The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday to a Congolese doctor and an Iraqi woman who was held captive by the Islamic State group for their work to highlight and eliminate the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.
Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad “have made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and combating, such war crimes,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in its announcement.
“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.”
Mukwege, 63, founded a hospital in eastern Congo’s Bukavu and has treated thousands of women, many of whom were victims of gang rape. Armed men tried to kill him in 2012, forcing him to temporarily leave the country.
“The importance of Dr. Mukwege’s enduring, dedicated and selfless efforts in this field cannot be overstated. He has repeatedly condemned impunity for mass rape and criticized the Congolese government and other countries for not doing enough to stop the use of sexual violence against women as a strategy and weapon of war,” the Nobel committee said in its citation.
Eastern Congo has seen more than two decades of conflict among armed groups that either sought to unseat presidents or simply grab control of a piece of the country’s vast mineral wealth.
Her book, “The Last Girl,” tells of her captivity, the loss of her family and her eventual escape.
The Yazidis are an ancient religious minority, falsely branded as devil-worshippers by Sunni Muslim extremists. Islamic State, adopting a radical interpretation of ancient Islamic texts, declared that Yazidi women and even young girls could be taken as slaves.
“We want to send a message that women who constitute half the population in those communities actually are used as weapons and that they need protection, and that the perpetrators have to be prosecuted and held responsible,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, chairwoman of the Nobel committee.
Congo’s government congratulated Mukwege while acknowledging that relations with him have been strained.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende told the Associated Press that Mukwege did “remarkable” work, though he said the laureate tended to politicize it. However, “we salute that a colleague is recognized,” he said.
Iraq celebrated the announcement, with state TV interrupting normal programming to report Murad’s win.
Both honorees are the first from their countries to receive a Nobel Prize.
“I am proud to be Congolese,” said the country’s top opposition leader, Felix Tshisekedi, in a Twitter post. “Good done for others always ends up being rewarded.”
The award comes amid heightened attention to sexual abuse of women in the workplace and socially, broadly referred to as the #MeToo movement.
“MeToo and war crimes is not quite the same thing, but they do however have in common that it is important to see the suffering of women,” Reiss-Andersen said.
The 2018 prize is worth about $1.01 million. Last year’s winner was the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
The winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, honoring Alfred Nobel, the founder of the five Nobel Prizes, is to be revealed on Monday.
No Nobel literature prize will be awarded this year due to a sex abuse scandal at the Swedish Academy, which chooses the winner. The academy plans to announce both the 2018 and the 2019 winner next year — although the head of the Nobel Foundation has said the body must fix its tarnished reputation first.
The man at the center of the Swedish Academy scandal, Jean-Claude Arnault, a major cultural figure in Sweden, was sentenced Monday to two years in prison for rape.
4:50 a.m.: This article has been updated with reactions from Congo and Iraq.
This article was originally published at 2:10 a.m.