Democratic Republic of Congo's Dr. Mukwege: ‘How Can One Stay Silent’ in the Face of Sexual Violence?

Dr Mukwege contre les violences envers les femmes - Domaine public

Dr. Mukwege poster on fighting sexual violence in DR of Congo

It's about time that Dr. Denis Mukwege is recognized for this work. Mukwenge's 15 year-long activism in favor of victims of sexual violence by armed factions in the Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo was recently awarded with several prizes.

Already the recipient of the 2013 Chirac Foundation Award for conflict prevention, he also received the 2014 Sakharov Award on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Here is the video of his speech at the award ceremony in Strasburg, France: 


During his acceptance speech, many members of the European parliament could not help but shed a few tears. Here are highlights from the speech as transcribed by the Congolese blog Kamoto centre:  

Comme tout être humain, je voudrais tant ne plus évoquer ces crimes odieux dont mes
semblables sont victimes. Mais comment me taire quand, depuis plus de quinze ans, nous voyons ce que même un œil de chirurgien ne peut pas s’habituer à voir ? Comment me taire quand nous savons que ces crimes contre l’humanité sont planifiés avec un mobile bassement économique ? Chaque femme violée, je l’identifie à ma femme ; chaque mère violée à ma mère et chaque enfant violé à mes enfants.Comment pouvons-nous nous taire ?
Quel est cet être humain doué de conscience qui se tairait quand on lui emmène un bébé de six mois dont le vagin a été détruit soit par la pénétration brutale ?

Like any human being, my dearest wish would be to not have to talk about these heinous crimes, of which my people are victims, anymore. But how can one stay silent when, for over 15 years, I have seen things that even a surgeon cannot get used to seeing? How can one stay silent when we know that these crimes against humanity are driven by a crass economic agenda?  Each woman raped, I identify with my wife; each mother raped I see as my mother, and each child violated as my own kids. How can we stay silent?
How can a human being endowed with a conscience be silent when he sees that a 6-month-old's vagina was destroyed by brutal penetration?

Doctor Mukwege at the Panzi hopsital in DR of Congo

Doctor Mukwege at Panzi hopsital in DR of Congo

Dr. Mukwege's main activity with victims of sexual violence is based at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, the main city in the Kivu region. On average, Panzi Hospital admits 410 patients per month with 200 beds devoted to sexual violence survivors.  One of the staff at Panzi, Prince Muhrula,  describes that at Panzi hospital, women can again live and enjoy a normal life since their dignity were restored : 

Les survivantes des violences sexuelles prises en charge à Panzi se réjouissent de l’attention portée sur elles par le Parlement européen à travers le Dr Denis Mukwege. Après la remise du Prix Sakharov au médecin-directeur de Panzi, celles-ci ont jubilé dans la cour de l’hôpital pour exprimer leur soutien au médecin. Pour ces femmes, il s’agit d’un grand réconfort : “ça prouve qu’on est pas oubliées, que le reste du monde ne ferme pas les yeux sur notre sort” a déclaré une survivante en poussant des cris de joie. Au son des tamtams et de chants de joie improvisés, ces femmes ont loué l’œuvre du Dr Mukwege qui ne se limite pas à soigner les blessures mais s’emploie aussi à faire valoir la cause de la femme pour que celle-ci recouvre sa dignité.

Survivors of sexual violence at Panzi Hospital welcome the care provided by the center. After the Sakharov Prize, many women were celebrating in the hospital courtyard to express their support to the physician:
 “It proves that we are not forgotten, that the world does not condone what was done to us,” said a survivor. With the sound of tom-toms and improvised songs of joy, the women praised the work of the hospital that goes beyond healing wounds but also seeks to assert the cause of women's dignity.

Here is the trailer of a documentary on Mukwenge's work in the Kivu region:

His work is not approved by everyone in the region, though. The armed factions have threatened him on several occasions. On October 25, 2012, he was attacked at his home, and his housekeeper died during the assault. In June 2013, a nurse from his hospital was attacked. Here are the details from the Panzi hospital Facebook page :

Madame Furaha Lugumire, infirmière à l'Hôpital Général de Référence de Panzi à Bukavu a été retrouvée la nuit du 21 au 22 Juin 2013 à minuit 3 minutes, immobilisée sur un mur d'une maison à côté de la Cité de la joie (City of Joy), toujours à Panzi. Selon l'un des policiers chargés de l'enquête, la victime a été retrouvée mains menottées derrière, elle respirait mais ne parlait pas. Il affirme qu'à côté de la victime on a retrouvé un sachet contenant de l'alcool. Madame Furaha Lugumire est présentement admise à l'hôpital de Panzi, elle est en train d'être examinée par divers médecins spécialistes de cette institution hospitalière.

Mrs. Furaha Lugumire, a nurse at Panzi General Hospital in Bukavu, was found on the night of June 21/ 22, 2013 immobilized near a wall of a house next to the City of Joy at Panzi. According to one of the police officers involved in the investigation, the victim was found handcuffed, she was breathing but was not able to speak. He says that a bag containing alcohol was found beside the victim. Mrs. Furaha Lugumire is currently admitted at the Panzi Hospital and is being examined by various specialists of the hospital.

On Cafe Babel, a Francophone community blog, Clara Fajardo Trigueros explains why the Kivu region is such a source of economic and political tension

La colombite-tantalite ou coltan est une des clefs qui expliquent ce qu'est aujourd'hui l'enfer du Congo, car le pays compte 80% de la réserve mondiale de cette ressource minière. Mais cela pourrait aussi être son salut. Un minerai qui n'était en d'autres temps qu'une curiosité géologique est devenue une pièce fondamentale de nos dispositifs technologiques.

Coltan is one of the keys that explain why Congo is such a tough place today. The country has 80 percent of the world's reserves for this mineral resource. But it could also be its salvation. A mineral that was in other times a geological curiosity has become a fundamental part of our technological devices.

Many Internet users would like to see Mukwege's work awarded with a Nobel Prize. A Facebook page, “We want a Nobel Peace Prize for Dr Denis Mukwege“, was created to that effect.


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Stay up to date about Global Voices and our mission. See our Privacy Policy for details. Newsletter powered by Mailchimp (Privacy Policy and Terms).

* = required field
Email Frequency

No thanks, show me the site