By Pierre Briand, AFP
KINSHASA — A gynecologist renowned for his work in treating thousands of rape victims, Denis Mukwege has begun a new crusade against widespread sexual violence in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Why were these crimes settled within six months in Bosnia and yet persist for 15 years in the DR Congo?” Mukwege asked this week in Kinshasa when he launched his awareness campaign. “The solution will come from taking charge of the causes of this violence.” Mukwege, who recently returned from exile in Europe, where he fled after an assassination attempt, runs the Panzi hospital in Bukavu, the capital of strife-torn South Kivu province. According to the surgeon, while the year 2011 saw a gradual decrease in violence against women, in 2012 and the first months of 2013, an average of 300 women a month arrived at his specialized unit. Mukwege describes rape as “a weapon of war” in the hands of the Congolese armed forces, rebels and the numerous militias fighting over local control and the rich natural resources in the east. Sexual violence is of “high concern” in a country that has been ravaged by conflict, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wrote last month in his annual report on the DR Congo, where the United Nations maintains a mission of more than 19,000 military, police and civilian personnel (MONUSCO). In the last two months of 2012, “MONUSCO recorded cases of sexual violence involving at least 333 women, including 70 girls, that were allegedly committed by armed groups and national security forces,” Ban said.
Last November, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that “medical and psychosocial assistance had been provided to 2,193 victims, including 770 children,” according to the report. Mukwege resumed his work at the Panzi hospital in January after an assassination bid in October last year, which led him to take refuge in Europe. Deeply moved, he said his patients had begun trying to raise money by selling vegetables at the market to pay for his return ticket. They then endeavored to provide security measures because — contrary to announcements made in the West and by local authorities and the U.N. — no special steps were taken. Mukwege now lives in the hospital with his family. “My patients took charge of me,” he said, shorn of any illusions that special security would be provided in a region wracked by violence for 20 years.