Highlighted by the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize award to Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad—advocates for survivors of wartime sexual violence—the issue of sexual abuse has gained international recognition. USIP’s Kathleen Kuehnast attended the ceremony, saying, “People were standing in solidarity to what they were hearing. We can no longer be indifferent about this type of criminal activity.”

On Peace is a weekly podcast sponsored by USIP and Sirius XM POTUS Ch. 124. Each week, USIP experts tackle the latest foreign policy issues from around the world.


Tim Farley: It was not long ago, as a matter of fact, doing the math, nine days ago that the Nobel prize was awarded in Norway, its usual place for such things, Oslo. And if you've never heard the name we had mentioned when he was actually awarded the prize, Dr. Denis Mukwege, who is the founder of Panzi Hospital. He operates on people as young as babies who have been victimized by sexual violence. And in the remarks that he was delivering just a moment or two, if you will, of some of the things he said during the speech that he had delivered. A little bit of Dr. Mukwege.

Dr. Mukwege: [Spoken French]

Tim: [Translating] Doing the right thing is not hard, says he. Doing the right thing is not hard. It is a matter of political will. We must acknowledge the suffering of the survivors of all acts of violence against women in armed conflict and support their holistic recovery process.

Tim: Again, I'm just giving you a very short part of what it was about 30 minutes long. Joining us is somebody who was there as he was receiving the award--- Dr. Kathleen Kuehnast, Director of Gender Policy and Strategy at the U.S. Institute of Peace tweeting at @KathKuehnast. I will spell it out for you a little bit later. Dr. Kathleen Kuehnast, thank you and welcome to POTUS today.

Kathleen Kuehnast: Thanks so much, Tim.

Tim: For people who are not familiar with the good doctor, it's just stunning what he has undergone to deal with what he considers to be (and what many probably consider to be) an international travesty. And that is the sexual violence. Give us a sense of your friendship with him. What drives him and what got the Nobel Committee to give him this much deserved award?

Kathleen Kuehnast: Thanks so much. First of all, Dr. Mukwege, he's a obstetrician, a gynecologist in the Congo and for the last 15 years he has been operating on women, children and men who have been victims of sexualized violence. This means that he has seen the worst that humanity can do to one another. He has realized that it's not enough to physically heal somebody, but then the emotional impact of this violent and often torturous type of crime has to take many, many years. And so he developed Panzi hospital at this point.

Tim: You can calm your dog if you want. That's okay. It happens occasionally to get a little noisy. No, that's all right. You know what strikes me reading his story, too, and the accounts of he has done and tried to do, but the dedication because he himself has been threatened. And one wonders, I mean, you talk about the institutional violence and the fact that he has actually been under attack. He's had rifles pointed at him. He has been injured. He has been a shot at as a result of the stance he has taken.

Kathleen Kuehnast: Yes, it is important to keep it in the context of the civil war in Congo. And in fact, sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war there. So he has stood up to these rebels and he has taken a stand and he has taking a stand, of course, in his remarks at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, that indifference by the international community can no longer be tolerated. That this is a security issue. It is not only an issue that happens to women, children and men in conflict, but it really signals the total destruction of the rule of law at the local level. And then, of course, in armed conflict, we see that it is also used as a strategy to break apart a community. And we see this over time. He said the Congo is not unique. And of course the other Awardee, Miss Nadia Murad from northern Iraq, the Kurdish region from a Yazidi group that has been long victimized and, of course, is dealing with genocide at this point.

Kathleen Kuehnast: These are issues that the global community has been trying to tackle, especially the last 10 years when the UN Security Council Resolution 1820 was introduced to recognize that sexual violence indeed, it can be used as a weapon, just like a gun. And as Patrick Kamar who was a UN General in the Congo said sexual violence is cheaper than a bullet and much more effective. This is why Dr. Mukwege, Nadia Murad in her own Nadia's Initiative, are really trying to bring this to the policymakers that this is a serious crime, that it needs to be treated through the international courts. And then, of course, the new consideration that Dr. Mukwege put on the table during his Nobel Peace acceptance lecture was that there needs to be a global fund for reparations for the victims of this form of crime.

