It was very moving and thought provoking to listen to the lectures by this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureates on Monday 10 December, which is also the International Human Rights Day, and this year it is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad Basee Taha is a 25-year old woman from the Yazidi-Kurdish minority in Iraq. She is a victim of extreme sexual abuse and was kept as a sex slave by the IS group. She is now a human rights activist in Germany, where she is a refugee. She is the second youngest – after Malala Yousafzai – to receive the prize.

The other winner is Denis Mukwege, a 63-year old gynaecologist and surgeon, a ‘repairer’ of victims of rape, sexual violence and torture by the armed rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The rebels are using it as a weapon of war during the decade-long conflicts, with 6 million dead and countless injured and scared. 19 years ago, Dr. Mukwege established the Panzi Hospital and Foundation in Bukavu town in eastern DRC. He gave his impressive and moving Nobel lecture in French, while Nadia spoke in Arabic, underlining that sexual violence is one of the oldest and most terrible weapons in wars and conflicts; it is breaking down the ability to resistance, destroying families, splitting communities, and people’s dreams of a future.

The two laureates received what is generally seen as the world’s most prestigious prize in the Oslo City Hall, on a chilly winter’s day with snow flare in the air and mist and over the sea nearby. But it was also a great day indeed, and inside the impressive city hall auditorium, there were paintings in warm and festive colours. There were generous decorations of exotic flowers from distant lands and perhaps also from Norwegian greenhouses, nowadays heated and lit by solar energy, made into art by unrecognised gardeners and decorators.

“The outside weather doesn’t decide the temperature of people’s hearts”, said a young teenager in a TV interview after the elegant and pleasant ceremony. There were interludes of music and songs by artists with golden voices and more, and the young interviewee had come to the event as a guest of one of the laureates. He and many others felt that this was a day when kindness and goodness had won over evil, as was stated by Dr. Mukwege in his lecture, yet, he also described some of the unspeakable cruelty done to women, girls, and some boys and men, too, through sexual violence.

When announcing the winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, the committee’s chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen explained that sexual violence used in wars and conflicts is different from other sexual violence referred to in the #Metoo Movement. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee wanted to focus on the war and conflict aspects of sexual violence and the importance of making it seen by all as a war crime. Also, Reiss-Andersen said that those who fight against sexual violence in wars and conflicts are indeed working for peace. The Norwegian daily ‘Dagbladet’ wrote in an opinion editorial the day after the Nobel peace prize had been awarded that the best way to honour the winners would be to help prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence in wars and conflicts, noting that most go free. The UN Security Council Resolution 1325 from 2000 underlines the importance of women taking part in negotiations and peace councils regarding wars and conflicts.

Back to the warmth of the ceremony in Oslo City Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mukwega’s sister and her husband were among the distinguished guests. They have for many years lived in the Norwegian city of Trondheim. Their son, the 26-year old Mushaga Bakenga has moved further north to the city of Tromsø, where he is a famous football player in the premium league, in the world’s northernmost university-city, having the opportunity to watch the mystical northern lights (aurora borealis) on the sky in the dark winter months. Young Mushaga has visited his uncle in DRC and has said in media interviews that he is deeply impressed by his uncle’s work, admitting he is light-years away from his uncle’s everyday world. Mushaga is enjoying life the way it should be for every person on earth, being able to live in safety and pursue his dreams. He too is contributing to society, albeit not quite as directly as Uncle Denis. Mushaga’s less known younger brother, Leon Bafondoko, is the deputy leader of the youth wing of Trondheim Labour Party (AUF), usually the country’s largest political party. Norway is lucky to have such great immigrants from far away!

We must remember that refugees and immigrants are not a burden on their new homelands; they do indeed also enrich and strengthen the cultures and everyday life of everyone wherever they are. Great people are great anywhere, giving the opportunity to live and participate. Yet, sending countries are also drained for good people when forced migration happens.

Today, Nadia Murad, too, can participate in all aspects of daily life in her new land, Germany, and maybe someday, she can return to her land of origin, or maybe that will be too painful, even directly dangerous. She may have to live and work elsewhere, growing new roots with her fiancé, who also attended the event in Oslo, in a land away from their country of origin. We must realise that Nadia has deep scars in her soul that need to heal, if ever; she lost her parents and family to the misguided and brutal actions of IS in Iraq.

Nadia Murad said in her Nobel lecture in Oslo that the war crimes against the Yazidi people happened as the world looked the other way. She was a young woman and was therefore spared execution, but most of her family members were not spared. She was kept as a sex slave for long, as were so many other young girls and women. Luckily, one day she managed to escape and regain her freedom. In Oslo, she said no one should pity her any longer. She said that now it is time to move, help others and create awareness – so that such atrocities that she had experience cannot happen again, never, ever.

The warm event in the wintery Norwegian capital was attended by the land’s head of state, King Harald V and Queen Sonja, Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette Marit, and the political leaders with Prime Minister Erna Solberg and her husband Sindre Finnes, cabinet ministers, parliamentarians from all political parties in power or in opposition, civil society activists, academics, private sector leaders, artists and celebrities, and maybe even some ordinary people, but mostly dignitaries, even in the egalitarian Nordic land of Norway. Among the dignitaries and celebrities was the human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. Official Norway and many of the world’s peace and humanitarian leaders were at the main ceremony in Oslo, and the several other events, some more folksy, too, that took place before and after. It is certainly good for Oslo, Norway and the world to have the Nobel Peace Prize events every December. Crown Princess Mette Marit was moved to tears many times at the ceremony in Oslo, especially when Nadia Murad spoke, but also when Dr. Mukwege spoke.

We should note that the prize is awarded by an independent committee in spite of all the officials gracing the occasion. And we should also realize that the Nobel Peace Prize inspires us all to be and do better. In Pakistan, there were several related events, also because the United Nations’ report on the human rights violations in Indian occupied Kashmir had just been released. Sexual abuse is indeed also used as a weapon in that conflict, and the many human rights abuses are terrible. We all have a responsibility for doing what we can to seek a resolution to the Kashmir conflict. In the short run, the human rights conditions must be improved. The world can no longer look the other way.

 

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid.

 atlehetland@yahoo.com