A combination picture shows the Nobel Prize for Peace 2018 winners: Yazidi survivor Nadia Murad posing for a portrait at United Nations headquarters in New York, March 9, 2017, and Denis Mukwege during an award ceremony to receive his 2014 Sakharov P
A combination picture shows the Nobel Prize for Peace 2018 winners: Yazidi survivor Nadia Murad posing for a portrait at United Nations headquarters in New York, March 9, 2017, and Denis Mukwege during an award ceremony to receive his 2014 Sakharov P

The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Nadia Murad, a Yazidi human rights activist and survivor of sexual slavery by Islamic State in Iraq, and Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist treating victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said in a statement Friday that the award recognizes "their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.''

Murad, 25, is the founder of Nadia's Initiative, an organization devoted to helping women victimized by genocide and other atrocities.

FILE - Former Islamic State captive Iraqi Yazidi N
FILE - Former Islamic State captive Iraqi Yazidi Nadia Murad, center, speaks during a visit in a makeshift refugee camp at the northern Greek border point of Idomeni, Greece, April 3, 2016.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that Murad's "powerful advocacy has touched people across the world and helped to establish a vitally important United Nations investigation of the harrowing crimes that she and so many others endured."

Murad, herself a victim of war crimes, "refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed of the abuses to which they have been subjected," the Nobel Committee statement said. "She has shown uncommon courage in recounting her own sufferings and speaking up on behalf of other victims."

In 2016, Murad told VOA Kurdish service that violence by Islamic State, or ISIS, against the Yazidis amounts to genocide.

"Thousands have been killed — 5,800 girls, children and women were sold, raped by ISIS. … They kidnapped our children in order to train and preach [to] them on ISIS ideology: No future is left for the Yazidis." She said thousands of her people have fled and now live in "miserable" conditions in refugee camps.

Murad called for the Islamic extremists to be held responsible for their actions.

WATCH: VOA Interview with Nadia Murad


"An international tribunal should be formed as soon as possible," she said, "and Yazidis and other minorities who cannot protect themselves should be protected."

Murad promised that she would stand up in such a court to make the case for her people.

"I will be ready to testify in that court for every child, every woman, that has been raped by ISIS … so that justice can be done," she said.

Activist Murad Ismael, who works with the global Yazidi organization known as Yazda, told VOA on Friday that this year's peace prize brings welcome attention to a crisis that is not over.

"We're happy that this is finally being recognized and that the prize will hopefully put the Yazidi situation on the agenda to be discussed, as the Yazidi genocide is still ongoing," he said.

Ismael added that the return of the Yazidis to their homeland is "almost impossible" at this time because northern Iraq is still studded with explosives.

Denis Mukwege

Mukwege, 63, runs the Panzi Hospital in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a volatile region where armed groups have often used sexual assault to terrorize civilians. The doctor and hospital staff have treated or operated on thousands of women who were injured during rapes and other forms of sexual abuse during the Congolese civil war.

FILE - Denis Mukwege is seen with patients at the
FILE - Denis Mukwege, right, is seen with staff members and patients at the Panzi Hospital he runs in Bukavu, eastern DRC. (E. Muhero/VOA)

Secretary-General Guterres said Friday that Mukwege has been "a fearless champion for the rights of women caught up in armed conflict who have suffered rape, exploitation and other horrific abuses.  Despite regular threats to his life, he made the Panzi Hospital ... a haven from mistreatment."

"Mukwege is the foremost, most unifying symbol, both nationally and internationally, of the struggle to end sexual violence in war and armed conflicts," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said. "His basic principle is that justice is everyone's business."

Mukwege spoke to VOA in 2013, warning then that sexual violence, which had dropped in 2011, was again on the rise, mirroring an increase in physical violence.

"The people who are suffering the most are women and children, since this war started," he told VOA French to Africa. "We had seen a decline in the number of victims of sexual violence around 2011. Unfortunately, these numbers have started to increase again with the resumption of war."

Other awards

The Nobel Prizes for medicine, physics and chemistry were awarded earlier in the week. The literature prize was not given this year because of a sexual misconduct scandal at the body that decides the award.

The Nobel Memorial Prize for economic sciences will be awarded October 8. 

The peace prize comes with an award of $1.1 million.

VOA Kurdish service and VOA French to Africa contributed to this report.