Oct 05, 2018

Choice of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Acknowledges Sexual Violence in Conflict

On Friday 5 October 2018, the Nobel Prize Committee announced its Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. This year, the winners were Dr Denis Mukwege and Ms Nadia Murad for their work for and with survivors of sexual violence in war. Many of the women belonging to UNPO Member communities suffer the double burden of discrimination as indigenous people or ethnic minority and as women; for this, they are regularly the targets of sexual violence and harassment, all the more so during conflict. UNPO extends its congratulations to Dr Mukwege and Ms Murad and expresses its hope that the recognition of their work will spur greater respect for women’s human rights and especially for those who belong to unrepresented communities.

The choice of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates came in a year that has been marked by repeated calls for women’s empowerment throughout the world. Dr Denis Mukwege and Ms Nadia Murad’s work, however, far predates this trend. A Congolese gynaecologist, for the past several decades Dr Mukwege has specialised in reparative surgery for rape survivors. His work started following the First Congo War in the 1990s, where he realised armed groups were using mass rapes, gang rapes and genital damaging as weapons of war against women. Meanwhile, Ms Murad became famous in 2015 for her courage in sharing her experience of sexual slavery under the Islamic Caliphate. A member of the Yazidi ethnic minority in Iraq, Murad’s advocacy for survivors of war and sexual violence resonates worldwide.

The horrific human rights abuses Dr Mukwege and Ms Murad work to rectify are familiar to many women and particularly those who belong to marginalised communities. Women belonging to indigenous nations and ethnic minorities recurrently face higher risks of sexual abuse and their calls for justice are less likely to be heard. For example the Jumma community, which lives in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh, has been campaigning for years to end the systematic rape of Jumma women by Bangladeshi officials. Despite NGOs such as Amnesty International condemning the mistreatment of rape survivors and the impunity of their attackers, little has changed. Though the CHT are no longer a war zone, the trauma and suffering that continues to be inflicted on these women and the state’s indifference highlight how far from resolved the region’s conflict is.

Similarly, Ogadeni women in Ethiopia’s Somali region have been repeatedly victimised by the regime’s intentional use of rape as a weapon of war. Reports by organisations such as Human Rights Watch have detailed the extent to which women are punished by rape for their involvement or alleged involvement in organisations such as UNPO Member the Ogaden National Liberation Front, often by the Ethiopian military themselves but also by loyalist militias such as the Liyu Police. As detailed in UNPO’s 2017 alternative report to the 72nd session of the United Nations' Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Ogadeni and Oromo women arrested at protests also report being raped by Ethiopian police, both during interrogations and in solitary confinement. Although the recent change in leadership has resulted in renewed hope of reform, nothing has yet been done to bring the men responsible to account or even acknowledge the use of sexual violence against women from Ethiopia’s ethnic minorities.

Tragically, many more cases exist: women belonging to the enslaved Haratin community of Mauritania are often sexually abused, while Balochi women and girls in Iran’s Balochistan region are kidnapped and raped. Although in these situations there is no outbreak of violence to label the area a conflict zone in the eyes of the world, the repeated sexual violence against indigenous and minority women are symptomatic of the larger violence perpetrated against their communities, making their bodies into a battlefield for their oppressors to reassert their control over those who seek to have their human rights recognised.

The decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to two advocates for survivors of sexual violence signals growing international recognition of the ways in which women are uniquely victimised by conflict. UNPO extends its congratulations to the laureates and urges the international community to use the resulting conversation as an opportunity to push for women and particularly unrepresented women’s rights to be respected in war and in peace.

Image courtesy of Niklas Elmehed © Nobel Media