The film “The Man Who Mends Women: The Wrath of Hippocrates“, which chronicles the work of Dr. Denis Mukwege, has been screened since March 2015 in The Hague at the International Criminal Court, as well as in Brussels, Paris and Montreal.
But in the country where the documentary takes place, the Democratic Republic of Congo, its screening has been banned nationwide, including at the French Institute of Kinshasa, where it was scheduled to play on 8 and 9 September 2015.
Dr. Denis Mukwenge is a Congolese gynecologist. He specializes in the treatment of women who have been gang-raped by forces on either side of the war during the mineral conflicts in the region. Mukwege has become the world's leading expert on how to repair the internal physical damage caused by gang rape.
The film, by journalist Colette Braeckman and filmmaker Thierry Michel, had been uploaded to YouTube in early September, racking up 13,000 views in one week. It is no longer available on the platform due to copyright restrictions. See the film's trailer below:
‘Seems to imply that sexual violence is linked to the army’
Via Minister of Communication and government spokesperson Lambert Mende, the Congolese government justified the ban, accusing the film of slander — a willful desire to damage and tarnish the image of the Congolese army.
In a blog post published on Lubumbashi Infos blog titled “DRC: The war of images and the film “THE MAN THAT MENDS WOMEN: THE WRATH OF HIPPOCRATES”, journalist and blogger Didier Mukaleng-Makal Kanteng, who is based in Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo, explains where the controversy about Mukwenge's work might lie:
Dr Mukwege accueilli par des applaudissements, à son entrée dans une grande salle, passe à la tribune. « Témoin des atrocités commises contre les femmes et sur les femmes, depuis 15 ans », il prononce ces paroles :
« Dans les zones en conflits, poursuit-il, les batailles se passent sur les corps des femmes. Les viols se commettent avec extrême brutalité. Une véritable arme de guerre, si pas même, une stratégie de guerre mais qui est beau [sic] marché. Mais redoutablement efficace. »
- A partir de « une véritable arme de guerre… », dans ce discours, le film montre en panoramique, un paysage de désolation, presqu’enflammé. Une image presqu’apocalyptique. Apparaissent alors une camionnette de l’armée congolaise ; des militaires bien armés, en alerte.
- Dans le même discours, à partir de de la séquence « arme redoutablement efficace », est lancé un mortier. Des civils en fuite apparaissent en dessous de la trajectoire des tirs, et s’entend cette voix d’un « commandant » : « un peu en bas », comme pour atteindre ces civils. Enfin apparaît une colonne des déplacés de guerre… puis, retour au discours du médecin. Sur la base de ces images (bien sûr limitées mais pourtant mises en exergue!), les violences sexuelles semblent liées à l’armée.
Dr. Mukwege is greeted by applause as he enters the great hall and takes to the stage. “Witness to the atrocities committed against women and to women for 15 years”, he speaks these words:
“In conflict-zones, he continues, the battles occur on the bodies of women. Rape is committed with extreme brutality. A real weapon of war, if not a wartime strategy that does not cost much to implement. But dreadfully effective.” Starting from “a real weapon of war…” in the speech, the film shows a panorama of a country in despair, near burning. A near-apocalyptic image. A Congolese army truck then appears; the soldiers are well-armed and on alert.
In the same speech, starting with the sequence “a dreadfully effective weapon”, a mortar is fired. Fleeing civilians appear below the gunfire, and the voice of a commander: “Aim a little bit lower” as if to reach the civilians. Finally a procession of people displaced by the war is shown on the screen… then, a return to the doctor's speech. Based on these images shown in the film (limited of course, and yet emphasized!), the film seems to imply that sexual violence is linked to the army.
The Congolese government's credibility at stake?
Scram.fr is an association with the objective of raising awareness of the status of documentary filmmakers and obtaining protection and distribution rights for each screening of their work; it includes over 37,000 documentary filmmakers and journalists. The association deplored the decision to bar the screening of the film in Democratic Republic of Congo and explained why the ban is harmful:
La vague mondiale de réactions politiques et professionnelles s'alarmant de cette interdiction devrait suffire à faire comprendre au Gouvernement congolais qu'il est essentiel pour sa crédibilité interne et externe qu'il accepte que se réalise un travail nécessaire de mémoire pour rétablir l'honneur des femmes concernées et plus encore pour protéger toutes les femmes de nouvelles exactions.
