New York, NY
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today welcomes the news that Dr. Denis Mukwege, a longtime friend and project partner of PHR, and Yazidi human rights activist Ms. Nadia Murad, were selected as the winners of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.
Dr. Mukwege is a world-renowned gynecological surgeon who is the founder and medical director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC. PHR has closely partnered with Dr. Mukwege and Panzi Hospital as part of its Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones, and honored Dr. Mukwege at its gala in New York in April 2015. Dr. Mukwege was also the laureate of the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2014, as well as the recipient of the 2016 Seoul Peace Prize.
“We are thrilled to see our dear friend and partner honored for his fearless work helping tens of thousands of Congolese girls and women who have been abused during the conflict in their country,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. “Dr. Mukwege is not only an extraordinary physician, but a courageous human rights leader who perfectly embodies the critical role that medical professionals play in witnessing abuse and speaking out against injustice. Like many doctors working in conflict areas, he goes well beyond providing lifesaving medical care and has risked his own life to end the brutal cycle of sexual violence and to demand that violators be held accountable,” McKay added.
Dr. Mukwege has been tireless in his efforts to increase protections for women and to advocate that those responsible for sexual violence be brought to justice, including the Congolese government and militia groups laying siege to eastern DRC.
When dozens of little girls were raped in the village of Kavumu over a three-year period, beginning in 2013, PHR worked side-by-side with Dr. Mukwege and clinicians at Panzi Hospital to document the injuries of survivors and ensure that evidence was properly collected. That evidence was a critical element of a landmark ruling in 2017, in which a powerful regional lawmaker and 10 members of his militia were sent to prison for life for crimes against humanity by rape and murder. The verdict and sentences were upheld in 2018 when the case was appealed.
PHR’s Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones includes training partners in Iraq to build up the country’s ability to investigate international crimes and acts of sexual violence. This includes documentation of crimes against the long-persecuted Yazidi people.
“It is the work of people like Ms. Murad which really makes a difference to whether sexual violence survivors are heard, whether the plight of Yazidi survivors is made known, and whether they can seek meaningful justice. Ms. Murad’s work to speak out for the injustices faced by the Yazidis in Iraq – in particular her brave initiatives to bring about global awareness of the human trafficking and rape of Yazidi women and girls by ISIS – makes her a deserving winner of this prestigious prize,” McKay added.
Dr. Mukwege’s and Ms. Murad’s work are not short of risks. Both have received serious threats to their safety as a result of their advocacy. In October 2012, Dr. Mukwege was violently attacked and his family was held at gunpoint at his home in an assassination attempt. Ms. Murad, who was kidnapped by ISIS militants in 2014 and who was held captive as a sex slave before managing to escape, three months later, risks her life every day by speaking out against the abuse she endured and by advocating for the safety of others. Despite threats to their safety as a result of speaking out, both have addressed the United Nations on separate occasions to advocate on behalf of sexual violence survivors everywhere.
“PHR was grateful to have shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for its work as a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. This recognition is a true honor and PHR cannot think of two more worthy recipients of the Prize this year than Dr. Mukwege and Ms. Murad,” said McKay.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.