Nobel winners want action against war zone sex assaults

OSLO, Norway — One of the winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize says the attention the prize has drawn to sexual violence against women in war zones must be followed by action against the abuses.

Dr. Denis Mukwege spoke Sunday at a news conference with Nadia Murad of Iraq, with whom he shared the 9-million Swedish kronor ($1 million) prize. Mukwege was honored for his work helping sexually abused women at the hospital he founded in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Murad, a Yazidi, won for her advocacy for sex abuse victims after being kidnapped by Islamic State militants.

“What we see during armed conflicts is that women’s bodies become battlefields and this cannot be acceptable during our time,” Mukwege said, speaking through a translator. “We cannot only denounce it, we now need to act.”

Murad, 25, was one of an estimated 3,000 girls and women from Iraq’s Yazidi minority group who were kidnapped in 2014 by IS militants and sold into sexual slavery. She was raped, beaten and tortured before managing to escape three months later. After getting treatment in Germany, she chose to speak to the world about the horrors faced by Yazidi women, despite regardless of the heavy stigma in her culture surrounding rape.

She said Sunday it was difficult “for a girl, a woman, to rise up to say that these atrocities have happened.”

Mukwege, a 63-year-old surgeon, founded a hospital in the city of Bukavu and over the past 20 years has treated countless women who were raped amid fighting between armed groups seeking to control of some the central African nation’s vast mineral wealth.

He expressed concern Sunday that new violence could be coming as Congo holds a general election this month.

“We think the conflict might blow up around this electoral period and women and children are always the first victims of such conflicts,” he said.

Along with preventing sexual violence, more effort is needed to attend to victims, Mukwege said.

“We need to realize that any woman who is a victim of sexual violence within her own country — such women should be allowed treatment and it’s not only medical treatment, also psychological treatment, judicial treatment,” he said.

Murad said the psychological burden of her ordeal and her subsequent work is heavy.

“I don’t want to live in fear. For the last four years I have been in Germany, in a safe place, but yet I’m living frightfully,” she said. “I’m scared that these people will not just attack me or have an impact on me, but with anybody else.”

Murad and Mukwege will receive their prize Monday at a ceremony in the Norwegian capital. The winners of Nobel prizes for medicine, physics, chemistry and economics will get their prizes Monday in Stockholm.

No Nobel literature winner was named this year due to turmoil in the Swedish Academy, which chooses the literature winners.

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