Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad - two global symbols to end the use of sexual violence used as a weapon of war and armed conflict - have been awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. Both of them have made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on and combating such war crimes. We salute Nadia Murad who is just one of an estimated 3,000 Yazidi girls and women who were victims of rape and other abuses by the IS forces. We also salute Mukwege -- a gynaecologist and surgeon who has worked for long to treat thousands of women and girls affected by rape and sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Nadia Murad, a victim of war crimes, refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed of sexual abuses. She has shown uncommon courage in recounting her own sufferings and speaking up on behalf of other victims. She is a member of the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq, where she lived with her family in the remote village of Kocho. With a view to exterminating the Yazidi population, the Islamic State launched a brutal and systematic attack on the villages of the Sinjar district in August 2014. Nearly 6,500 women and children from the Yazidi were abducted and about 5,000 people from the community were killed in the attack. For eight months, they separated them from their mothers, sisters, brothers, and some of them were killed and others disappeared. Murad's mother and six of her brothers and stepbrothers were executed. Murad, along with other unmarried women, was taken as a sex slave and passed around various ISIS militants. While a captive of the IS, Nadia Murad was repeatedly subjected to rape and other sexual abuses. Her assaulters threatened to execute her in case of her not converting to their inhuman version of Islam. 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. She then urged Britain to follow Germany's lead in allowing refugees from the Yazidi community into the UK.
Dr Mukwege, born in 1955 in Bukavu, went to medical school across the border in Burundi and later studied gynaecology and obstetrics at the University of Angers in France. He founded the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in 1999 as a clinic for gynaecological and obstetric care and expected to be working on issues of maternal health. Since 1999, however, Dr Mukwege and his staff have helped to care for more than 40,000 survivors of sexual violence, which has made him the world's leading expert on ‘repairing' the internal physical damage caused by rape and gang rape. The hospital not only treats survivors with physical wounds but also provides legal, psycho-social services and socio-economic support to its patients; it is a one-stop hospital providing holistic medical care to survivors of rape and other patients in need of medical care in the region. In October 2012, Dr Denis Mukwege was violently attacked and his family was held at gunpoint at his home in an assassination attempt. His trusted friend and security guard was killed. The attack came several weeks after Dr Mukwege denounced the country's 16-year-long conflict and called for those responsible to be brought to justice during a speech at the United Nations. Dr Mukwege and his family fled to Europe for a short period of time. Despite the assassination attempt in January 2013, Dr Mukwege responded to the urgent call from the women in Bukavu to return home and resumed his work at the hospital. We appreciate the Noble Committee for choosing the deserving person to the Peace Prize.
He advocates fiercely for the rights of survivors of sexual violence to hold perpetrators to account and raise awareness of the so-called ‘conflict minerals' in fueling conflict and sexual violence. He is the main street of hope for thousands in eastern Congo. He has stayed in a war zone for 14 years and practised medicine with bare medical resources and witnessed the unbearable enacted on the vaginas and bodies of women day after day. He has invented surgeries to meet the acts of cruelty and has helped repair 30,000 rape victims. He has opened and maintained a hospital providing ongoing care in a place with no roads, no water, no electricity, minimal internet or phone and rampant insecurity. Nowhere in the world are women's lives harder than in Congo, where Mukwege grew up. When he came back from training as an obstetrician in France, the first patient treated in the maternity clinic he founded was a rape survivor. Then dozens more victims gathered there that made him realise that rape was being used as a weapon of war. Over two decades later, Panzi Hospital has treated more than 50,000 survivors of sexual violence. Mukwege created an approach that focused on providing psychological and socioeconomic support to the survivors, as well as founding a legal programme to help them obtain justice.
The year 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. This is also set out in the Rome Statute of 1998, which governs the work of the International Criminal Court. The statute establishes that sexual violence in war and armed conflict is a grave violation of international law. Still, sexual violence and crime continue unabated across the globe. In wartime, young girls and women are violently raped in all the conflict-ridden zones of the globe. The Rohingya girls and women who have taken shelter in South Eastern part of Bangladesh have faced sexual brutality perpetrated by the Myanmar Army and their cronies. The Pakistan Army did the same thing during our Liberation War. These events bear testimony to the brutalities of armed groups upon girls and women in this civilised (!) world that needs to be stopped forever. In this perspective, it is expected that awarding Nobel Peace Prize to these two champion activists against sexual violence who discovered it as a method of warfare, will help abolish this heinous crime and, as a result, survivors will receive the care they deserve.
The writer works for BRAC Education Programme and formerly taught in Cadet Colleges and Rajuk College. He can be reached at: [email protected]