Located in Central Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo is the second largest country on the continent by area, and one of the most populous in the world with over 75 million people. The country has been through a lot; by the mid to late nineties, it had gone from one civil war to the next. Congo has, and continues to experience the aftermath of years of armed conflict and civil unrest including widespread sexual violence, victims of which suffered traumatic psychological and physical pain. But all that promised to change in 1998.
Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, in the war torn region of the DRC was established to provide care to survivors of gang rape and those with other severe gynecological issues. The establishment of the hospital was a call to action, and responded to the needs of women and child survivors of sexual abuse. One man at the helm of it all was Congolese Gynecologic Surgeon, Denis Mukwege, the hospital’s founder and medical director.
He was a wanted man at a time in Congo’s history, but not for reasons you might suspect. In October 2012, he survived an assassination attempt at his home, possibly for speaking out on behalf of the countless women who had been gang-raped by armed groups along the hills of eastern Congo. While this forced him into exile, it did nothing to tamper with the burden he had for his country. Two months later, he returned, receiving a hero’s welcome.
Today the DRC has something extra special to celebrate as the whole world watched Le docteur (TheDoctor) receive the European Parliament’s highest human rights accolade – The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The Sakharov Prize is awarded each year, and is intended to honor exceptional individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression. Past winners of this prestigious award include the late Nelson Mandela and former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Dr. Mukwege, who has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize, continues to fight for the recognition of sexual assault and violence as weapons of war, which would hold countries and organized bodies which the soldiers report to responsible.
His mantra is quite simple — no justice, no peace.
Feature image: Roger Svanell