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"Let's build peace, justice and rights"

by Christine Amisi

Christine Amisi with the Mayor of Milan in front of the plaque dedicated to Denis Mukwege

Christine Amisi with the Mayor of Milan in front of the plaque dedicated to Denis Mukwege

Dear People in Charge of the « Gardens of the Righteous »,
Ladies. Girls and Gentlemen,
Distinguished Guests,

It is with a great sense of seriousness that I speak out today on behalf of Professor Mukwege, in the Garden of the Righteous, this place of remembrance that summons our humanity.

Please, first of all let me pass on to you his greetings and thanks. He would have liked to attend this ceremony, but the duty to treat his patients did not allow him to do so.

When you wrote to Dr Mukwege to express your wish to honour him among the Righteous, he objectively asked himself what he might have done to deserve this attention and status. He was not there during World War Two when the unspeakable was perpetrated.
But after a thorough reflection, he and we have understood that the suffering of the Shoah did not belong to a people only. Every time that somewhere in the world, the human madness rages out to dehumanize and exterminate other human beings, it is our common humanity that is wounded. This cruel fate of Second World War now resonates as the fate of the suffering of our whole humanity.

It summons us in our deepest conscience. It obliges us to affirm that the “Never again” makes it our collective responsibility to protect and defend, all over the world, every endangered human being, regardless of his or her origins or status.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is why Dr Mukwege, on whose behalf I am speaking today, decided to accept the distinction and honour that you are bestowing upon him.
Doctor, humanist and defender of human rights, he carries within his deepest conscience his fight for the right to live and dignity of the human being. For over two decades, he has suffered along with the women of Kivu and the Democratic Republic of Congo whose dignity has been trampled on.

On 10 December 2018, from the heights of the tribune of the Peace Nobel Prize in Oslo, he denounced the silence of the international community in the face of the massacres of over 6 million people from Congo. Those bloodsheds are thoroughly described in the Mapping Report of the United Nations, published nine years ago. Today, they keep on unfolding with abysmal impact, alas, in total impunity.

Actually, since the Eighties, our country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been ravaged by wars and multiple armed conflicts. There has been a sharpening of the rates of maternal mortality. So, Dr Denis Mukwege undertook the creation, in September 1999, of the hospital of Panzi to the purpose of providing the women of Bukavu and its outskirts with obstetrical and reproductive health treatments..

Unfortunately, the first cases were of women victims of rape, from war zones. Ever since then, the hospital started treating the survivors to rape, and until today, we have had nearly 55,000 survivors treated at the General Hospital of Panzi and by the Panzi Foundation. The number is huge, but for us even just one case is very serious.

The features of these rape cases are typical of a classic, but cheaper warfare, because they are:

. Massive : the women from the whole village are raped, with indirect victims who are their families and communities,
. Methodical : the rapes are collective and perpetrated in public, with torture and sexual slavery, rape with humiliation in front of a whole community, the husbands, children and so on…
. Systematic : the perpetrators do not take into the account age (babies, adolescents, adults, elders …) or gender (Men and women)

The consequence of this are demographic decreases (through the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmittable diseases, atrocious destruction of the reproductive organs), destruction of the social fabric (there is no more social cohesion, children cannot look in their parents’ eyes, loss of parental authority, there are cases of women repudiated by their husbands following rape, others who are stigmatized and rejected by their communities, there are children born as a consequence of those rapes, and whose taking in charge and reporting in the population registry is problematic, as the responsible for the pregnancies remain unknown...), economic destruction (some villages are burnt, as well as fields, and lootings are perpetrated… ), sometimes there displacements of the popuòation (escape from the unsafe places.. )

How could a humanist avoid standing up and speaking out against this injustice? 20 years of suffering, rapes, violence… people just cannot say « I didn’t know ».

In order to assist these rape survivors, the Hospital of Panzi and the Panzi Foundation have put in place a holistic approach, as the caretaking needs not only to be medical, but also psycho-social, legal, and also reinforced through activities of social-economic reinstatement. We give them services of high-quality treatment focused on the person, et based on the scientific research and planning of activities centred on scientific evidence, in order to restore the women’s dignity. This holistic approach has not only made it possible to treat the survivors, but above all to rebuild their lives.

Thanks to the impressive work carried out by Dr Denis Mukwege, the local communities rely significantly on the Hospital of Panzi. The latter has become, over the past two decades, a sort of “oasis” amidst a desert, a shelter for the women survivors to rape of different ages and from different villages of the DRC. They find at the Hospital of Panzi not only holistic assistance, but also protection, and a guarantee for their future. Here, thousands of women learn how to transform their suffering into empowerment. For the women who cannot return soon to their villages out of fear of stigmatization, or rejection from their husbands, … the Panzi Foundation organizes a centre of transit, protection and professional training, in which women can stay for 3-6 months, after their demission from hospital, until they find a lasting solution.

Apart from these responses, the Hospital of Panzi and the Panzi Foundation have also set up some important activities of prevention against rape that are gender based, through the following activities: raising the awareness of people in the different villages, legal clinics operating locally and disseminated across different villages, popularization of thee national and international legal instruments, which are dedicated to establish the full rights of the women and the promotion of the female gender, the promotion of positive masculinity even through the work with very young boys. All this is accomplished at the level of schools, churches, public places…

Over the two past years, it has been a pleasure to Dr Mukwege to share this rich experience of the Panzi model with the partners from other countries such as Irak, Guinea, the Central African Republic…

Dear People in Charge of the « Garden of the Righteous »
Ladies, Girls ad Gentlemen,
Distinguished Guests,

Today the prize awarded by the Garden of the Righteous offers a unique opportunity of achievement to the survivors of rape from our country. The survivors should not lose heart, their bravery, dedication, and resilience are a weapon to stop this plague.

It is thus with a sense of gratefulness that we receive today, on behalf of Professor Denis Mukwege, this award that represents an expression of solidarity and compassion toward those dozens of thousands of women from Congo, who have suffered enough from acts of injustice and savagery. Every time visitors come to Panzi and they ask the women how they can help them, they answer without hesitation : « We want peace ». Because if there is peace, we can go to the fields, attend our daily chores without fear of being raped underway, our children can go to school… with our friends across the globe, including those of the Garden of the Righteous, we will be able to help build a lasting peace, a transitional justice and an environment able to promote women’s and human rights in general.

Please, feel sure that your fight for the memory of the Holocaust belongs to us as well, in the suffering of the Congolese people yesterday and today.

Thank you on behalf of Doctor Denis Mukwege, who could not attend.

Christine Amisi Notia, Executive Manager of the Panzi Foundation​

Analysis by Christine Amisi Notia, Executive Manager of the Panzi Foundation​

15 March 2019

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