Denis Mukwege

(2013, Democratic Republic of Congo)

...for his courageous work healing women survivors of war-time sexual violence and speaking up about its root causes.

About

Dr. Denis Mukwege is a gynaecologist working in the war-torn region of Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As the chief surgeon of Panzi hospital, he and his colleagues have treated about 40,000 rape victims, developing great expertise in the treatment of serious gynaecological injuries. Despite attacks on his life, Denis Mukwege speaks up tirelessly to raise awareness about the realities of the Congolese war and its grave, lasting consequences for girls and women.

Contact Details

Website with contact information for Panzi Hospital:
www.panzihospital.org

Assistant in Sweden:
Stina Berge
mukwege@yennengaprogress.se
+46-73-517 6200

Biography

Education

Denis Mukwege was born on 1 March 1955 in what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He studied medicine in Burundi and started practicing at the Christian Hospital at Lemera in South Kivu in the Eastern DRC. Shocked by the appalling difficulties of Congolese women in childbirth, he decided to specialise in obstetrics and gynaecology. After completing his studies in France, he returned to South Kivu in 1989.  

The Panzi Hospital

In 1996 the hospital at Lemera was completely destroyed in the civil war. With the help of international aid organisations, Dr. Mukwege then founded the Panzi Hospital in the Panzi neighbourhood of Bukavu and became its manager and chief surgeon. Today, the hospital has four departments: obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, surgery, and internal medicine. Panzi Hospital has been serving as a university hospital for the Université Evangelique d´Afrique which started its operations near the hospital in 2011.

The Panzi hospital is best known for its gynaecological skills, including fistula repair. Mukwege is training staff to help with these complications, in collaboration with, among others, the Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa (founded by Catherine Hamlin, Right Livelihood Award 2009) and Harvard Medical School.

From 1999 on, Dr. Mukwege began to see a new level of extremely cruel sexualised violence in the Eastern DRC. He began seeing patients whose entire vagina and rectum had been destroyed with knives or other objects. Since then, Dr. Mukwege and his team at Panzi hospital have treated around 40,000 victims of sexual violence. Dr. Mukwege himself sees 20 patients each day, of which 7-10 suffer from health issues and injuries due to sexual violence. Compared to other conditions treated at the hospital, these cause the biggest psychological and surgical challenges. Dr. Mukwege has reported that it happens that a woman he has treated successfully is raped again and comes back to the hospital, with no more chance for the surgeon to repair her reproductive organs once again.

Dr. Mukwege says: “The perpetrators of these crimes destroy life at its entry point. The women can no longer have children. Often they get infected with AIDS and will spread the disease. Their men are humiliated. So the perpetrators destroy the entire social fabric of their enemies, their communities, their future generations, without even killing the woman. A line has been crossed here, which should have been an absolute taboo. But because those parts of the body are not usually visible, it is not as obvious as other forms of mutilation.”

A big problem in the DRC is that perpetrators enjoy a large degree of impunity, even if they can be identified.

In 2013, Panzi hospital had 398 employees and an annual budget of USD 3.2 million. The hospital has 450 beds, of which 250 are reserved for victims of sexual violence. Patients who cannot afford the care are treated free of charge.

Reintegration and support

Besides medical support, Panzi tries to provide its patients psychological counselling, legal advice, and a perspective for those who cannot go back to their former lives. This work includes DORCAS in Bukavu, a mother-child compound for women who have been released from the hospital and are coached to start an existence with microfinance help.

In addition, Mukwege has set up the Panzi Foundation. It has two full-time employees working out of the Panzi hospital premises, two lawyers and eight volunteer lawyers. The foundation provides assistance and legal clinics for victims of sexual violence around a number of legal topics (heritage, family law, divorce, adoption), psychological counselling, trainings in women’s rights and family living, work against early marriage, health advice workshops, and trainings for community leaders.

Urging the international community to bring an end to the conflict in Eastern DRC 

Recognizing that his medical work treats the victims but cannot prevent new violence, Dr. Mukwege has been traveling the world and giving countless interviews to alert the international community about the horrors of the conflict in Eastern DRC.

He says: “In reality, this conflict is not about ethnicity, but it is a territorial conflict about mineral resources. The region of Kivu is rich in coltan, which is needed for mobile phones and laptops. Without the political will the situation will not change. These underlying problems cannot be solved through my work.”

Dr. Mukwege says that the DRC needs a professional, predominantly female police force and an army that protects its people and that excludes those who have destroyed the country. Mukwege is afraid that if the international peacekeepers leave the country before a functional army and police have been established, there will be chaos. He also demands an international criminal tribunal for the DRC like those for Sierra Leone and Yugoslavia.

