Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege (l) and survivor of IS captivity Nadia Murad (r), were awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in fighting sexual violence in conflict around the world.

The Congolese physician Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, a Yazidi, have been announced as the winners of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict”.

“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,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.

The prize will be handed to both winners during a ceremony in Norway’s capital, Oslo, on 10 December.

Among the 331 nominees for the peace award this year were also Egypt’s Copts, for choosing peaceful coexistence over retaliation in the face of persecution.

‘We are witnesses’

Dr. Denis Mukwege, 63, a gynaecological surgeon and evangelical Christian, is known as “the man who repairs women”.

In 1999 he founded Panzi hospital in Bukavu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, with the idea of working on maternal health. However, he found himself confronted with large numbers of women who survived sexual violence committed by armed groups active in the region.

Among a number of international awards, in 2013 the physician received the Human Rights First Award.

Civil society organisations reported in May that the violence in the northern part of the region kills two people every day. They also detailed 7,376 recorded cases of sexual violence against women and children.

“We are the witnesses. We have two choices,” Dr. Mukwege told Physicians for Human Rights last year. “We can decide to stay quiet and then we become complicit with those who commit these acts. Or the second choice is to speak up for these women and to say what we see to bear witness, to say what we have to say, and demand that it stop.”

The Nobel laureate became a victim of violence himself because of speaking out about what Congo’s women face and how to stop it. He now lives under the permanent protection of UN peacekeepers at his hospital, according to the BBC.

In April this year a film highlighting the impact of sexual violence in eastern DRC received the 2017 Human Rights Award from the World Association for Christian Communication and SIGNIS, a worldwide association of Catholic communicators.

Nadia Murad, 25, is a Yazidi woman from the village of Kocho, northern Iraq, who was kidnapped and held as a sex slave by Islamic State.

“While a captive of IS, Nadia Murad was repeatedly subjected to rape and other abuses. Her assaulters threatened to execute her if she did not convert to their hateful, inhuman version of Islam,” the committee said.

In 2014, after three months of captivity, she escaped and since then has spoken openly about her experiences, and “became the face of a campaign to free the Yazidi people”, reported the BBC. In 2016 she became the UN’s first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.

Another survivor of IS captivity, Iraqi Christian woman Rita Habeeb, said that when she was sold to someone in Syria, she met many Yazidi women and they were forced to watch public executions, torture and the beheadings of other women who were accused of being spies.

A local partner of Open Doors International, a charity which supports persecuted Christians in Iraq, commented: “Nadia’s bravery in sharing her experience at the hands of so-called Islamic State is exemplary. She has shone a light on the horrendous reality of thousands of Yazidi, and hundreds of Christian, women and girls abducted by IS.  

“Nadia’s story highlights the intersectional vulnerabilities facing women from minority faiths in conflict situations who are doubly vulnerable to sexual violence for being from both the ‘wrong’ faith and the ‘wrong’ gender.”  

Open Doors is campaigning to highlight the “double vulnerability” of minority women and to ensure that all women and men, no matter what their faith, have hope for a future in the Middle East.