Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege have been awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in trying to end sexual violence during war and armed conflict. They are a strong choice for the prize, writes John Brewer from Queen’s University Belfast.
There are many tragedies in war and among the worst are victims of sexual violence. Women’s bodies have become battle sites and sexual violence a weapon of war.
Murad is one such victim, developing a global witness as a UN Goodwill Ambassador to the abuse she suffered as a Yazidi at the hands of Islamic State. She has campaigned for the protection of survivors of human trafficking.
Denis Mukwege is a medic based in the Democratic Republic of Congo and he and his staff have helped thousands of victims abused in its prolonged and bloody wars – and many more forcibly removed people besides. Mukwege also speaks, at much risk to himself, against Congolese governments and others who shield military rapists.
It is a comment frequently made that the Nobel Peace Prize is a contradiction, founded for “the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses” by an armaments manufacturer, notable for inventing dynamite.
Handing over the awarding of the Peace Prize to a five-person committee appointed by the Norwegian parliament, rather than to Sweden, reflects Norway’s long-established engagement in facilitating peace negotiations. Well before the Peace Prize was inaugurated in 1901, the Norwegian government was assisting the European Inter-Parliamentary Union’s work on mediation, an involvement in conflict resolution that continues to this day.
The right choice
Peace is itself often politically controversial, especially when powerful nation states and multi-state alliances have conducted the war – and the award of the Peace Prize is invariably disputed. The Peace Prize is notable for the illustrious people omitted from its list of laureates as for those recognised by its award.
Mahatma Gandhi, Vaclav Havel and Eleanor Roosevelt are among a number who have failed to muster the prize – Gandhi was nominated five times to no avail. But politicians abound among its laureates – including those with dubious reputations, even at the time, such as Henry Kissinger.
Barack Obama, who was awarded in his first year as US president, seemed to get one simply for being elected as the first black president (he was still puzzled himself at the award even at the end of his second term).
Relatively unsuccessful politicians can be given the award – for example one-term US president Jimmy Carter and unsuccessful presidential candidate Al Gore. People from Northern Ireland, with only 1.8m people, have won it twice. The US and the UK dominate the countries of recipients. It has also been won by 16 women – more than any other Nobel category.
It has been awarded to organisations on several occasions: the European Union won it for not being at war with itself since 1945, the International Committee of the Red Cross has won it three times, and the Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees twice. Only one nominee declined the prize, the Vietcong’s chief negotiator Le Duc Tho, who described it as bourgeois sentimentality. Two members of the awarding committee resigned in protest when it was determined to make the 1973 award to Le Duc Tho and Kissinger, while the results of the peace negotiations were still uncertain. Kissinger gave his prize money to charity and did not attend the ceremony.
Political controversies aside, the award committee has often got it right and the recipient is met with general acclaim. The 2018 recipients are such a case. As the prize committee said:
Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad have both put their personal security at risk by courageously combating war crimes and seeking justice for the victims.
Courage – in speaking out against sexual violence and in speaking for its countless victims – is the word that catches my eye in the committee’s comments. I think this word apt, for it applies as much to the victims themselves who have to live daily – if they survive at all – with the consequences of sexual violence.
I like to think the award is as much in honour of those victims as the two deserving recipients.
Women’s Agenda has shared below some of the comments from the Norwegian Peace Committee on why Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege were awarded the Prize.
“Both laureates have made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and combating, such war crimes.
“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.
“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 six million Congolese.
“Denis Mukwege is the foremost, most unifying symbol, both nationally and internationally, of the struggle to end sexual violence in war and armed conflicts. His basic principle 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 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.
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.
“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.
“Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad have both put their personal security at risk by courageously combating war crimes and seeking justice for the victims. They have thereby promoted the fraternity of nations through the application of principles of international law.”