UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Denis Mukwege, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has operated on women who have been raped and blames the international community for turning a blind eye to this global problem. According to him, rapists are becoming more and more cruel year after year, and victims are becoming younger.
When Denis Mukwege sat down at a round table with a group of journalists at the International Forum on Peace in Caen, France, his message was clear: “Rape is one of the most effective weapons. It leads to devastating consequences.”
Rape as a weapon of mass destruction? “Yes,” says Mukwege dryly. “It destroys the victims physically, spiritually, and in the long run harms social structures.”
Mukwege, 64, is a man of large build, so when he enters the room, his appearance does not go unnoticed. He has what is commonly called charisma. His voice sounds soft, but the words produce a terrible effect.
The reason, probably, is how many horrors he happened to see in his life. He contrasts them with a feeling that not everyone is capable of in our time: Mukwege is driven by a feeling of love for one’s neighbor.
Being the son of a pastor of the Pentecostal Evangelical Church, Mukwege in childhood could not understand why he had medicines, while many of his sick peers were dying – they did not have these medicines. Then he decided that in the future he would become a pediatrician. Seeing later how high the mortality rate among women in childbirth, he eventually made a choice in favor of gynecology and obstetrics.
It was then that Mukwege first encountered female injuries as a result of rape. He decided to become a man who “repairs women”, as stated in the title of the documentary dedicated to him.
Now Mukwege is considered the best specialist in the world on genital injuries and injuries. Last year, he, along with the Yezidi Nadia Murad, received the Nobel Peace Prize.
He has long been not only taking care of the physical treatment of the victims, but also fighting for social rehabilitation and other forms of improving their lives. Mukwege wants justice. “Only justice can restore the lost dignity of these women,” he said in an interview with our publication.
In the city of Bukavu in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mukweg opened in 1999 its own hospital – the Panzi clinic. Since then, together with his team of doctors, he operated on more than 50 thousand women.
At the same time, according to Mukwege, over the past years, rapists have become increasingly brutal, and their victims – more and more youthful. “When I started, the age of the victims ranged from 15 to 80 years. Now even babies are raped and maimed. The youngest child whom I had to operate on was six months old. This violence is monstrous and limitless, ”says the doctor.
At the same time, after two decades of work as a surgeon, he knows that rape “is prepared specially, systematically, collectively and openly.” After all, it is impossible to rape 300 women living in one village without planning these crimes in advance.
For two decades now, Congo has been living in real chaos caused by the actions of armed militants. Sexual abuse is part of their strategy to destroy entire villages and put people to flight. “This war is not really about ethnic conflicts, but about the struggle for territory,” Mukwege said.
A rich country – a poor people
There are large mineral reserves in southeast Congo. The main one is the columbite, necessary for the production of mobile phones and laptops. In the struggle for natural resources, the female body has become a military target.
“My country is one of the richest in the whole world, but at the same time, my people are one of the poorest,” said Mukwege at the Nobel Prize ceremony last December in Oslo. According to him, everyone loves luxury, but it contains natural resources that in his country are extracted under inhuman conditions, in particular, children who often become victims of sexual violence.
So his work, by Mukwege’s own admission, also cannot fundamentally change the current situation. “Until now, the international community lacks the political will to put an end to violence. But turning a blind eye to this drama means becoming partly to blame for it, ”he stressed.
According to UNICEF, in 2014, over 40 thousand minors worked in the mines in southern Congo. And human rights organizations estimated that about 200 thousand women became victims of rape in the country.
When on October 5 last year, a message came about awarding him the Nobel Prize, Mukweg was in the operating room. He did not interrupt the operation, but only expressed joy on this occasion, raising his thumb. He later dedicated his prize to “women of all countries who are victims of military conflicts and face violence daily.”
At that moment, Mukwege had a reason for hope. “By awarding this prize, the world demonstrates that it no longer closes its eyes and refuses to remain indifferent,” he said in an official statement. However, a few months later, the surgeon lost a fair amount of optimism, although his awarding of the Nobel Prize made the situation “more transparent”.
He uses his fame to speak at the UN and at various congresses, meet with government representatives from different countries and even the pope and draw attention not only to the dramatic situation in the Congo, but also to armed conflicts in other countries, as well as to the destruction of entire peoples through sexual violence that lasts for many years.
“When a woman is raped in public, it has dramatic consequences. Such women are driven away by husbands. Often they travel to large cities, where, however, they cannot survive on their own. Thus, in the long term, social structures are destroyed, fertility is reduced. Some women then suffer from the effects of viral and fungal infections all their lives, become infertile and lose their ability to work.”
Another problem, according to the doctor, is children born after rape. He calls them “real timed landmines,” because these children have no roots or identities. In the Congo, they are often called “snake children.” Yazidi women who fall into sexual slavery to fighters of the so-called Islamic State (a terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation – ed.) Face the same problem .
When answering the question of how someone can rape newborn children, Mukwege’s voice becomes even quieter. According to him, sticks, weapons, sometimes even knives or hot iron objects are introduced into the bodies of children. Regarding the injuries inflicted upon this, he said that it could be anything from superficial wounds to torn muscle tissues and the so-called “Douglas pocket” – the space where the intestines and genitals are located.
Many need psychological help
“I often wondered how people can be capable of such violence,” says Mukwege. Even doctors who have seen anything in life when faced with such injuries sometimes need psychological help.
In 2012, an attempt was made on Mukwege, the father of five children. He survived only thanks to the guard who protected him at the cost of his own life. In response to the question of how he manages to maintain hope for the best, he replies: “I look at the women I have to operate on.” Many of them end up in hospital with severe physical injuries, but their thirst for life, he said, is truly indestructible.
Over time, Mukwege noted that the International Court of Human Rights began to recognize rape as war crimes. So far, however, he has not yet succeeded in ensuring that rapists who continue their dirty business are held accountable for this.
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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