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Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist treating victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Yazidi human rights activist Nadia Murad have been awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

The pair received the award for their “effort to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict”, Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Nobel Committee, announced at a press conference in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, on Friday. 

“Both laureates have made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on and combatting such war crimes,” said Reiss-Andersen. 

“Denis Mukwege is the helper who has devoted his life to defending his 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 wartime sexual violence so that the perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions,” she said.

Mukwege has spent decades helping victims of sexual violence in the DRC, where a long-running civil war has claimed around six million lives.

At the Panzi hospital, which he founded in the eastern city of Bukavu in 1999, Mukwege and his staff have treated thousands of women who have been the victims of sexual violence. 

Endemic in warzones, sexual violence is a commonplace in the DRC, which was once dubbed the “rape capital of the world”. A 2011 report from the American Journal of Public Health claimed that around 48 women were raped every hour in the country. 

In Friday’s announcement, Reiss-Andersen call Mukwege “the foremost, most unifying symbol both nationally and internationally of the struggle to end sexual violence in war and armed conflicts” and praised the surgeon’s principal of making justice “everyone’s business”.

“The importance of Denis Mukwege’s enduring dedicated and selfless efforts in this field cannot be overrated. He has repeatedly condemned impunity for mass rape and criticised the Congolese government and other countries for not doing enough to stop the use of sexual violence against women as a strategy and a weapon of war,” she said.

Murad has become a prominent activist for Yazidi women who were targeted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS, also known as ISIL) as the armed group established control of Iraqi territory.

In August 2014, she was captured by ISIS fighters and sold as a sex slave. During her three-month captivity, Murad was subjected to rape and got death threats if she did not convert to Islam.

The Yazidis are a minority religious community of about 400,000 people living in northern Iraq. Their beliefs combine elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions.

ISIS does not consider the Yazidis’ faith legitimate and massacred hundreds and enslaved an estimated 3,000 girls and women.

During the announcement, Reiss-Andersen applauded Murad’s “uncommon courage” in speaking out about her experience, as well as on behalf of other victims.

“She refused to accept the social codes that required women to remain silent and ashamed about the abuses to which they had been subjected,” she said. 

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Although the Nobel committee does not release the names of those it considers for the prize, it revealed that it had sorted through more than 331 candidates for this year’s award, which recognises both accomplishments and intentions.

Recent laureates include The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons for its work creating the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who worked to secure a peace deal with the FARC rebel group.

The prize announcement in the Norwegian capital was the culmination of a week in which Nobel laureates have been named in medicine, physics, chemistry. The literature prize will not be awarded this year due to a scandal involving the awarding Swedish academy.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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