This year, the European Parliament has recognised the extraordinary efforts of one doctor responsible for saving thousands of rape victims in Democratic Republic of Congo. The annual Sakharov Prize is dedicated to those promoting human rights and democracy around the World.
Just as this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners put a spotlight local activism in Pakistan and India, Dr Mukwebe’s work demonstrates the power of local people to transform lives destroyed as a result of war. Global peace and human rights awards, traditionally the preserve of leading figures, are going to people who are at the front line, risking their lives every day.
Dr. Denis Mukwebe and his colleagues have been treating women targeted and raped by militia groups as a result of the on-going war, raging across many fault lines. In the DRC, sexual violence and gang rape is a weapon of war, women and children have been disproportionately affected as the country struggles to find security and peace. The atrocities committed by militia groups, fighting for control in provinces across the country, are targeted at those who do not have a strong national security service, resources, or arms to protect themselves.
Starting from out from a hospital made just out of tents, the local gynaecologist working the eastern city of Bukavu, Dr Mukwebe and his colleagues set up the Panzi hospital in 1999. Since then, they have gone on to treat more than 30,000 rape victims whose lives had been destroyed by war.
Led by Mukwebe, their work goes beyond hospital treatment – recognising the vulnerability of women to further attacks, they also offer training and legal support.
Providing survivors with their own tools to rebuild their lives, Dr. Mukwebe is empowering the people he works with to build a better future for their lives. Once again, the crucial importance of locally led peace is illustrated by those individuals making real and sustainable changes in peoples’ lives from the very communities they live in.