In a speech at the UN on 25 September 2012, Mukwege called for the UN’s “unanimous condemnation of the rebel groups who are responsible for these acts [of sexualised violence]” and for “concrete actions with regard to member states of the United Nations who support these barbarities from near or afar”. He said: “We do not need more proof, we need action, urgent action to arrest those responsible for these crimes against humanity and to bring them to justice. Justice is not negotiable.”

Assassination attempt and current situation

One month after Mukwege’s speech at the UN, five armed men in civilian clothes slipped into his house in Bukavu while he was away. When he returned in his vehicle, they attacked him, but one of his staff, Joseph Bizimana, distracted the murderers and was killed by them. He saved Mukwege’s life. The local authorities claim they found the murderers, but no trial was held, and none of the witnesses were called to testify. Mukwege decided to escape to Europe with his wife and two daughters.

In his absence, local women’s groups protested against the attack to the authorities, started to collect money for a flight ticket for Mukwege to come home, and promised him they would ensure his security by taking turns to guard him, with groups of 20 women volunteering in shifts around the clock. Moved by their courage and support, Mukwege returned to Bukavu in January 2013. Driving from the airport to the hospital, he was met by cheering crowds. He now lives and works day and night at the Panzi Hospital, continuously accompanied by two bodyguards.

In May 2013, the Panzi Hospital reported that now even small children are becoming victims of sexualised violence: when nine girls not older than five years, were brutally raped in South Kivu, two of them died of their injuries and the others were treated at Panzi hospital for their severe complications.  

Honours

Among the many awards bestowed upon Dr. Mukwege are the UN Human Rights prize (2008), the Olof Palme Prize (2009) and the King Baudouin International Development Prize (2011). In 2009, the Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust named him “African of the Year”. He is also recipient of the 2013 Human Rights First Award and the 2014 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Speeches

Award Acceptance Speech by Dr. Denis Mukwege

(This speech is in French, below you will find the English translation of Dr. Mukwege's prepared speech. Please note that there may be differences between the two versions.)


2 December 2013

Thank you for the invitation of the Members of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation and for giving me the floor in this beautiful place.

It is with great humility that I receive today this prestigious award.

Friends of Peace, Friends of Humanity,

With this Prize, no one will be able to say that they were not aware of this unprecedented tragedy in the history of the African Great Lakes region.

Friends of peace, friends of humanity, you have refused indifference, you have refused to close your eyes and your ears in the face of this horrible and odious barbarism that brings shame on our humanity and that has stained our conscience for far too long.

I rejoice with all of you today, and convey all my gratitude to you.

For fifteen years, I have witnessed mass atrocities against women and I cannot remain a bystander because our common humanity calls on us to take care of one another. I had no other choice than to continue to treat my patients and to speak out for peace and justice.

Our encounters with these women every day have taught us to bear their suffering with them and to treat their wounds. Their damaged bodies, broken hearts, and crushed spirits all needed to be restored, consoled and healed. In order for us to treat tens of thousands of women who are the victims of the gravest crimes, we also need hope and to be able to transmit it to the survivors. Without hope, life is not worth living.

Thus, we have hope for the future of the DRC.  Hope that this great country will become a nation of peace and justice.

Friends of Peace, Friends of Humanity,

All the ingredients to reach this goal are in place. The peoples of the African Great Lakes region are waiting impatiently for the implementation of the Addis Ababa Framework Agreement for Peace, Security and Cooperation, which is the first peace deal tackling the root causes of violence in the DRC and in the region.

It’s a last-chance agreement and it requires the unwavering political courage of the signatory states and the international community for its effective implementation.

There will be no peace without justice and the struggle against impunity is one of the keys to ending violence against women.

Today, if this prize can catalyse the arrival of peace in the DRC and put an end to the tragedy of Congolese women and of women in situations of armed conflict in general, I’ll be thrilled.

I dedicate this prize to all the women killed in conflicts and confronted by violence every day. I would like to tell them that through this prize, the world is listening and refuses to stand idly by in response to your suffering.

Friends of Peace, Friends of Humanity,

This prize will not have great meaning if it doesn’t result in mobilisation to change the situation for women in zones of armed conflict as well as in peacetime.

We hope that the world will not delay in acting with strength on their behalf, because the survival and the future of humanity depend on you all. 

Sweden is a country that greatly contributed to advance women rights and maternal and child health care. Its system is among the best in the world. The impact on other areas of life in Sweden is clearly visible.

In other parts of the world, we cannot even talk about equality between men and women as women rights is reduced to a basic right of survival. In conflict zones, the bodies of women are battlefields, rapes are committed with extreme brutality: a cheap but very efficient weapon of war.

