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Nobel Prize goes to defenders of violence against women

Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege win joint prize for combatting war crimes

Two brave human rights defenders are joint winners of the 2018 Nobel Peace prize for their work against sexual violence as a weapon of war. Nadia Murad is a Yazidi woman who was captured in 2014 by ISIS and gang raped in the town of Kojo in Sinjar, Iraqi Kurdistan.

Dr. Denis Mukwege is a Congolese gynaecologist, who has treated tens of thousands of victims of sexual violence. The Nobel committee have said that both laureates have ‘made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on and combatting such war crimes.’ The committee decided that the two were worthy of the prize because they have both,

“put their own personal security at risk by courageously combating war crimes and securing justice for victims.”

The winners

Nadia Murad is a Yazidi woman who was kidnapped, enslaved and raped by ISIS fighters. In 2014 ISIS militants arrived at her village of Kojo in Iraqi Kurdistan. Her mother and six of her nine brothers and step-brothers were killed. Nadia was held as a sex slave by ISIS. In an interview with CNN last week, Nadia said,

“Nearly 6,500 women and children from the Yazidi were abducted and about 5,000 people from the community were killed during that day. For eight months, they separated us from our mothers and our sisters and our brothers, and some of them were killed and others disappeared.”

Nadia eventually escaped to Mosul where a Muslim family helped her to gain fake identification, which allowed her to escape ISIS territory. Nadia now works tirelessly as a human rights campaigner, bringing the attention of the world to the topic of the Yazidi genocide. She is a UN ambassador UNODC Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking and author of the book ‘The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State’. Nadia has collaborated with prominent human rights lawyer Amal Clooney to encourage the United Nations to investigate the genocide against the Yazidis and put ISIS criminals on trial for the atrocities committed.

Dr. Denis Mukwege is a Congolese gynaecologist who founded and works in Panzi hospital in Bukavu, DRC, where he has specialised in treating women who had been raped by rebels during the ongoing conflict in Congo. He has treated tens of thousands of female victims of rape since the outbreak of the second Congo war that started in 1998. On receipt of the prize Dr Mukwege said,

“To the survivors from all over the world, I would like to tell you that through this prize, the world is listening to you and refusing to remain indifferent. The world refuses to sit idly in the face of your suffering.”

The winners will be presented their award on the 10 December 2018, a date with particular significance as it also marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Rape as a weapon of war

Research shows that rape and violence are not only the consequences of war but are also used as a deliberate form of military strategy. A report by Amnesty International found that rape is often used in ethnic conflicts, “as a way for attackers to perpetuate their social control and redraw ethnic boundaries.” This is because women are seen as the reproducers and caregivers of communities and as such hold a strong form of soft power within those communities. Their ideas are passed to the community through the children and grandchildren and therefore acts of violence create severe instability and fear, which is then perpetuated throughout the whole community.

After World War II human rights came more firmly into focus with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) then being written shortly afterwards. Even before the UDHR were declared, the Nuremberg trials were held and condemned rape as a crime against humanity, stating that women should be protected against any attack on their honour – especially rape, enforced prostitution and indecent assault. The launch of the Statute of Rome that was enforced when the International Criminal Court officially opened in 2002 also has a clause under Article & ‘crimes Against humanity’ stating that all parties to the state must refrain from, ‘Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity.’

Two of the gravest conflicts with regards to violence against women as a tool of military and ethnic conflict are the examples represented through the Democratic Republic of Congo and the abuse of Yazidi women by ISIS. However, conflict such as the Bosnian war saw an estimated 12,000 – 20,000, mostly Muslim Bosniak women, raped.

Today, accurate data on sexual violence in the DRC is still somewhat limited due to the lack of rapes being reported. The American Journal of Public Health estimated that between 1.69 and 1.80 million women in the DRC had been raped in their lifetime.

The case of the DRC and of the Yazidis brought the world’s focus onto the grave problem of sexual violence in war, but as we have seen it is not a new phenomenon. The prize highlights the severity of the problem; however the international community needs to ensure that pressure is applied to countries carrying out these crimes against humanity. Each member state of the ICC also needs to ensure they are doing their utmost to uphold the Statute of Rome and all of its articles, thereby ensuring that human rights are upheld both in conflict and in peace.

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