The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded on Friday to two campaigners against wartime sexual violence: Dr. Denis Mukwege, 63, a Congolese gynecological surgeon, and Nadia Murad, 25, who became the bold, dignified voice of the women who survived sexual violence by the Islamic State group.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said the two were given the award “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.”
Dr. Mukwege campaigned relentlessly to shine a spotlight on the plight of Congolese women, even after nearly being assassinated a few years ago. Ms. Murad, who was held captive by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has told and retold her story of suffering to organizations around the world, helping to persuade the United States State Department to recognize the genocide of her people at the hands of the terrorist group.
In a year when the “Me Too” movement has turned the world’s attention to survivors of sexual assault and abuse, the Nobel Committee’s decision cast a spotlight on a continuing global campaign to end the use of mass rape as a weapon in global conflict.
Dr. Mukwege works in one of the most traumatized places on the planet: the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
In a bare hospital in the hills above Bukavu, where for years there was little electricity or enough anesthetic, he has performed surgery on countless women who have trudged into his hospital. He has emerged as a champion of the Congolese people and a global advocate for gender equality and the elimination of rape in war, traveling to other war-ravaged parts of the world to help create programs for survivors.
“It’s not a women question; it’s a humanity question, and men have to take responsibility to end it,” Dr. Mukwege once said in an interview. “It’s not an Africa problem. In Bosnia, Syria, Liberia, Colombia, you have the same thing.”
In 2012, Dr. Mukwege delivered a fiery speech at the United Nations, upbraiding the Congolese government and other nations for not doing enough to stop what he called “an unjust war that has used violence against women and rape as a strategy of war.”
His advocacy nearly cost him his life. Shortly after the speech, when he returned to Congo, four armed men crept into his compound in Bukavu. They took his children hostage and waited for him to return from work. In the hail of bullets that followed, his guard was killed, but Dr. Mukwege threw himself on the ground and somehow survived.
He spent more than two months in exile but decided that, in spite of the risk, he had to return.
“To treat women for the first time, second time, and now I’m treating the children born after rape,” Dr. Mukwege said. “This is not acceptable.”
Ms. Murad was abducted alongside thousands of other women and girls from the Yazidi minority when the ISIS overran her homeland in northern Iraq in 2014. She was singled out for rape by the group.
Whereas the majority of women who escaped ISIS refused to be named, Ms. Murad insisted to reporters that she wanted to be identified and photographed. She embarked on a worldwide campaign, speaking before the United Nations Security Council, the United States House of Representatives, Britain’s House of Commons and numerous other global bodies.
Ms. Murad has said that she was exhausted by having to repeatedly speak out, but she knew that other Yazidi women were being raped back home: “I will go back to my life when women in captivity go back to their lives, when my community has a place, when I see people accountable for their crimes.”
Born and raised in the village of Kojo, in northern Iraq, Ms. Murad and her family were at the center of ISIS’ campaign of ethnic cleansing. Located on the southern flank of Mount Sinjar, Kojo was one of the first Yazidi villages to be overrun by ISIS, which launched its attack from the south on Aug. 3, 2014.
Residents were herded into Kojo’s only school, where women and girls were separated from the men. The male captives, including six of Ms. Murad’s brothers, were loaded into trucks, driven to a field outside the town and executed.
Next, the women and girls were forced at gunpoint into buses. Ms. Murad was taken to a slave market, where she was sold to one of ISIS’ judges. He repeatedly raped her, beating her if she tried to close her eyes during the assault. When she tried to jump out a window, she recounted, he ordered her to undress and left her alone with his bodyguards, who raped her one by one. She eventually escaped.
“Nadia refused to be silenced,” the international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who represents Ms. Murad, wrote in the foreword to Ms. Murad’s book. “Over the time I have known her, Nadia has not only found her voice, she has become the voice of every Yazidi who is a victim, of every woman who has been abused, every refugee who has been left behind.”
In 2016, she was named the United Nations’ first good-will ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. She recounted her life story in a recently published autobiography, “The Last Girl.”
In it, Murad writes: “I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.”
In August this year, she announced she was engaged to a fellow Yazidi activist.
In giving the award to two champions for ending sexual violence, the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided not to give it to an unlikely trio that had been the choice of bookmakers around the world: President Trump, Kim Jong-un of North Korea and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who took on the herculean task of trying to denuclearize the divided Korean Peninsula and have achieved a shaky détente.
Who won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize?
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons was honored for its efforts to advance the negotiations that led to the first treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons. The choice amounted to a blunt rejoinder to the world’s nine nuclear-armed powers and their allies, which boycotted negotiations on the treaty.
Who else has won a Nobel this year?
• Frances H. Arnold, George P. Smith and Gregory P. Winter were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday for tapping the power of evolutionary biology to design molecules with a range of practical uses.
• Arthur Ashkin of the United States, Gérard Mourou of France and Donna Strickland of Canada were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for their work developing tools made of light beams.
• James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday, for work on unleashing the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells.
When will the other Nobels be announced?
• The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science will be announced on Monday in Sweden. Read about last year’s winner, Richard H. Thaler.
• The Nobel Prize in Literature has been postponed. The institution that chooses the laureate, the Swedish Academy, is embroiled in a scandal involving sexual misconduct, financial malpractice and repeated leaks — a crisis that led to the departure of several board members and required the intervention of the king of Sweden. Read about last year’s winner, Kazuo Ishiguro.