Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, called on world leaders meeting in New York this week to back an international fund to help female victims of sexual violence during armed conflict.
Mukwege has devoted the past 20 years to helping women raped by armed rebels, treating more than 55,000 women at the Panzi Hospital he set up in Bukavu in the east of war-torn Congo.
But despite winning a list of global accolades for his work, surviving an assassination attempt in 2012, and receiving daily threats, Mukwege said he had struggled for 10 years to generate enough interest to start a fund to recompense victims.
That changed, however, after he was named joint winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize with Yazidi activist Nadia Murad for their work to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war – and his ambition was finally coming to fruition, he said.
Mukwege said France, Germany and the European Union had pledged money for the fund, which will be officially launched on October 30, and he urged government and business leaders at the United Nations General Assembly this week to join them.
“Giving women reparations can help them resume their lives and are a way to rebuild the fabric of societies, families and communities,” Mukwege, 64, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview on a sidewalk cafe in New York on Monday.
“Without justice, you can’t build peace, and the example of Congo makes that very clear.”
Mukwege said talking to women raped during conflict he realised victims wanted different forms of recompense, just as they needed different sorts of treatment, ranging from medical and psychological to economic, social and legal.
Some wanted financial help to rebuild their lives or requested education for their children to secure them a better future, while others wanted an apology from the authorities who had failed to protect them or punish those responsible.
“In remote areas particularly, women said they were suffering from a loss of dignity and what they wanted most was an apology so they could then move on,” he said.
It was important to also ensure action was taken against those responsible for sexual violence, he added, and this had yet to happen, particularly in Congo where some of the offenders were in positions of power.
Democratic Republic of Congo was engulfed in war from 1996 to 2003, and several smaller conflicts still simmer.
“I believe you can’t build peace without justice,” said Mukwege, who lives with his wife in the Panzi Hospital which has round-the-clock security.
He said the fund would be administered by a board – yet to be appointed – which would listen to requests from victims and decide how best to allocate resources.
So far France has committed to give about 6 million euros ($6.6 million) to the fund over three years, Germany 400,000 euros over two years, and the European Union a one-off donation of 2 million euros.
Mukwege said it was heartening to see women were starting to speak out and the issue of sexual violence in war was getting the international spotlight.
In 2015, the United Nations proclaimed June 19 of each year to be International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict to raise awareness of the need to end such violence and to honour the victims and survivors globally.
“The number of women who are breaking their silence and coming to hospital is increasing every year,” Mukwege said.
– Thomson Reuters Foundation