If we want a world where women can play their full role, if we aspire to a society where woman is equal to man, if we wish to contribute to a more equitable world, we must take a stand, denounce the unacceptable and draw a line that shall not be crossed. The international community has set limits: chemical weapons and genocide.

Friends of Peace, Friends of Humanity,

You can help to draw a red line on the use of rape as a weapon of war. We cannot say that we want to achieve empowerment of women if we at the same time accept these mass atrocities on their bodies just because they are women. Not taking position is to accept the idea that women are not fully human beings, because rape committed with extreme violence is a denial of our common humanity.

Wars are absurd and are the fruit of our decisions, but it is women and children who are paying the heaviest price. We should learn by the mistakes of the past in order to build a better future.

When Europe was liberated in 1945, the world was shocked by the discoveries of the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. All humanity still bears the shame today of these extermination camps constructed by humans to dehumanize other humans.

The shocking images and testimonies of survivors were such that many were convinced that at least humanity had learned its lessons – that never again under the sun there will be war, that hatred is not an option, that racism is absurd, that any hint of xenophobia and cultural superiority are unacceptable, and that nobody will ever again remain silent in face of serious human rights violations.

There was so much hope at the time of the adoption of the United Nations Charter. The hope of a new world, the hope of a new order of solidarity and brotherhood among people of all colors and all backgrounds, without discrimination.

But sadly we are forced to note that 60 years later, the world has learned nothing! The world has learned nothing!

Indeed, if Africa had learned there would not be so much hatred and ethnic conflicts that tear families apart and lock people into violence and darkness of poverty.

If Europe had learned, we would not face the resurgence of nationalisms in several European countries.

If Asia had learned there would not be so many identities defined by religious or communitarian grounds professing the dream of one religion and one unique culture imposed on everyone.

If the world had learned, we would not let the war continue that has killed more than six million persons in ten years and hundreds of thousands of women victims of sexual violence in the DRC.

Friends of Peace, Friends of Humanity,

We hope this price can contribute to awake our minds, to illuminate our conscience and to refuse indifference.

We hope this price can contribute to the awakening of noble, altruistic and solidarity feelings of people of good will in order to finally end barbarism in the Congo and to allow peace for women without which there is no future in this region.

  Pictures
 Videos

Denis Mukwege addressing the United Nations General Assembly

On September 25, 2012, Dr. Denis Mukwege spoke at a high level panel organized at the 67th U.N. General Assembly by The United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations, UN Women, the Nobel Women's Initiative, the Office of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict.

Introducing Denis Mukwege and Panzi Hospital

Movie by United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.(September 2012)

RDC: Denis Mukwege, le docteur qui "répare" les femmes mutilées

A report by FRANCE24. (January 2013) 

Women's War

A film by Marika Griehsel. (April 2013)

Interviews

Interview with Denis Mukwege by Lauren Wolfe - Director Women Under Siege - September 2012. Read the interview online.

Listen to an interview with Denis Mukwege by the BBC World Service from January 2013 via this link.

Publications

Articles

Doctor Returns to Congo and Is Hailed as a Hero - New York Times - January 2013. Online available here

Dr. Mukwege’s Fight - Economist - November 2012. Online available here

Denis Mukwege: The Rape Surgeon of DR Congo - BBC Magazine - February 2013. Online available here.

Två Miljoner Våldtagna i Kriegets Kongo - Läkartidningen - August 2013. Online available here.

Vill vi bidra till ett slut på våldtäkterna i Kongo? Göteborgs-Posten - September 2013. Online available here.

Books

Au Congo, deux médecins soignent des femmes violées et luttent à leurs cotés contre la barbarie. Editions du Moments, France, June 2014.

Denis Mukwege – En levnadsberättelse. Berthil Åkerlund, Weyler förlag, Sweden, October 2013. For more information in Swedish, click here.

Die Hoffnung kehrt zurück. Der Arzt Denis Mukwege und sein Kampf gegen sexuelle Gewalt im Kongo. Birger Thureson. Brandes & Apsel, Germany, 2013.


Speech

Presentation to the United Nations by Dr. Denis Mukwege - September 25, 2012. Read the speech here

Links

Contact

Right Livelihood Award Foundation

Head office:
Stockholmsvägen 23
122 62 Enskede
Sweden

Phone: +46 (0)8 70 20 340
Fax: +46 (0)8 70 20 338

Geneva office:
Maison de la Paix
Chemin Eugène-Rigot 2, Building 5
1202 Geneva
Switzerland

Phone: +41 (0)22 555 09 55

E-mail: