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Justice cannot be negotiated

Dr Denis Mukwege’s speech

Denis Mukwege at the Garden of Milan

Denis Mukwege at the Garden of Milan

The speech follows by Dr Denis Mukwege, a Congolese physician who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2018, at Milan Garden of the Righteous Worldwide, where there has been a plaque dedicated to him since 14th March 2019.

It is with great emotion, but also with a note of hope, that I speak to all of you here today. I have travelled very much all around the world, but I am really amazed by Italian men and women. I believe that you have something exceptional that unexpectedly materializes, for example, through a garden where children are taught that a future can only be built on justice. This solidarity of yours is wealth, which you want to share with somebody like me, who lives an eight-hour flight away from here. Let me tell you this: you have extraordinary strength. There are countries where, when the question “where is Congo?” is asked, young intellectuals cannot answer. In Italy, conversely, which is a place so far away, I have felt your closeness in being willing to build a world in which all can share the same humanity.

This morning I met some youngsters who demonstrated for justice and legality and I told them: “Justice cannot be negotiated. Justice must be imposed on everyone”, this is the only way we have to ensure a future to our children. I think that being aware of this when you are seven - the age of some of the youngest ones I saw this morning - is very important, because learning to value those who deserve to be at such a young age is a teaching for life.

Before talking about Congo, I would like to tell you something. Even though you have earned democracy, if you are in a State observing the rule of law, if you have chosen justice, do not think that your victory is final: it is an ongoing battle, which passes from generation to generation. If we take it for granted, if we think that nothing is left to be done, we risk losing it. I was at the United Nations on 23rd April and I could see how backwards the world is going on things that we already deemed to be acquired, about which we did not think we should discuss anymore. We are in a world driven by different currents, but I feel that in Italy there is a force that can stabilize our ship, the same one that is turning upside down when it comes to the values of democracy, mutual respect and humanity.

As I said earlier on, today I am here to talk to you also about Congo. I have been relentlessly working as a physician for twenty years, to assist women victims of extreme violence, and I think - speaking of the Democratic Republic of Congo - we cannot help saying that it has been involved in a war for two decades the reasons of which are unknown to the population. It is not a war between Congolese tribes, it is not a war between religions, and it is not even a war between territories fighting over others: it is a war to control the country’s natural resources. God has blessed the Congolese with rare earths, which are largely found in the country, but those who control them do not allow the population to use such wealth, leaving them in a situation of intolerable poverty. An opportunity exists to exploit Congolese mineral resources in the right way, respecting human life. However, people who only wish to achieve great benefits effortlessly employ children and women in mines and do not comply with any rules: every day dozens of children die on the bottom of a hole to look for coltan, while women are taken from their villages or used as sex slaves. All this is simply unacceptable.

Italian companies may work in Congo, complying with international rules, but nobody wants it, because on the one hand, war is a deterrent and, on the other, it is much easier to get ores paying children with a banana or some peanuts. Can you understand how much we are threatening our children's future, if we do not react to such cynicism? By destroying women, we are questioning our present and by destroying children, we are putting a halt to our future.

What is the outcome of such behaviours?

Today people talk of millions of deaths. Somebody even says that this figure reaches six million people. News on Congo deal with massacres every day. Hundreds of thousands of women are repeatedly raped. The youngest child I treated was six months old and the oldest woman could not tell her age but was certainly over eighty. Their bodies had been devastated indescribably.

Currently, approximately 4 million Congolese are forced to move from one village to another every three months, following attacks they suffer, becoming displaced persons. They have no fields, they have no water, they have no food, they have no treatment: they are candidates for death. You may also ask what I am telling you to the numerous Italian missionaries from different congregations who, from Congo remotest places, have created bridges with Italy.

What I want to ask you today is therefore, first of all, to continue building bridges and not walls covered by barbed wire. Secondly, I would like to tell you that a UN report was drafted by experts from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which identified 617 war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide crimes. This report was issued ten years ago and no recommendation contained in it has been implemented. Unfortunately, people who buried alive women in Mwenga, who burnt Kasika, who set fire to churches, who murdered priests and archbishops, are also those who govern the country. These people will continue to kill under the eyes of the whole world. So, please, ladies and gentlemen, help us demand justice. Italy is a European power. You Italians, even if you doubt it, can lobby so that such report will not be kept in a drawer. And hopefully one day evidence and witnesses will no longer disappear.

Today we need all of you to urge the Security Council to create an international court to judge these crimes and to push back the gruesome war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We believe in it, not because we want people to go to prison, but because we want those who committed crimes to stop doing so. We want women’s position in society to be respected and them no longer to be considered as a sub-class to be mistreated. Only justice can ensure moral values in a society.

Translated by Valentina Gianoli 

Denis Mukwege, Congolese physician, Nobel Peace Prize 2018

Analysis by Denis Mukwege, Congolese physician, Nobel Peace Prize 2018

23 May 2019

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