In the Democratic Republic of Congo, no one is exempt from the horrors of armed conflict. Women, however, face horrors that extend beyond the AK-47, the hand grenade, and the shrapnel of exploding tank shells. They face rape as a weapon of war. In 1999, Dr. Denis Mukwege founded the Panzi Hospital in Eastern Congo to treat rape victims and those forced into sex slavery. The clinic has become a haven to those suffering from sexual violence.
With war as the root cause of his patients’ suffering, Dr. Mukwege stepped into the global stage to call on the international community to help end the conflict. In September 2012, Dr. Mukwege addressed the United Nations and took the international community to task for inaction.
His courage has come with a cost: on October 25, 2012 an assassin entered his home and held him and his children at gunpoint. They survived, but not before the assassin murdered the family’s bodyguard. Fearing further danger, he fled his country with his family. His exile was short-lived. Wanting to continue to help women in Congo, he returned. On his arrival, crowds lined the streets to welcome him.
This year Dr. Mukwege was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, joining nominees including Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai and Lyudmila Alexeyeva. CNN lauded the nomination:
In a nation that has been ripped apart by war, the Panzi Hospital…provides a rare sanctuary for women who have been raped. Many travel hundreds of miles to have both their physical and psychological wounds healed by Mukwege.
Today, the Panzi Hospital continues to provide survivors of rape with psychological, medical, socio-economic, and legal support.