The global wave of political and professional reactions showing concern over this ban should be enough to impress upon the Congolese government that it is necessary for its credibility, both internally and abroad, to accept undertaking a gesture of remembrance in order to restore honour to the women concerned and furthermore to protect all women from new abuses.
From several sources, it has been documented that those who commit these heinous offences are both members of local rebel groups and foreigners as well as regular forces. Former President Laurent-Désiré Kabila, father of the current President Joseph Kabila Kabange, rose to power as a guerrilla and governed for approximately four years; he was implicated in the increase of violence against women in the conflict. Whether one attributes these atrocities to rebel or regular forces, the former president has successively led both types of soldiers that are accused of rape.
It would seem, therefore, that the Congolese government is embarrassed by the film and the criticism made by Dr. Denis Mukwege backed by international civil society. On 30 May 2015, well before the banning of the film, the French-language site journeefemmeafricaine.com wrote this call to action:
De nombreuses personnes se mobilisent depuis quinze années, dénoncent, se mobilisent, hélas, pour bien peu de résultats. Est-ce une raison pour abandonner ? Certainement pas, bien au contraire. Nous gardons à l’esprit l’exemple d‘Aoua Keita initiatrice de la Journée Internationale de la Femme Africaine et fort de cette femme inspirante que nous nous disant que nous ne pouvons pas ne pas faire quelque chose, aussi infime que cela semble face au traitement inhumain que subissent les femmes dans les zones de combats en République démocratique du Congo.
Nous nous pensions impuissantes parce que nous ne pouvions nous impliquer sur le terrain, mais c’est faux, chaque geste compte dans de tels cas. Et il faut pouvoir faire à sa mesure, là ou l’on se trouve avec les moyens dont on dispose…
Numerous people have mobilised for over 15 years, denouncing, mobilising, yet unfortunately with little in the way of results. Is that a reason to give up? Certainly not, quite the contrary. We keep close to heart the example of Aoua Keita, founder of the International Day of the African Woman, and with this woman inspiring us we tell ourselves that we cannot not do something, as tiny as it seems when confronting the inhumane treatment that women in the Democratic Republic of Congo suffer.
We might feel powerless because we can't get involved on the ground, but that is not true, each action counts in such cases. And it is necessary to be able to do what we can in the place where we live and with the means we have available to us…
Awarded abroad, threatened at home
A petition started by lawyer Hamuli Rety, former president of the lawyers’ association of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, signed by more than 50,000 people, offered some background on violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo:
L’UNICEF a ainsi rapporté avoir pris en charge 38 000 cas de violences faites aux femmes pour la seule année 2007. La FIDH (Fédération Internationale des ligues des Droits de l’Homme) parle de 3 300 cas en 2012 pour la seule province orientale, soit environ dix cas par jour. L’ONU, quant à elle, affirme qu’en moyenne 48 femmes sont ainsi violées toutes les heures en République Démocratique du Congo. Les constats sont là mais les solutions restent désastreuses : aucune de ces autorités n’a pris de mesures efficaces pour faire cesser ces crimes.
UNICEF has reported having taken on 38,000 cases of violence against women in only 2007 alone. The FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) notes 3,300 cases in 2012 only in the eastern province, some ten cases a day. As for the UN, they confirm that on average 48 women are raped every hour in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The findings are clear but solutions remain dire: none of the authorities have taken effective measures to stop these crimes.
These figures on the number of women raped should, however, be viewed cautiously because in reality they could be far higher. The French-language site wikistrike.com cites a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, according to which more than 400,000 women and young women between 15 and 49 years old were raped in a 12-month period, between 2006 and 2007. That is 26 times more than the figures announced by the UN over the same period.
For his humanitarian efforts aimed at restoring honour to the women and children who are victims of rape, Dr. Denis Mukwege has received some 20 national and international awards and distinctions including the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights; the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, awarded the the European Parliament; the Clinton Foundation Prize; the Olof Palme Prize; the Inamori Prize for Ethics 2014 (Japan-United States); the Primo Levi Prize (Italy); the Solidaris Prize from the hospital of Saint-Pierre in Brussels (Belgium); and the medal of the Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences of the Netherlands.
Yet in his own country, the government continues to ignore him and certain militant groups threaten him. He does not move around within his own country without an escort of United Nations soldiers.