Oct. 5, 2018 – In awarding the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize to Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has made an important and timely decision to honor the survivors of sexual violence in war and those who work to assist them.
As a survivor turned advocate, Murad provided a ray of hope to thousands of female survivors of rape by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) that they may one day see justice. ISIS crimes include the abduction of an estimated 6,300 Yezidis and subjecting women and girls to a system of organized rape and sexual slavery. Murad has taken their plight directly to the United Nations and governments around the world.
There has been worldwide condemnation of ISIS’s abuses, and judges in Iraq have charged thousands of ISIS suspects with terrorist affiliation, yet we are unaware of a single trial that has led to a prosecution for sexual violence.
Mukwege is a renowned gynecologist in the Democratic Republic of Congo and a courageous and outspoken human rights activist. At great personal risk, he speaks out about the pervasiveness of rape as a weapon of war and the near total impunity for these crimes. His Mukwege Foundation partners with Human Rights Watch to create a global survivor movement.
His work at Panzi Hospital in eastern Congo has given hope to countless survivors of sexual violence, allowing them to rebuild their lives despite suffering unspeakable atrocities. These women and girls have been healed, heard, and know they deserve justice thanks to Mukwege’s tireless efforts. The prize is a tribute not only to Mukwege, but to all of them.
The Peace Prize sends a message that all women who suffer sexual violence deserve justice and should not wait any longer. It comes as sexual violence and harassment have gained some of the attention they deserve around the world through the #MeToo movement. It is particularly poignant in the United States, where US officials have failed to adequately investigate sexual assault allegations against a nominee to the Supreme Court.
While today’s prize is about sexual violence in conflict zones, it should spur efforts to combat sexual violence and harassment everywhere. In times of war and peace, survivors should be heard, and those responsible should face justice.
Ida Sawyer is Deputy Director, Africa. Belkis Wille is Senior Iraq and Quatar Researcher, Middle East and North Africa Division