While the world focused on the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Denis Mukwege, who was widely considered a top contender along with Pakistani activist Malala, was selected to receive two prestigious honors this month in the United States: the Civil Courage Prize and the Human Rights First Award.
Dr. Mukwege is known for his work treating survivors of rape in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). But it is his role in publicly denouncing sexual violence as a weapon of war that has been gaining worldwide attention.
Gloria Steinem says of Dr. Mukwege, "It is no exaggeration to say that he is to the fight against sexualized violence what Nelson Mandela was to the fight against apartheid."
Dr. Mukwege founded Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC, in 1998, originally as a clinic for gynecological and obstetric care. Since its inception, however, Dr. Mukwege and his colleagues have treated about 40,000 women and girls victimized in brutal sexual attacks, often at the hands of soldiers and armed rebels. In addition to medical care, the center provides legal, social and psychological services.
Congo's eastern provinces have been plagued by conflict for more than two decades, and rape has become endemic. Dr. Mukwege says, "This will be the destruction of the Congolese people. If you destroy enough wombs, there will be no children. Then you come right in and take the minerals." Eastern DRC is particularly rich in coltan, an essential metallic ore used in mobile phones, laptops and other electronics.
In September 2012 Dr. Mukwege spoke publicly at the United Nations in New York of the need to prosecute the crime of rape as a tool of war and terror. The following month he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt at his home in Bukavu, which resulted in the shooting death of his bodyguard. Dr. Mukwege and his family were forced to flee to Europe. In January 2013, he returned to the DRC to continue his work.
Dr. Mukwege lives and works at Panzi Hospital, seeing twenty patients per day and performing surgery two days a week. The hospital employs 398 and has an annual budget of US $3.2 million. Patients who cannot afford care are treated without charge. Dr. Mukwege was recently awarded the Right Livelihood Award for healing women survivors of sexual violence and speaking up about its root causes.
John Train, the chairman of the Train Foundation, which administers the Civil Courage Prize, says, "When someone like Dr. Mukwege fights for justice and is censured for speaking out, it is incumbent upon the international community to stand by his side."
Barbara Becker is founder of EqualShot, where she develops campaigns on behalf of social justice institutions worldwide. The views expressed here are her own and may not reflect those of her clients, including the Train Foundation.