By Frederick H. Lowe
Dr. Denis Mukwege, who recently was honored as co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, is a gynecologist and surgeon practicing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he treats thousands of women whose rapes and sexual assaults are considered trophies of war and a way to terrorize supporters of opposing armies.
“For almost 20 years I have witnessed war crimes committed against women, girls and even baby girls not only in my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, but also in many other countries,” Dr. Mukwege said, after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 5th. “To the survivors from all over the world, I would like to tell you that through this prize, the world is listening to you and refusing to remain indifferent. The world refuses to sit idly in the face of your suffering.”
Dr. Mukwege and his staff have treated thousands of women who have fallen victim to brutal assaults. Most of the abuses have been committed in the context of a long-lasting civil war that has cost the lives of more than six million Congolese,” Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said in an interview.
The war is being waged in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it has raged for more than two decades. Hostilities have continued since the ongoing Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency and the Kivu and Ituri conflicts.
The armed groups are battling for control of the region’s rich deposits of gold and other precious metals and minerals.
Many different militias have been accused of carrying out the indiscriminate rape of the region’s women.
Over the years, Dr. Mukwege has become the world’s leading expert in repairing the internal physical damage caused by rape.
The 63-year-old physician is the founder and medical director of Panzi Hospital, a 450-bed hospital in which one third of the beds is devoted to treatment of sexual violence survivors.
Panzi Hospital is in Bukavu, which is located in the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The hospital is near the Panzi Foundation DRC, which provides housing, meals and literacy training for patients. Panzi Hospital is owned and managed by Communauté des Eglises de Pentecôte en Afrique Centrale (CEPAC). One of the largest Pentecostal Church organizations in DRC.
Panzi Hospital and Panzi Foundation have treated between 2,000 and 3,000 patients since 2014. So far this year, the organizations have treated 2,077 victims of sexual violence.
Mukwege earned his medical degree from the University of Burundi in 1983. After seeing women patients who because of a lack proper care often suffered pain and genital lesions after giving birth, he studied gynecology and obstetrics at the University of Angers, located in western France. He completed his medical residency in 1989.
In 2015, he earned a Ph.D. from Universite Libre de Bruxelles. His doctorate focused on the occurrence of traumatic fistulas in the Eastern Region of the Congo. Traumatic fistulas, or abnormal passages that form in tissue, are often a result of sexual violence, associated with conflict and post-conflict circumstances.
He learned that deliberate genital damaging was being used as a weapon of war in the conflict of the late 1990s between different armed groups in the Eastern Congo.
I first learned about women being raped during war while writing an article for the Chicago Reader about who had moved to Chicago to escape the conflict in their country.
One of the women with whom I met regularly told me that she was caring for a woman who had been raped 200 times. It took me a long time to even process what I was being told.
Dr. Mukwege shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nadia Murad Basee Taha, who was held as a sex slave by the Islamic State Army in Northern Iraq for three months before escaping and telling her story. She is now a Yazi -Iraqi human rights activist based in Germany. In 2016, at age 23, she was made a UN goodwill ambassador for the survivors of human trafficking.
Immediately after opening Panzi Hospital, Dr. Mukwege noticed a high number of women who needed treatment for their wounds caused by violent sexual assault, according to his biography.
For some women there was more suffering ahead. After treatment, some women are unable to return home because of the severity of their injuries or the stigma associated with sexual violence.
This work also has put him and his family danger. In 2012, he and his family were held at gunpoint in their home during an attempted assassination in which Joseph Bizimana, his friend and bodyguard, was murdered.
He and his family escaped and fled to Europe returning to the Eastern Congo in January 2013 when he resumed his work after receiving telephone calls from women in Bukavu who asked him to return because the hospital was falling into disarray. Women also raised money to pay for his return flight home.
He learned that deliberate genital damage was being used as a weapon of war in the conflict of the late 1990s between different armed groups in the Eastern Congo.
“Rape is about power. It is a way to exert power and instill fear in victims and their community. Rape as a weapon of war is first and foremost a strategy of humiliation, power, and subjection. Rape is also used to gain information; in detention for example, and during ethnic cleansing, rape is used to systematically attack the lineage of a group. Some armed or terrorist groups use rape and sexual slavery as a means of attracting and retaining fighters,” wrote Dr. Mukwege’s Foundation.
You can contact the Panzi Foundation USA by calling Emily Wayne at 1-716-912-3219. Wayne’s email address is Emily@pfusa.org.
Or contact Benjamin Duerr at the Dr. Denis Mukwege Foundation via email at firstname.lastname@example.org