Tears came to many of our eyes as Dr Mukwege told us what he had witnessed and as we heard about his incredible commitment to the women and girls in his native Democratic Republic of Congo. He is a truly worthy winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Throughout his life, Dr Mukwege has dedicated himself to caring for women who have suffered rape as a weapon of war, and now campaigns tirelessly to ensure the voices of those affected by these crimes are heard.
Initially studying medicine, Denis decided to specialise as a gynaecologist, having seen how the care offered to poor Congolese women post-birth was virtually non-existent. He is now the world’s leading expert on repairing the internal physical damage caused by rape, especially gang rape, and has treated more than 40,000 women since 1999, earning him the enmity of the militia groups which fight for control of the DRC’s mineral rich areas. Even after his children were taken hostage and he was forced to leave the DRC, Dr Mukwege decided to return in order to help the victims, once more putting his life at risk.
Denis’ life has been a testament to courage in defending women. The appalling horror he has seen should wake us up to the brutal realities of war in so many places. Rape and sexual violence, not only against women but also against men and children, is still used as a tactic of war, designed to humiliate communities, spread sexual diseases, and have a lasting impact on the psychology and the demographics of a society. Dr Mukwege himself has stated that the international community has seen fit to treat biological, chemical and nuclear weapons as unacceptable, and it should do the same with the weapon of rape.
Talking about receiving his award, Denis said that he felt the European Parliament really understood the problems women in the DRC face with rape. It is now up to us to ensure that we make this a key issue in any lasting conflict resolution.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought has previously been awarded to Malala Yousafzai, Kofi Annan and Reporters Without Borders. Dr Denis Mukwege certainly fits that noble tradition.