This blog was coauthored by Maiya Moncino, a research associate in international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations.
This year’s Nobel Peace Prize went to Nadia Murad, a survivor—and activist for other survivors—of sex trafficking by the Islamic State group, and Denis Mukwege, a gynecological surgeon from the Congo in recognition of their work “to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.” It is good to see their important work being recognized on the international stage. Interestingly, 87 percent of Nobel Peace Prize winners have been men since 1901 (the year the prize was first awarded).
Nadia Murad became world-renowned for speaking up about the horrors she endured at the hands of the Islamic State. A Yazidi woman from Iraq, Murad was abducted by the terrorist group, while her mother and six of her brothers were murdered. Murad was kept as a sex slave in Mosul, until she was able to escape three months later. Since then, she has been an activist for the Yazidi people, bringing awareness to and fighting against the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. In 2016, she was appointed UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.
Denis Mukwege has been nicknamed “the man who mends women” for his surgical work at Panzi Hospital, a clinic he founded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He and his colleagues have provided medical care to over thirty thousand rape victims. He has traveled the world stage bringing awareness to the plight of these women, speaking at the United Nations, the European Parliament, and in Washington, DC.
As one of us has written about previously, sexual violence is an integral part of the political economy of the Islamic State, which uses rape, sexual violence, and sex slavery to extract compliance from terrorized communities, to recruit new fighters, to torture for the purpose of extracting information, to force conversions through non-consensual marriage, and to produce an income stream through sex trafficking, ransoms, and the slave trade. Rape, in the words of former UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence Zainab Bangura, is being used as “a tactic of terror.”
Murad's and Mukwege’s work sheds light on these appalling practices, which raises the question: what legal strategies are available to prevent the Islamic State from continuing to perpetuate such sexual abuses? In 2017, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution that paved the way for an investigation into the horrific crimes that Murad and others suffered in Iraq. A special advisor of the investigative team was appointed in May of this year, and this past August the team began work. If the Security Council lacks the political will to refer the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC), Iraq could make a referral to the ICC (as the country where these crimes occurred).
It is heartening that Mukwege and Murad are receiving the recognition that their work deserves. Let us hope that this publicity will turn into action.