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Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. Illustration by Niklas Elmehed/Nobel Media

Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Nadia Murad, Denis Mukwege for fight against sexual violence

The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize went to a Congolese doctor and a Yazidi woman abducted by Islamic State militants in Iraq. Both have dedicated their lives to fighting sexual violence.

Physician Denis Mukwege, who treats and advocates for victims of sexual assault in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman kidnapped by Islamic State militants in Iraq who now works with the international community on ways to fight the sex slave trade and ISIS, will share the prize.

“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,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said Friday.

Mukwege has long been a vocal critic of the Congolese government and other countries for not doing enough to stop the use of sexual violence against women as a weapon of war. His mantra: “justice is everyone’s business,” the committee said.

DR Congo has experienced decades of unrest and violence. Human Rights Watch says armed groups and members of the Congolese army commit sexual violence against women and girls, and some men and boys, as a way to “punish” those belonging to a certain ethnic group or those they believe are helping the “enemy.” Congolese authorities in recent years have stepped up arrests for such crimes, but many perpatrators remain unpunished, the group said.

In 1999, Mukwege founded Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in eastern DR Congo, which specializes in treating survivors of violence.

In 2015, PBS NewsHour special correspondent Jonathan Silvers reported on the efforts to confront sexual violence in Bukavu.

Murad, a member of the Yazidi religious minority in northern Iraq, “refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed,” the Nobel committee said. Instead, she has talked openly about her suffering and that of other Yazidi women who were kidnapped and used as sex slaves by ISIS.

In the summer of 2014, ISIS declared a caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq. As part of their offensive, the militants seized the town of Sinjar and surrounding areas in northern Iraq, killing thousands of Yazidis and exiling tens of thousands more into the mountains. Later that year, Peshmerga forces, assisted by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, were able to liberate the area.

During that period, the militants killed Murad’s mother and six of Murad’s brothers in the northern Iraqi village of Kocho. At age 21, Murad and thousands of other Yazidi women were kidnapped and forced into the ISIS sex slave trade in Mosul. Murad was repeatedly raped and beaten until she managed to escape and was smuggled to safety.

Murad wrote about her experiences in the book, “The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State.” She also has testified before the U.S. Congress and European Parliament, urging the international community to do more to fight ISIS. “Where is the world in all this? Where is humanity?” she asks.

In 2015, PBS NewsHour special correspondent Marcia Biggs reported from northern Iraq on the continuing trauma and stigma some Yazidi women have endured. Special correspondent Jane Ferguson provided an update in 2017.