A doctor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a 25-year-old Yazidi activist who was enslaved in Iraq by Islamic State have won this year’s Nobel peace prize.
The Norwegian Nobel committee said on Friday that Denis Mukwege, who has spent decades caring for victims of sexual assault, and Nadia Murad, who has used her own story to publicise human rights abuses, had been awarded the prize “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict”.
Both had “put their own personal security at risk by courageously combating war crimes and securing justice for victims”. The committee has so far been unable to contact either winner with the news.
Some recent awards have been controversial: the former US president Barack Obama won in 2009 after less than a year in office, and the European Union won in 2012. Last year’s winner was the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
The choice of two campaigners against sexual violence in war will highlight an issue that has been marginalised for decades.
The committee said: “Both laureates have made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and combating, 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.”
Mukwege, a 63-year-old gynaecologist founded and maintains the Panzi hospital in Bukavu, in the east of the DRC, where he has cared for tens of thousands of women who suffered sexual assault in the country’s recurrent civil conflict. An outspoken critic of authorities who fail to protect civilians, Mukwege survived an assassination attempt in 2012 but continued his work.
The committee described him as “the foremost, most unifying symbol both nationally and internationally of the struggle to end sexual violence in war and armed conflict”.
Murad was abducted with other Yazidi women in August 2014 when their home village of Kocho in Sinjar, northern Iraq, was attacked by Isis. Captured alongside her sisters, she lost six brothers and her mother as the extremists killed the village’s men and any women considered too old to be sexually exploited.
She had shown uncommon courage in recounting her own sufferings and speaking up on behalf of other victims, the committee said.
This year 216 individuals and 115 organisations were nominated for the prize. They included the Syrian civilian aid group the White Helmets, Russia’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper, the US whistleblower Edward Snowden and the UN high commissioner for refugees. Most nominations remain secret, unless revealed by their nominators.
The 2018 prize is worth just over a million dollars.