Dr. Denis Mukwege
The Democratic Republic of Congo is the size of western Europe and has seen the largest conflict the planet has known since World War II. Since 1998, more than 5 million people have died, more than Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Most have died of malnutrition, starvation and disease. Millions more have been displaced. Worse, is the widespread use of sexual violence by all parties involved in the war. More than half a million women and children have been raped, sexually mutilated and left to die in an all encompassing strategy to impose fear and subservience in a weak and vulnerable population. Women are raped in front of their families and are thus sunned from their children, husbands and the wider community. Often women are physically wounded, suffering from vaginal mutilation which can include cutting, forced insertion of objects and gun shots. Women often can never bear children again. Victimized women frequently suffer from intense tearing that leads to fistula, a condition of incontinence which isolates women even further. It’s a disgusting chapter in human history and continues as I write this.
The war is largely fueled by the DRC’s vast trove of mineral resources which are in high demand among developed countries. Groups fight for control of minerals required for the manufacture of cell phones, computers and televisions. Wealthy countries are happy to purchase these resources from who ever is selling, and ask few questions as to where and how they were procured. Nonexistent governance and a powerless population create a perfect storm for groups which seek to grab market shares through violence. Everyone who owns a cell phone or a computer is at least somewhat complicit in what is happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo. To this end, bill HR 4128, a bill to “To improve transparency and reduce trade in conflict minerals” was introduced in Congress in 2009, but has yet to see a vote. Please go here and write to members of Congress to call for a vote on this bill.
Last night, the University of Michigan’s Raoul Wallenberg Award was presented to Dr. Denis Mukwege. Dr. Mukwege operates a women’s hospital in the city of Bukavu in eastern DRC. The Panzi Hospital treats women who have been subjected to sexual violence, offering psychological services, medical treatment, reconstructive surgery to repair the incredible physical damage and support services to help women transition back into society. They see approximately 3600 patients a year and he personally has performed more than 21,000 reconstructive surgeries over the past decade. In short, Mukwege is a human rights champion and a selfless advocate of women who have been subjected to sexual violence. Presently, he is in the United States attempting to raise awareness for the dire situation of women in the DRC.
People like Mukwege are not alone. Behind him is a small army of medical and women’s advocates in the DRC, who tirelessly and often at the expense of their own welfare and security work to make the troubled world they live in a better place. Every single one of them are deserving of this award.