Tim: I'm glad you also brought up Nadia Murad, you mentioned the Yazidi woman, and she was captured by ISIS. She escaped. So he in some ways representing those who help victims, she an actual victim of this. I kind of wonder, this is pretty heavy subject. What was it like in the room as both of them were speaking?

Kathleen Kuehnast: In the room, people were totally in a focus mode, and in talking to some of my other Norwegian colleagues, they've never seen such a response. The standing ovations, the applause... People were standing in solidarity with what they were saying to the world that we can no longer be indifferent around this type of criminal activity. Sexual violence, of course, certainly in the ISIS case, has been used as a form of violent extremists ways to break the community apart, and the Yazidis is a unfortunate group that experienced thousands upon thousands of their young women and children captured into sexual trafficking as sex slaves. And that indeed is what happened to Nadia Murad. She escaped and to tell the story and she has become a huge activist on behalf of other victims of sexual violence. Of course, on behalf of her group, the Yazidis.

Tim: Dr. Kathleen Kuehnast with us, the Director of Gender Policy and Strategy at the U.S. Institute of Peace. I'd like to, if we could, drill down specifically on one of the suggestions made by I believe both Nadia Murad and Dr. Mukwege, which has to do with reparations or somehow getting money for victims and to victims. How would that happen? I mean, where would the money come from? How would it be distributed? What's the basis on which something like this could actually take place? Or is it too early to really understand some of the mechanics of something like that?

Kathleen Kuehnast: Well, I don't think it's too early because Dr. Mukwege is hoping that such an international fund could be already operational within a year. So people were very much talking about this in Oslo, especially in the side lectures and forums that go on during the whole few days of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and associated event. I think it's certainly going to be something that all who are engaged in crafting this must keep in mind that it cannot do further harm. This is, of course, to retry whether you are a victim or not. And these are some of the issues that have been going on in Colombia. And I think Columbia offers some good case examples of the good things and the bad things that can come from reparations as such, if they are not well orchestrated and context driven. And this can't be a fund that one shoe fits all. It has to really be driven by the context of the particular conflict and the types of sexual violence.

Kathleen Kuehnast: For example, in Sierra Leone, we know, and this, of course, was over a decade ago, but children, both boys and girls, were not only victims but perpetrators of sexual violence. The work of Professor Derek K. Cohen out of Harvard has really put this into a highlighted understanding that sexual violence takes different forms in different conflicts. As for reparations, they must reflect those unique predicaments. Obviously, reparations would certainly give help and needed help to many of these victims. We forget that when women are raped, children can be a product of that rape. And they, too, are vulnerable because in many societies, children of a rape from in conflict will be ostracized. So the stigma also must be addressed. So reparations must be more than just the financial support, but must be dealing with the stigma in the society.

Kathleen Kuehnast: And I would say the Yazidi's leadership has really taken on that issue in making sure that all of the young women who were sex slaves and victims of the sexual violence are welcomed back in their society. So it has to be a whole of society approach. It must be at the bureaucratic level, but it also has to be at the grassroots because money, as we all know, is not going to heal people. It has to be a whole of institutional and societal approach. And so having the Nobel prize recipients of Dr. Mukwege and Nadia Murat is a step in the global consciousness that this type of violence in war, and in peace we should add, any kind of sexual violence must end. And it must be prosecuted and reparations should be a part of the process.

Tim: Dr. Kuehnast, thank you so much for joining us on POTUS today.

Kathleen Kuehnast: Thank you, Tim. Always happy to join you.

Tim: Dr Kathleen Kuehnast, Director of Gender Policy and Strategy at the US Institute of Peace discussing the recent ceremonies in Oslo honoring the Nobel Peace Prize winners of this year, Dr. Dennis Mukwege of the Congo and Nadia Murat, a Yazidi woman who was captured by ISIS, escaped to tell her story. Sexual violence, an issue that both deal with in their own way and bravely. And it is an important issue, one we wanted to bring to your attention, if you hadn't heard. By the way, Dr. Kuehnast is tweeting at @ Kath K-A-T-H Kuehnast K-U-E-H-N-A-S-T.

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