DRC’s Denis Mukwege and Iraq’s Nadia Murad become the 2018 Nobel Laureates for their anti-rape activism

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the 2018 Peace Prize to Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege  for their “effort to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict”, Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Nobel Committee, announced at a press conference in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, on 5 October.

The award is one of five including Chemistry, Literature, Physics and Medicine, set up by Swedish industrialist, inventor and arms manufacturer Alfred Nobel who died in 1896. The Nobel laureate receives a diploma, a medal, and about $1.5 million. Previous winners of the prestigious award include Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama.

Denis Mukwege, 63, is the world-renowned Congolese surgeon who became a saviour for victims of sexual violence in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Denis Mukwege has spent decades helping victims of sexual violence in the country. At the Panzi hospital, which he founded in the eastern city of Bukavu in 1999, Mukwege and his staff are said to have treated about 30,000 rape victims. Dr Mukwege has won a number of international prizes, including the 2008 UN Human Rights Prize, and was named African of the Year in 2009.

Nadia Murad, 25, a Yazidi woman from the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, was taken as a sex slave by the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in Iraq in 2014. During her three-month captivity, Murad was raped and threatened with death if she did not convert to Islam, she told CNN in an interview last year. ISIL does not consider the Yazid’ faith legitimate and has massacred hundreds and enslaved an estimated 3,000 girls and women. She escaped and became a human rights activist. In 2016, she was made a UN goodwill ambassador for the dignity of survivors of human trafficking and was also awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize by the Council of Europe. Murad becomes the 17th woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and is its second-youngest recipient after Malala Yousafzai.

During the announcement, according to CNN, Reiss-Andersen applauded Murad’s “uncommon courage” in speaking out about her experience, as well as on behalf of other victims. “She refused to accept the social codes that required women to remain silent and ashamed about the abuses to which they had been subjected,” she said.

“Both laureates have made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and combating, such war crimes,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, as she announced the award at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo.

“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.”

Congo’s government has congratulated Mukwege on his Nobel Peace Prize, while acknowledging that relations have been strained over the years. Spokesman Lambert Mende told the Associated Press that Mukwege has done “remarkable work” treating victims of sexual violence during years of conflict in the country’s east. Mende said, according to the Guardian, “we have not always been in agreement” and that Mukwege has had a tendency to “politicise” his humanitarian work. However, he added: “We salute that a compatriot is recognised.”

Nobel Laureate Dr. Denis Mukwege.

Nobel laureates have been announced all week. Although the Nobel committee does not release the names of those it considers for the prize until 50 years have passed, it revealed that it had sorted through more than 331 candidates—the second-highest number ever for this year’s award, which recognises both accomplishments and intentions in medicine, physics, chemistry. Of those, 216 were individuals and 115 were organizations, according to Nobel organizers. The literature prize will not be awarded this year due to a scandal involving the awarding Swedish academy.

On Tuesday, the the Nobel prize for physics was awarded to a woman Donna Strickland for the first time in 55 years  and for only the third time in its history. Earlier this week, only the third woman winner of the award and the first in 55 years. The Nobel prize for medicine was awarded to two scientists – Professor James P Allison from the US and Professor Tasuku Honjo from Japan – who discovered how to fight cancer using the body’s immune system. The 2017 Peace Prize went to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”

Nigeria’s Obiageli Ezekwesili, former vice president of the World Bank and Co-convener of the #BringBackOurGirls movement, was on an independent shortlist by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) for the sustainable institutional structures she championed to fight corruption. PRIO Directors have offered their personal shortlists for the Nobel Peace Prize every year since 2002.

“Ezekwesili and the EITI are worthy candidates because of their efforts in making the world more transparent and less corrupt,” the PRIO director, Henrik Urdal, said in a statement announcing the shortlist.

The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway, not in Stockholm, Sweden, where the Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and the Economics Prize are awarded. The award ceremony takes place on 10 December, the date of Alfred Nobel’s death.