Awarded with the most prestigious European Union human rights prize, the Sakharov prize, in 2014, Dr. Denis Mukwege is an honored Congolese gynecologist who campaigned against sexual violence perpetrated against women as a weapon of war. Founder and actual director of the Panzi hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Dr. Mukwege is specialised in reconstructive gynecological surgery.
Born in 1955, he started to study medicine in the University of Burundi and then worked in the Christian hospital of Lemera in South Kivu, DRC. In this rural hospital, he took conscience of the difficulties encountered by women when giving birth and decided to travel to France to study gynecology at the University of Angers.
Back in DRC during the first civil war, Dr. Mukwege survived to the demolition of the hospital of Lemera and constructed in Panzi a maternity service. However, due to the violence of the war, many women came in after being the victims of sexual aggressions by groups of soldiers. Children and babies were also the victims of these terrible assaults. Therefore, the service specialised in the support of sexual violence victims and became a hospital of 334 beds treating 10 women a day. Dr. Mukwege conducted more than 21.000 reconstructive surgeries on both women and children.
Recognised for his medical but also human qualities, he received numerous awards. He receives the UN Human Rights prize in 2008, the Olof Palme Prize in 2009, the same year he is awarded African of the year by the Daily Trust and becomes a ‘Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur’ in France. In 2010 he receives the Van Heuven Goedhart-Award from the Netherlands Refugee Foundation, acquires a Honorary Doctorate by the faculty of medicine at Umeå University of Sweden and receives the The Wallenberg Medal from the University of Michigan.
These awards contributed to bring attention to the problem of sexual violence as a weapon of war. At the United Nations, Dr. Mukwege gave a speech in September 2012 to condemn the impunity to mass rape in DRC, criticizing the Congolese government and other countries for not doing enough to stop what he called ‘an unjust war that has used violence against women and rape as a strategy of war’.
Following these declarations, the doctor has been the victim of an assassination attempt. In October 2012, a group of armed kept his daughter in hostage and shot his guard without succeeding to kill him.
Thereafter, Dr. Mukwege received several other prizes from which the most prestigious ones where The Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament and recently the Harvard University Honorary degree as Doctor of Science.
On 18 January, in the European Parliament, Dr. Mukwege received his latest dated prize, from the foundation for the equality of chances in Africa. In his speech, Dr. Mukwege expressed his concern about the lack of democracy in many African countries. He said “Africa doesn’t need a messiah but strong institutions with laws that apply to everyone. There is no fatality, Africa can get out of this socio-politic slump thanks to its young and ambitious population as well as its natural resources.” However, he emphasised on the fact that ‘the change has to come from Africans themselves’.
During the conference, the organisers showed images of the documentary made of the Doctor’s story called “The man who mends women”. In the beginning of September, the DRC had banned it, accusing the film makers to falsify facts and trying to give a negative image of the Congolese military.
When New Europe asked the doctor to react on that issue, he said:
“The problem is the absence of memory in my country. People don’t know what is going on because there is a culture of denial. The government doesn’t want to spread negative testimonies about the military because it goes against the speech they are giving to the citizens. We have to inform the people of what is going on!”
Dr. Mukwege has become a very influential person in his country, but also around the world. Therefore, some Congolese politicians and African leaders are worried about the democratic and profoundly humanistic values the Doctor is spreading around him.
The funds he receives from foundations and awards are injected into his hospital in Panzi and in his various projects to campaign against sexual violence. Yet, against all expectations, the DRC government does not contribute in any way to his efforts.