Amidst a surge of global attention on violence against women, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee sent a signal that speaking truth to power about it is an act of unequivocal heroism. Today, Dr. Denis Mukwege, Founder and Medical Director of the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo), and Nadia Murad, a prominent Yazidi human rights activist from Iraq, received the committee’s highest honor for their activism exposing the ways rape is used as a tool of repression and terrorism and calling for accountability in two of the most dangerous armed conflicts in the world, still ongoing in Iraq and eastern Congo and actions relating to their activism.
Dr. Denis Mukwege is the definition of an ally to women. He has used his training and expertise to provide complex medical care to tens of thousands of women, girls, and even infants raped in Congo, where soldiers and armed rebels have used systematic sexual violence as a weapon against communities for decades, “treating women’s bodies as a battlefield,” in Dr. Mukwege’s words. Millions have died as a result of the armed conflict in eastern Congo, which has spanned roughly 25 years, and included staggering rates of brutal sexual violence.
After witnessing women stream into his hospital seeking treatment for rape during the conflict, Dr. Mukwege could not ignore the deliberate use of rape for military purposes. “The strategies of these armies are very well thought out,” he said in the recent documentary, City of Joy, “These women were often raped in front of their husbands and in front of their children…the weight of all the guilt falls on the victim. It is a total destruction of the family, of the community.”
Dr. Mukwege was one of the earliest advocates to speak out about another pattern: many rape survivors in Congo were being attacked by soldiers and rebels in the occupation of lucrative mining areas. “The dimensions of this conflict are international,” he wrote in a New York Times op-ed in 2015. “Some of Congo’s rebel groups, many of which originated in or have close links with neighboring countries, rely on the global sale of our nation’s minerals.” Dr. Mukwege used what he witnessed to create a powerful global platform, repeatedly demanding an end to impunity for rape and urgent reform of industries linked to the armed conflict in Congo, often at risk to his life.
We extend our deepest congratulations to both Dr. Mukwege and Ms. Murad and thank them for their tireless commitment to accountability.