‘Doctor Miracle’ hailed around the world
Publish date: 08 October 2018
Issue Number: 794
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege has become the latest African to win the Nobel Peace Prize and the extraordinary honour has put the scourge of rape in the vast central African country firmly in the spotlight. Legalbrief reports that he jointly won the prestigious award with Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who became a global spokesperson for war victims after being raped and tortured by Isis militants. The DRC has been called ‘the rape capital of the world,’ by the UN secretary-general's special representative on sexual violence in conflict and rape has been used as a vicious weapon of war. Mukwege has been hailed for his ability to repair – through reconstructive surgery – the damage inflicted on female victims. BBC News reports that he set up the Panzi hospital in the eastern DRC city of Bukavu nearly 20 years ago – shortly after he had his first experience of treating a woman who had been raped and mutilated by armed men. He, along with his colleagues, have since treated tens of thousands of victims. Mukwege performs as many as 10 operations a day and the Panzi hospital now cares for more than 3 500 women a year. It also treats patients from neighbouring countries. Many different militias have been accused of carrying out the indiscriminate rape of the region's women. ‘The conflict in DR Congo is not between groups of religious fanatics. Nor is it a conflict between states. This is a conflict caused by economic interests – and it is being waged by destroying Congolese women,’ Dr Mukwege said. The 63-year-old has received many other international awards, including the 2008 UN Human Rights Prize. He was also named African of the Year a decade ago.
CNN reports that the decision to recognise Mukwege and Murad for their efforts to end sexual violence as a weapon of war could not have been more apt, or better timed. After all, it was made one year to the day since The New York Times published a report on Harvey Weinstein that blew open the #MeToo movement. It also came hours after hundreds of Americans were arrested during protests over the nomination of Supreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh who has been accused of sexual assault. Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, was asked Friday whether the panel had been inspired by the #MeToo movement. ‘I believe that #MeToo and war crimes aren't quite the same thing,’ she responded. ‘What they do have in common is that it is important to see the suffering of women, to see the abuses.’ Friday's announcement also comes a decade on from the UN recognising sexual violence in war as a crime against humanity.
Kinshasa has congratulated the crusading doctor but underscored that it was often at odds with him. Legalbrief reports that that Mukwege has regularly criticised long-serving President Joseph Kabila, saying: ‘We are governed by people who don't love us.’ ‘The government congratulates Doctor Denis Mukwege for the very important work he does although there are often disagreements between us,’ government spokesperson Lambert Mende told AFP. ‘We have had differences with Denis Mukwege every time that he tried to politicise his work which however is important from a humanitarian standpoint.’ A report on the Business Ghana site notes that he added that ‘we are satisfied with the Nobel Academy's recognition of the work of a compatriot’.
Sexual and ethnic violence are alarmingly on the rise in DRC’s lawless east, spawning a humanitarian catastrophe with millions forced to flee their homes. A TimesLIVE report notes that at least 13.1m Congolese need humanitarian aid, including 7.7m who are severely food insecure, the UN Security Council said in March in a unanimous statement which the government dismissed as a gross exaggeration. The DRC then shunned a massive donor conference in Geneva aimed at raising $1.7bn to tackle the crisis. However, the number of rapes are increasing in the volatile region.
While Mukwege was being saluted around the world, machete-wielding attackers killed at least 14 civilians in the DRC’s restive North Kivu province. A report on the News24 site notes that a further nine people were injured in the assault near the village of Rubaya about 60km north of the province's capital Goma. Governor Cosmas Kangakolo said a battalion of the Congolese army and police officers had been dispatched to Rubaya. The region is a hub for mining coltan, a key component in cell phones and other electronic equipment.