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The UN has hailed the award of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize jointly to UN Goodwill Ambassador Nadia Murad and a doctor in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Denis Mukwege.

Murad is a Yazidi rights activist and the first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and Mukwege, a gynaecologist who helps victims of sexual violence in DRC.

The UN said the decision to jointly award the prestigious prize to Murad and Mukwege, has the potential to help end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, a cause which is central to the UN work.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, while praising the award at a briefing at the UN headquarters in New York, said: “in defending the victims of sexual violence in conflict, they have defended our shared values”.

Guterres praised Mukwege’s “fearless” championing of women raped and abused in conflict, repairing “shattered bodies” as a skilled surgeon but also restoring “dignity and hope”.

The UN chief also praised Murad, whom, he said, had given voice to “unspeakable abuse” in Northern Iraq, when Dae’sh terrorists brutally targeted the Yazidi ethnic minority in 2014.

“She has pursued support for victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery, and justice for perpetrators,” he said.

The UN chief said the award was part of a “growing movement to recognise the violence and injustice” faced by women and girls, the world over.

“Some 10 years ago, the Security Council unanimously condemned sexual violence as a weapon of war. Today the Nobel Committee recognised the efforts of Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege as vital tools for peace.

“By honouring these defenders of human dignity, this prize also recognises countless victims around the world who have too often been stigmatized, hidden and forgotten.

“This is their award, too; let us honour these new Nobel laureates by standing up for victims of sexual violence everywhere,” Guterres stressed.

Welcoming the announcement by the Academy in Oslo, Norway, on behalf of the UN in Geneva earlier in the day, UN Spokesperson Alessandra Vellucci explained that eradicating sexual violence in conflict remained a priority.

“I will recall that this is a cause that is very close to the United Nations and as you know we have a Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, who is also working in towards this.

“I’m sure that this Nobel Peace Prize will help advance the cause of ending sexual violence as a weapon of conflict,” Vellucci said.

The joint prize was also welcomed by UNODC, which appointed Murad its Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking in 2016.

UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov hailed Murad’s courage and resilience saying, it “reminds us that we must always listen to the people who have been most affected and harmed by the crimes we seek to stop”.

Fedotov said the testimonies of survivors like Murad “must inform and strengthen our efforts to achieve justice” adding, her advocacy has helped to establish “a vitally important” UN investigation, “of the harrowing crimes that she and so many others endured”.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said shortly after the announcement that it was “hard to imagine two more worthy winners”.

“This is richly deserved recognition of these two extraordinarily brave, persistent and effective campaigners against the scourge of sexual violence, and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

“Nadia and Denis, I’m sure I speak for all human rights defenders, when I say we salute you, we admire you beyond words. You have fought for the pain women have suffered through sexual abuse to be recognised and confronted, and for their dignity to be restored.

“We need more people to stand up the way you have stood up for the rights of women, for justice, for the rights of minorities, for the rights of everyone,” Bachelet said.

Dubbed by the press “the man who mends women,” Mukwege gained international recognition for his work and had earned much recognition, including the UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 2008, and the Sakharov prize in 2014.

Mukwege, who has treated thousands of rape victims at his hospital in DRC, has been shortlisted for the Nobel Prize several times and is Director and Founder of Panzi General Referral Hospital in DRC.

The Nobel academy’s decision to honour Mukwege is in recognition of his years of work as one of DRC’s most prominent rights defenders, UN said.

He is known for helping survivors of rape in eastern DRC and he was the focus of a film, The Man Who Mends Women, having experienced conflict at first hand in the region.

After founding a hospital offering free medical care to victims of terrible sexual abuse and violence, Mukwege turned to advocacy, after reportedly realising that some rape survivors were the daughters of women who had been raped years earlier.

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