Nobel Peace Prize goes to UN Goodwill Ambassador and Congolese doctor, highlighting sexual violence

5 October 2018

Nadia Murad, a Yazidi rights activist and the first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist who helps victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), were awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.

The decision to jointly-award the prestigious prize, has the potential to help end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, the UN said - a cause which is central to the Organization's work.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, speaking at UN Headquarters in New York, said that "in defending the victims of sexual violence in conflict, they have defended our shared values."

He praised Dr. Mukwege's "fearless" championing of women raped and abused in conflict, repairing "shattered bodies" as a skilled surgeon but also restoring "dignity and hope".

By honouring these defenders of human dignity, this prize also recognizes countless victims around the world who have too often been stigmatized, hidden and forgotten - UN chief António Guterres

Ms. Murad, he said, had given voice to "unspeakable abuse" in northern Iraq, when Dae'sh terrorists brutally targetted the Yazidi ethnic minority in 2014. "She has pursued support for victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery, and justice for perpetrators."

The UN chief said the award was part of a "growing movement to recognize the violence and injustice" faced by women and girls, the world over.

"Ten years ago, the Security Council unanimously condemned sexual violence as a weapon of war.  Today the Nobel Committee recognized the efforts of Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege as vital tools for peace," said Mr. Guterres.

"By honouring these defenders of human dignity, this prize also recognizes countless victims around the world who have too often been stigmatized, hidden and forgotten.  This is their award, too... Let us honour these new Nobel laureates by standing up for victims of sexual violence everywhere."

Welcoming the announcement by the academy in Oslo, Norway, on behalf of the UN in Geneva earlier in the day, spokesperson Alessandra Vellucci explained that eradicating sexual violence in conflict remains a priority.


“I will recall that this is a cause that is very close to the United Nations and as you know we have a Special Representative [on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, who is also working in towards this,” Ms. Vellucci said. “I’m sure that this Nobel Peace Prize will help advance the cause of ending sexual violence as a weapon of conflict. Congratulations to the winners.”

Ms. Patten said that "today’s recognition of two champions in the fight to end wartime rape is an inspiration for all of us working in this field,” adding that it shone "a spotlight on a crime that has long been hidden in the shadows of history and sends a strong message that all the women, girls, men and boys who have suffered sexual violence, deserve justice and redress."

The joint prize was also welcomed by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which appointed Ms. Murad Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking in 2016.

UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov hailed Ms. Murad's courage and resilience saying that it “reminds us that we must always listen to the people who have been most affected and harmed by the crimes we seek to stop”.

The testimonies of survivors like Ms. Murad “must inform and strengthen our efforts to achieve justice”, Mr. Fedotov added.

Her advocacy has helped to establish what Mr. Guterres described as "a vitally important" UN investigation, "of the harrowing crimes that she and so many others endured."

'The man who mends women'

Dubbed by the press “the man who mends women,” Dr. Mukwege gained international recognition for his work and had earned much recognition, including the UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 2008, and the Sakharov prize in 2014. 

Dr. Mukwege, who has treated thousands of rape victims at his hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo,  has been shortlisted for the Nobel Prize several times.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Denis Mukwege, Director and Founder of Panzi General Referral Hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Nobel academy’s decision to honour Dr. Mukwege is in recognition of his years of work as one of DRC’s most prominent rights defenders.

As a surgeon, he is known for helping survivors of rape in eastern DRC and he was the focus of a film, The Man Who Mends Women. 

He experienced conflict at first hand in the region,  when patients and staff at the hospital he ran were reportedly killed by soldiers.

This is richly deserved recognition of these two extraordinarily brave, persistent and effective campaigners against the scourge of sexual violence - UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet

After founding a hospital offering free medical care to victims of terrible sexual abuse and violence, Dr. Mukwege turned to advocacy, after reportedly realizing that some rape survivors were the daughters of women who had been raped years earlier.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said shortly after the announcement that it was "hard to imagine two more worthy winners."

"This is richly deserved recognition of these two extraordinarily brave, persistent and effective campaigners against the scourge of sexual violence, and the use of rape as a weapon of war," she added.

"Nadia and Denis, I’m sure I speak for all human rights defenders, when I say we salute you, we admire you beyond words. You have fought for the pain women have suffered through sexual abuse to be recognized and confronted, and for their dignity to be restored. We need more people to stand up the way you have stood up for the rights of women, for justice, for the rights of minorities, for the rights of everyone."

The Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said she was celebrating "these gender quality leaders, along with their care and trust of women."

"There can be no peace while women and girls are raped with impunity as a tactic of war. The 2018 Peace Laureates are doing vital work to bring visibility and voice to this violation of women's rights and to bring justice to women and girls brutally harmed by sexual violence in conflict.

Within the UN, the issue of eradicating sexual violence in conflict has long been a top priority.

This work is carried out in collaboration with Member States by Special Representative on Sexual Violence,  Pramila Patten of Mauritius,  who also holds the rank of UN Under‑Secretary-General. Her Office was established in 2009 by UN Security Council resolution 1888; its first representative was Margot Wallström of Sweden.

The UN Security Council resolution was one in a series which recognized the harmful impact that sexual violence has on communities, while also undermining peace and security once conflict has ended.


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With UN support, surgeon Denis Mukwege and Panzi Hospital aid rape survivors in Guinea

The United Nations office working to end conflict-related sexual violence helped to bring world-renowned surgeon Denis Mukwege and a team from his Panzi Hospital to Conakry, Guinea, to provide medical and psychological treatment for 30 of the women and girls raped in politically-motivated violence in 2009, it was announced today.

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