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Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Yazidi anti-sexual violence campaigner Nadia Murad

Award shared between Nadia Murad and Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege for efforts to end use of rape as a weapon of war
Nadia Murad, human rights activist, testifying to a US Senate committee hearing in Washington (AFP)

The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. 

Murad is a Yazidi woman from Iraq who was taken by the Islamic State (IS) group in August 2014 from her home village of Kocho, near Iraq's northern town of Sinjar, and brought to the city of Mosul.

Held captive there, Murad said she was tortured and raped before escaping.

"I was a farmer, a villager, and I was born to be such," Murad said in a speech when she became a UN Goodwill Ambassador in 2016.

"I had hopes common to all young girls of my village. I was not raised to give speeches, neither was I born to meet world leaders, nor to represent a cause so heavy and so difficult."

More than 3,000 people were killed and more than 6,000 people abducted in an attempted genocide by IS militants, with many Yazidi women held captive as sex slaves. Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled their homes and found refuge on top of Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.

In 2015 she briefed the United Nations Security Council on the issue of human trafficking and conflict, and since September 2016 has served as the goodwill ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the United Nations (UNODC).

In 2016 she was also awarded the European parliament's prestigious Sakharov human rights prize with another young Yazidi woman, Lamiya Aji Bashar.

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Denis Mukwege is a gynaecologist treating victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"A more peaceful world can only be achieved if women and their fundamental rights and security are recognised and protected in war," Nobel committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said as she unveiled the winners.

From victim to victor

The prize's announcement text noted Murad's "uncommon courage in recounting her own sufferings" and praised her work for "speaking up on behalf of other victims".

"Nadia Murad is herself a victim of war crimes. She refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed of the abuses to which they have been subjected," the stament said.

The prize will help us fight [IS] and uncover its crimes, and to bring more attention to the genocide that is targeting Yazidis

- Ahmed Burjus, Yazidi rights advocate

Ahmed Burjus, a friend of Murad, Yazidi rights advocate and deputy director of Yazda, an NGO founded in 2014 to support Yazidi victims of IS, told Middle East Eye the award is an important step in advancing their cause internationally.

"The prize will help us fight [IS] and uncover its crimes, and to bring more attention to the genocide that is targeting Yazidis. It will also bring attention to all minorities in the Middle East who are victims of atrocities, especially in Iraq and Syria," he said. "The prize will help us give voice to the voiceless people in the world."

Burjus said Murad has been overwhelmed by the honour of winning the peace prize.

"She is so emotional right now. It’s great moment for her. She's remembering her family, mother and brothers killed by [IS]," he said. "We have sponsored her campaign from the first day, she is our hero."

Barham Salih, the newly appointed Iraqi president, said he spoke to Murad and offered her his congratulations.

The award recognises "her courage in defending [the] human rights of victims of terror & sexual violence," Salih tweeted, and is an "honor for all Iraqis who fought terrorism & bigotry".

A victory for women

At 25, Murad is the second-youngest winner of the prize after Malala Yousafzai, who became Nobel Peace Prize laureate aged 17 in 2014. Past winners of the prize include Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr.

"Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad have both put their personal security at risk by courageously combating war crimes and seeking justice for the victims," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.

"They have thereby promoted the fraternity of nations through the application of principles of international law."

The Nobel prize process has been brought into disrepute this year as its literature award was embroiled in a rape allegations scandal, leading to its suspension. The literature prize's absence this year has made the peace prize all the more anticipated.

This year's announcement coincided with the one-year anniversary of the New York Times and New Yorker's investigations into Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual abuse by dozens of women. The investigations birthed the MeToo movement, aimed at exposing and combatting sexual violence.

By winning the award, Murad pipped US President Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual misconduct and was a bookies' favourite, to the prize.

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