Defender of the Week #2: Dr Denis Mukwege

“We need to eradicate rape as a weapon of war … like nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.”

– Dr Denis Mukwege

‘Defender of the Week’ places the spotlight on individuals who have been tireless in their advocacy for human rights and the environment. This week, Congolese gynaecologist, Dr Denis Mukwege, is Defender of the Week.

Founder of the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mukwege has been internationally recognised for his expertise on internal physical damage caused by gang-rape and specialises in treating women who have been raped by rebel forces.

Since its foundation in 1999 after the First Congo War, the Panzi Hospital has been able to treat over 85,000 women; including 48,000 suffering from complex gynaecological damage from sexual violence and gang wartime rape, and 37,000 with injuries not related to sexual violence (for example, fistula from obstructed birth). During 18-hour work days, Dr Mukwege is often able to treat 10 patients per day; making reconstructive gynaecological surgery his life’s work.

As well as consistently being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr Mukwege has received numerous international accolades for his tireless efforts in treating female victims of sexual violence, including; the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 2008, the Sakharov Prize in 2014, and in 2016 the Seoul Peace Prize. Also in 2016, Dr Mukwege was included in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.

In 2012, Mukwege delivered a speech to the United Nations, stating:

“I would have liked to say, “I have the honour of representing my country”, but I cannot. In effect, how can one be proud of belonging to a nation without defence, fighting itself, completely pillaged and powerless in the face of 500,000 of its girls raped during 16 years; 6,000,000 of its sons and daughters killed during 16 years without any lasting solution in sight. No, I do not have the honour, nor the privilege to be here today. My heart is heavy. My honour, it is to be with these courageous women victims of violence, these women who resist, these women who despite all remain standing.”

Dr Mukwege’s work at the Panzi Hospital in the DRC is nothing short of phenomenal. What he and his team do for women and young girls in a nation fighting one of the most sanguinary civil wars ever known, and where up to 50 women are raped each hour, gives them a sense of hope.

Phoebe Egoroff

Founder and of Jurist International, a website focusing on the latest developments in international human rights and criminal law.

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