A doctor who has spent 20 years treating women who have fallen victim to incidents of sexual violence has received his Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Denis Mukwege founded the Panzi Hospital in the Congolese city of Bukavu, where he directs a medical program catering exclusively to those injured as a result of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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He is an extraordinary man, who is widely understood to have treated some 50,000 rape victims. Commonly known as the “Miracle Doctor,” Mukwege is a humble figure who possesses a fierce and relentless drive to help those who have suffered at the hands of brutish cowards.
“We can’t stand idly by while people just destroy our humanity,” he told Sky News just prior to receiving his award. “Indifference creates consequences for you and for me. It is a kind of complicity. We have to stand up to it.”
His words are reminiscent of Nazi resistance leader and prominent German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Speaking of the rise in the brutal far-right ideology of the Nazis, Bonhoeffer said of his own fight for justice: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Dr. Mukwege, himself the son of a Pentecostal Church minister, is a man of strong faith as well. However, it was the perceived limitations of his overtly religious upbringing that sparked a sense of urgency within him. Prayer, he said, must be complemented with action.
“I started to follow my father, who was a pastor and I think something happened when he was taking care of a child who was sick, he just prayed but he didn’t give him medicine,” Mukwege recalled. “I discovered there are things that my father couldn’t do and I said to him I will be a medical doctor.”
After training as a pediatrician, Mukwege was shocked by the number of women coming through the doors of the hospital with horrific sexual assault injuries.
“I found women who came to me to seek treatment, had been raped with extreme violence and I could not be indifferent,” he explained. “I just took the responsibility to start to treat them. I didn’t really go to school to learn how to do it.”
Mukwege’s work schedule is overwhelming, as the rape victims continue to pour through the doors of the Panzi Hospital at all hours. But while the surgeon is determined to operate on as many people as possible, he insisted that the root cause of the rape epidemic is the ongoing civil conflict that has engulfed the Congo for decades.
“I just feel that to treat the consequences is not the solution,” he told Sky News. “We should treat the root causes and the root causes are war, the root causes are the minerals of Congo, the root causes are people who want to do business in Congo and don’t pay tax.”
But those comments have put the compassionate medic in grave danger. He has repeatedly criticized rebel group commanders, government politicians and army soldiers alike, and almost lost his life as a result. Now, after an assassination attempt in 2012, Mukwege requires 24-hour protection.
The co-winner of the prestigious peace prize was Nadia Murad, a member of Iraq’s Yazidi minority who was kidnapped and brutally raped by Islamic State militants. She has since become a leading advocate for women who have been subject to sexual assault in conflict situations.