Last week Denis Mukwege was awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize along with Nadia Murad “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict”.
Dr Mukwege is the 11th African person to win the Nobel Peace Prize, with past winners including former South African President Nelson Mandela, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and anti-apartheid and human rights activist Reverend Desmond Tutu. Dr Mukwege has previously been awarded the 2008 United Nations Human Rights Prize, and was named ‘African of the year’ in 2009 for his work.
WHO IS DENIS MUKWEGE?
Denis Mukwege is a gynaecologist from the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 1998 Mr Mukwege moved to Bukavu, in the Sud-Kivu region in the East of the DR Congo, and started the Panzi Hospital.
Dr Mukwege and his Panzi Hospital treat the victims of all violence, but have found themselves focusing on the victims of sexual violence. Rape and sexual assault have become a strategy used indiscriminately by militant groups in ongoing conflict in the east of the country, leading to the DR Congo being listed as the “Rape Capital of the World” by a top UN official. Conflict has been raging intermittently since 1996, with the current Kivu Conflict being fought between the DR Congo’s armed forces (FARDC) with a UN peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO) against several rebel groups including Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR).
It is estimated that Panzi Hospital has treated over 85,000 patients since it opened and current serves a population of 400,000.
MUKWEGE’S REACTION TO WINNING
Speaking of his Nobel Peace Prize victory Dr Mukwege said that it was a sign that the international community is recognizing the suffering of women facing sexual violence. Mukwege also stated that there need to be psychological and legal reparations for the victims.
Mukwege also encouraged the international community to “stand up and draw a red line” when it comes to rape, and criticised the lack of “political will” to do so. Mukwege has been an outspoken critic of the lack of action by the international community and by the Congolese government, citing a ‘lack of courage’ in a speech to the UN in 2012.
For their part, the spokesman for DR Congo’s government congratulated Mukwege. They stated although they have had differences with Mukwege when “he tried to politicise his work”, they acknowledged it was “important form a humanitarian standpoint” and were “satisfied with the recognition of the work of a compatriot”.
WHERE TO GO FROM HERE
When asked what needed to happen from this point, Mukwege said that “the key to fight sexual violence is to break silence”, suggesting that awareness of this issue still needed to be raised. Mukwege also said that a condition of peace needed to be made, noting that in his 15 years work before war broke out he never saw such horrific incidents.
Although it is unclear when this condition of peace can finally be reached in the DR Congo, awareness for issues of sexual violence has certainly been raised and Mukwege has become an inspiration for many to stand up in the face of sexual assault.