Nobel Peace Prize winners urges world to step up when combatting wartime sexual violence
One of the winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize says the attention the prize has drawn to sexual violence against women in war zones must be followed by action against the abuses.
- The prize-winners have been lauded for their work against wartime sexual violence
- Co-winner Denis Mukwege says women’s bodies become battlefields during conflicts
- Dr Mukwege has treated over 15,000 rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 12 per cent of women have been raped
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Dr Denis Mukwege spoke on Sunday at a news conference with Nadia Murad of Iraq, with whom he shared the 9 million Swedish kronor ($1.9 million) prize.
The doctor was honoured for his work helping sexually abused women at the hospital he founded in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ms Murad, a Yazidi, won for her advocacy for sex abuse victims after being kidnapped by Islamic State militants.
“What we see during armed conflicts is that women’s bodies become battlefields and this cannot be acceptable during our time,” Mr Mukwege said, speaking through a translator.
“We cannot only denounce it, we now need to act,” he said.
Ms Murad was one of an estimated 3,000 girls and women from Iraq’s Yazidi minority group who were kidnapped in 2014 by IS militants and sold into sexual slavery.
She was raped, beaten and tortured before managing to escape three months later.
After getting treatment in Germany, she chose to speak to the world about the horrors faced by Yazidi women, despite the heavy stigma in her culture surrounding rape.
She said it was difficult “for a girl, a woman, to rise up to say that these atrocities have happened”.
Congo remains a dangerous place for women
Research estimates that at least 12 per cent of all Congolese women have been raped. (Reuters: Finbarr O’Reilly)
Mr Mukwege, a 63-year-old surgeon, founded a hospital in the city of Bukavu and over the past 20 years has treated over 15,000 women who were raped amid fighting between armed groups seeking to control some the central African nation’s vast mineral wealth.
Despite the end of the Second Congo War in 2003, indiscriminate sexual violence has been waged against Congolese women by military and police forces alongside informal guerilla militias for years, with a 2012 report dubbing the country the “rape capital of the world”.
Subsequent research efforts have never adequately painted a full picture of sexual crimes in the Congo due to underreporting and further violence, but the last available data found that at least 1.8 million women — or 12 per cent of all Congolese women — have been raped.
He expressed concern on Sunday that new violence could be coming as Congo holds a general election this month.
“We think the conflict might blow up around this electoral period and women and children are always the first victims of such conflicts,” he said.
Along with preventing sexual violence, more effort is needed to attend to victims, Mr Mukwege said.
“We need to realise that any woman who is a victim of sexual violence within her own country — such women should be allowed treatment and it’s not only medical treatment, also psychological treatment, judicial treatment,” he said.
Ms Murad said the psychological burden of her ordeal and her subsequent work is heavy.
“I don’t want to live in fear. For the last four years I have been in Germany, in a safe place, but yet I’m living frightfully,” she said.
“I’m scared that these people will not just attack me or have an impact on me, but with anybody else.”
Ms Murad and Mr Mukwege will receive their prize at a ceremony in Oslo today.
The winners of Nobel prizes for medicine, physics, chemistry and economics will also get their prizes on Monday in Stockholm.
No Nobel literature winner was named this year due to allegations of sexual abuse in the Swedish Academy, which chooses the literature winners.