Dr Denis Mukwege

Labour Party

MukDenis Mukwege, an amazing doctor who campaigns against rape and sexual violence addressed the European Parliament yesterday.

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.

 

 

Women of Cairo take to the streets

Labour Party

Thousands of women took to the streets in Cairo yesterday to protest their treatment at the hands of the security forces.

The protests were in part a reaction to horrific images of a woman being beaten and stripped during clashes in Tahrir Square.  There have also been reports of virginity tests being given to female protestors who have been detained in the last few months, as well as sexual harassment and intimidation.

This is at a time when as many as 13 protestors have been killed in clashes with the armed forces.

It is very sad that the promise that was given earlier this year for a free and democratic Egypt is now under threat from a military that don’t seem to understand the feelings of the Egyptian people.  From the footage of yesterday’s march it seems that women from all walks of life were involved, and they were accompanied by a large contingent of men.

The events in Egypt recently are very sad but the sight of women who refuse to be cowed by the oppressive methods used by the military is very heartening.  During the Arab Spring it was always interesting to see the involvement of women in the uprisings, with some of the most prominent figures being female.

In fact, one of the recent recipients of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize was an Egyptian woman, Asmaa Mahfouz, who helped organise protests earlier this year.

Hilary Clinton spoke on this issue recently during a lecture to Georgetown University. She said:

“This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonours the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform and is not worthy of a great people”.

I couldn’t agree more.  The only way the dream of freedom and democracy will be fully realised anywhere in the world is with men and women standing side by side as equals.  This is something that the protestors yesterday clearly understood and I can only hope that the current military regime will listen.

Russian Human Rights Group Memorial wins Sakharov Prize

Labour Party

Sarkarov PrizeCongratulations to Oleg Orlov, Sergei Kovalev and Lyudmila Alexeyeva from the Russian civil rights defence organisation “Memorial”, this year’s winner of the Sakharov Prize.

Presented every year by the European Parliament, the Sakharov Prize is awarded for freedom of thought. The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named in honour of the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, has been awarded by the European Parliament every year since 1988 to individuals or organisations who have made an important contribution to the fight for human rights or democracy.  This year’s award coincides with the 20th anniversary of Andrei Sakharov’s death.

“Memorial” have been honoured for their contribution towards ending the circle of fear and violence surrounding human rights campaigners in the Russian Federation.

 The organisation’s three representatives are:

Oleg OrlovOleg Orlov, the current chair of Memorial. On 6 October 2009 Oleg Orlov was fined and ordered to retract public statements following a defamation lawsuit brought against him by the President of the Republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. Orlov had accused Kadyrov of being behind the murder of Chechen rights activist Natalya Estemirova. On 23 November 2007 Orlov himself was abducted in Ingushetia, together with three journalists, before being beaten, threatened with execution and released.

Sergei Kovalev Sergei Kovalev, who founded the first Soviet human rights association in 1969, the Initiative Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR, and became one of the initiators of Memorial. Kovalev has been an outspoken critic of authoritarian tendencies in the administrations of Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. In 1996 he resigned in protest as head of Yeltsin’s presidential human rights commission. In 2002 he organized a public commission to investigate the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings, which was effectively paralyzed after the persecution and assassination of its members.

Lyudmila Mikhailovna Alexeyeva Lyudmila Mikhailovna Alexeyeva, who, together with Andrei Sakharov and others, founded the Moscow Helsinki Group to monitor Soviet compliance with the Helsinki Final Act in 1976. Since the 1960s Alexeyeva had been campaigning for fair trials of arrested dissidents and objective coverage in the media. She was excluded from the Communist Party and deprived of her job as editor of a scientific magazine. Alexeyeva co-chaired, with Garry Kasparov and Georgy Satarov, the All-Russian Civic Congress which Alexeyeva and Satarov left due to disagreement with Kasparov in January 2008. She has been critical of the Kremlin’s human rights record and has accused the government of encouraging extremists with its nationalistic policies, such as the mass deportations of Georgians in 2006 and police raids against foreigners working in street markets, as well as Russian conduct in Ingushetia.