By Charlotte King
With the current international focus on the #MeToo movement, it comes as no surprise that the two winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize were awarded based on their efforts to aid victims of sexual assault.
Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarding the prize, stated that the aim of the 2018 award was to “highlight the awareness of sexual violence” and prompt the international community to “take responsibility” for preventing sexual violence.
Dr Denis Mukwege, one of the joint winners, has caused a stir for saying that the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) should stand down.
Mukwege is known as “Doctor Miracle” because he has dedicated his life to providing constructive surgery to women who have been sexually assaulted, treating over 50,000 survivors. He set up the Panzi Hospital in the DRC around 20 years ago, and cares for more than 3,500 people every year.
In 2012, Mukwege criticised the president, Joseph Kabila, and his government for not doing enough to stop “an unjust war that uses violence against women and rape as a strategy of war”. In the eastern Congo, brutal conflict has been waging for over two decades, and, in 2010, the UN announced that the DRC was the “rape capital of the world”.
Mukwege says, “the Congolese people live with unheard of violence”, and the president should be held responsible; “this government does not protect women”. For example, in 2012, hundreds of women and children were raped in the eastern town of Minova, and in 2013, a member of Kabila’s parliament led a group of militias to rape children because believed it would “protect them from their enemies”.
Mukwege is calling on the government to stand down before this December’s election for failing to protect its women and children from conflict and sexual violence. He says the government is “illegal and illegitimate”, and that December’s polls will be “a parody of an election”. He further added that they “do not seem credible or transparent”.
Kabila refused to leave office two years ago when his mandate ended and has forbidden his strongest competitor from running against him in elections. According to Dr Mukwege, the upcoming elections will be neither free nor fair, and that provides the DRC with no foundation for a solid democracy.
Despite Mukwege’s dissatisfaction with the Congolese government however, Kabila’s representative stated, “we are proud that the fight and initiatives led by the [DRC] through Dr Mukwege, for the reestablishment of dignity and the respect of women, is finally recognised internationally”. But, Mukwege is adamant he has clashed with the government when trying to politicise his work.
He states that “we have been able to draw a line against chemical weapons, biological weapons and nuclear arms”, but have not addressed preventing this “cheap and efficient” form of terror that leaves its victims with a “life sentence”.
He sees his work as extremely important from “a humanitarian standpoint” and believes that this prestigious award will allow him to “change the situation of victims in conflict zones”.
Hence, Mukwege is calling on the government to stand down and for free and fair elections to follow, believing it will allow this “drastic situation” to be better dealt with.