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We value the importance in sharing the expertise and diverse perspectives of members of the university community. In this series, we asked faculty and students to offer their view in response to the recent announcement of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to a survivor and a doctor fighting against rape as a weapon of war. The opinions expressed are their own.

By: Susanne Zwingel

In 2018, two outstanding individuals will receive the Nobel peace prize: Dr. Denis Mukwege, Congolese doctor who has dedicated his life to care for female victims of horrific sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is often said that through the surgical and mental care provided in his hospital, women survivors of unspeakable violence and trauma were given a chance to start a new life. The second laureate is the Iraqi Nadia Murad, Jazidi survivor of sexual enslavement and torture by ISIS. After escaping her torment, she became an activist speaking out about the crimes against humanity committed against the Yazidis, and Yazidi women in particular.

In the view of the Nobel Committee, both are honored for their work “to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.” It is the first time that the prestigious prize has been awarded in response to this dimension of warfare, despite the fact that sexual violence has routinely and throughout history been used as a weapon of war.

The Committee’s decision reflects the process of increasing awareness regarding sexual violence since the early 1990s, when news of systematic mass rapes in Bosnia and Herzegovina shocked the world. Since then, sexual violence has become recognized in International Law as a dimension of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The International Criminal Court was set up to try these severe crimes. In 2016, it produced its first conviction for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including rape, against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, former vice-president of the DRC; remarkably, this verdict included the payment of reparations to survivors. In the year 2000, the United Nations Security Council recognized in its landmark Resolution 1325 that the participation of women in peace negotiations and their protection from sexual violence in war is part of the Council’s mandate to preserve world peace.

While the recognition of sexual violence as part of armed conflict seems normal today, its prominence is recent. The Nobel Peace Prize, awarded since 1901, gives interesting insights into the historical framings of war and peace: In its roughly 120 years of existence, it has honored mostly work directly related to armed conflict and its prevention, for example, politicians who contributed to peace treaties; peace movement representatives; institutions founded to preserve world peace; and initiatives to ease humanitarian suffering and nuclear disarmament. Broader issues relevant for world peace have only slowly been included, among them, food security (1970), the rights of indigenous people (1992), sustainable development and climate change (2004, 2007), and education (2014). Also, the 106 honorees represent a narrow segment of the world population as the vast majority is of European and North American descent and only 17 are women. However, since the 1990s, we do see a trend of diversification both in terms of gender and national origin. This suggests that the Nobel Committee is aware of and open to include alldimensions of world peace in its appreciation.

An Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations and affiliated with the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, Susanne Zwingel’s research interests include international women’s rights norms and their translation; gender equality advocacy around the world; global governance and gender; feminist, constructivist and post-colonial IR theories; and gender and armed conflict. 

See all opinion pieces from the series here.