’s business”.

Men and women, officers and soldiers, and local, national and international authorities alike all have a shared responsibility for reporting, and combating, this type of war crime, the Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.

“The importance of Dr. Mukwege’s enduring, dedicated and selfless efforts in this field cannot be overstated. He has repeatedly condemned impunity for mass rape and criticised the Congolese government and other countries for not doing enough to stop the use of sexual violence against women as a strategy and weapon of war.”

Nadia Murad is herself a victim of war crimes. She refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed of the abuses to which they have been subjected. She has shown uncommon courage in recounting her own sufferings and speaking up on behalf of other victims, Reiss-Andersen noted.

Nadia Murad is a member of the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq, where she lived with her family in the remote village of Kocho. In August 2014 the Islamic State (IS) launched a brutal, systematic attack on the villages of the Sinjar district, aimed at exterminating the Yazidi population.

In Nadia Murad’s village, several hundred people were massacred. The younger women, including underage children, were abducted and held as sex slaves. While a captive of the IS, Nadia Murad was repeatedly subjected to rape and other abuses. Her assaulters threatened to execute her if she did not convert to their hateful, inhuman version of Islam.

“Nadia Murad is just one of an estimated 3 000 Yazidi girls and women who were victims of rape and other abuses by the IS army. The abuses were systematic, and part of a military strategy. Thus they served as a weapon in the fight against Yazidis and other religious minorities.2

After a three-month nightmare Nadia Murad managed to flee. Following her escape, she chose to speak openly about what she had suffered. In 2016, at the age of just 23, she was named the UN’s first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.

Welcoming the announcement in Oslo, on behalf of the UN in Geneva, 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 in towards 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 said that “today’s recognition of two champions in the fight to end wartime rape is an inspiration for all of us working in this field,” 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 UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which appointed Nadia Murad Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking in 2016.

UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov hailed Nadia 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 the UN Chief described as “a vitally important” UN investigation, “of the harrowing crimes that she and so many others endured.”

Dubbed by the media “the man who mends women,” Dr. Mukwege gained international recognition for his work and had earned much recognition, including the UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 2008, and the Sakharov prize in 2014. 

Dr. 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 honour Dr. Mukwege 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 at first hand 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, Dr. Mukwege turned to advocacy, after reportedly realizing that some rape survivors were the daughters of women who had been raped years earlier.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said it was “hard to imagine two more worthy winners.” She added: “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.”

Bachelet emphasises: “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 UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said she was celebrating “these gender quality 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, declared Mlambo-Ngcuka. “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 UN, the issue of eradicating sexual violence in conflict has long been a top priority.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 06 October 2018]

Photo: The two Nobel Peace laureates: Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad. Credit: Amnesty International.

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Tags: UN Insider, United Nations, SDG3, SDG5

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