Nobel laureates Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad have called on the world to protect victims of wartime sexual violence as they angrily criticised indifference to the plight of women and children in conflict in their peace prize acceptance speeches.
Mukwege, a Congolese gynaecologist and world expert on rape in conflict, and Murad, a Yazidi activist and survivor of Isis sexual slavery, said victims were sometimes valued less than commercial interests.
In a ceremony in which the laureates were cheered and given standing ovations, Mukwege and Murad called on the world to do more.
“If there is a war to be waged, it is the war against the indifference which is eating away at our societies,” Mukwege said at the ceremony in Oslo. His Panzi hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s war-torn east has treated the wounds of tens of thousands of women and children for sexual assaults that have become a “new reality” in the country. He said the violence “shames our common humanity”.
In her speech, Murad implored the global community to help to free hundreds of women and girls still held by jihadis, saying the world must protect her people and other vulnerable communities.
“It is my view that all victims deserve a safe haven until justice is done for them,” she said, pausing briefly, seemingly overcome with emotion.
Berit Reiss-Andersen, the Nobel committee chairwoman, said the pair had received the peace prize “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict”. She described them as “two of the strongest voices in the world today”.
In a sombre ceremony in Oslo City Hall, both smiled as they received the peace prize gold medal, diploma and the nine million Swedish Krona (about £795,000), which they will share.
Mukwege laid much of the blame for the violence unleashed on civilians on those in power in his country.
“For 20 years now, day after day, at Panzi hospital, I have seen the harrowing consequences of the country’s gross mismanagement,” said the doctor, a critic of the Congolese President Joseph Kabila, who is set to be replaced in elections this month.
“Babies, girls, young women, mothers, grandmothers, and also men and boys, cruelly raped, often publicly and collectively, by inserting burning plastic or sharp objects in their genitals.”
Mukwege said the trade in the country’s abundant natural resources helped to fuel the violence while profits “end up in the pockets of a predatory oligarchy”.
“We love nice cars, jewellery and gadgets. I have a smartphone myself,” he said. “These items contain minerals found in our country. Often mined in inhuman conditions by young children, victims of intimidation and sexual violence.
“It’s not just perpetrators of violence who are responsible for their crimes. It is also those who choose to look the other way.”
Murad survived the horrors of captivity under Isis in Iraq and Syria where they targeted her Kurdish-speaking community. Older women and men faced summary execution during the Isis assault, which the United Nations has described as a possible genocide. Captured in 2014, Murad suffered beatings and gang-rape before she was able to escape.
In her Nobel acceptance address on Monday, Murad said more than 6,500 women and girls from her community had been kidnapped, raped and traded “in the 21st century, in the age of globalisation and human rights”.
The fate of some 3,000 women and girls is still unknown.
“Young girls at the prime of life are sold, bought, held captive and raped every day. It is inconceivable that the conscience of the leaders of 195 countries around the world is not mobilised to liberate these girls,” she said.
“What if they were a commercial deal, an oil field or a shipment of weapons? Most certainly, no efforts would be spared to liberate them.”