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Denis Mukwege

A doctor against rape in Congo

Denis Mukwege has dedicated his life to serving women in Congo. The man has in fact created a structure-Panzi Hospital of Bukavu-to nurse and aid the victims of “rape as a weapon of war,” despite threats from armed groups in the country.  

The child of a Pentecostal pastor, Denis decided to become a doctor when, accompanying his father during visits to the ill of the community, he noticed that hospital patients received insufficient care and often died after childbirth. 

In 1998, during the war in Congo, Mukwege started the construction of a hospital for women victims of violence. In that it was a conflict child of the genocide in Rwanda, the women were daily objects of rapes from guerillas. This terrible act developed into a weapon of terror and used not only to destroy relationships in the community, but also as an instrument of extermination, with return of sterile victims

Mukwege-who today is world’s leading expert in the internal reconstruction of female genitalia after rape-and his team have operated on more than 20 thousand women, working 18 hours a day during which they complete 10 surgeries. The courage of the surgeon has, furthermore, allowed these women to start new lives. Next to the hospital created by Denis, a secure structure was constructed where patients and their children can seek refuge. The women learn how to sew, weave, and other jobs, in order to become independent and restart their lives. 

In 2012 the surgeon brought an important discourse to the General Assembly of the United Nations, to address the problem of violence as a weapon of war and to condemn the impunity of those guilty of mass rapes in Congo. A couple months later, four armed men attacked the Doctor’s house, taking his children hostage and waiting for Mukwege to return home from the hospital. Mukwege succeeded in saving his family and home, but the incident left one of his security guards dead. After the homicide, the doctor left the country and went into exile with his family in Europe. 

In January 2013, aware of the importance of his presence at Panzi Hospital, Denis decided to return to Congo, even though him and his team continued to receive threats. The people gave him a special reception, accompanying him from the airport to Bukavu.  His patients even saved money from selling pineapples and onions to symbolically pay for his ticket of return. 

For his commitment and his courage Denis Mukwege has received much recognition, including the Prize of Human Rights from the United Nations in 2008, and was nominated many times for the Noble Peace Prize. We remember his actions today, November 25, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. 

Today, rape and sexual slavery are considered crimes against humanity and have been prosecuted as such since the creation of International Tribunals for ex-Yugoslavia in 1993. This was confirmed by rulings of the court in the case of Vokovic, Kovac, and Kunarac on February 22, 2001and from Article 7 of the Statute of the International Penal Code, in force since 2002, which classifies 'rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, and other forms of sexual violence of similar gravity” as crimes against humanity.

25 November 2013

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