Last year the Congolese gynecologist Dr. Denis Mukwege was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several years in a row, frequently hailed among the favorites. Tomorrow the winner of the prize for 2015 will be announced. We think it is high time that the focus is directed towards Mukwege and his co-nominees Mama Jeanne and Mama Jeanette for their outstanding services to survivors of sexual violence, and their efforts to bring those responsible to justice.
Dr. Mukwege is part of a global campaign to advocate for and protect individuals working on the front lines helping survivors of mass atrocities and prosecuting perpetrators of these mass crimes. He is a steadfast advocate against sexual violence as a weapon of war, and is on the advisory committee for the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict.
Since 1999, Dr. Mukwege has been running the Panzi hospital in eastern DRC, where he has treated thousands of victims of the bestial violence that the war in the Congo has brought upon civilian populations. Dr. Mukwege has been bold in calling out those responsible, including the Congolese government and the militias operating in eastern DRC, and has openly called for those responsible to be brought to justice. He has taken great personal risk by doing so, and in October 2013 he had to flee the country after having survived an assassination attempt in his home. However, he soon returned to the DRC to resume his work at the hospital. Earlier this fall The Democratic Republic of Congo banned a film by the Belgian filmmaker Thierry Michel on the work of Dr. Denis Mukwege, “The Man Who Mends Women”. According to Mukwege himself the ban “demonstrates the wish of the government to deny the Congolese people the right of access to information, in order to better manipulate and control”.
Why would a Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. Mukwege be a good prize? Dr. Mukwege is more than just a doctor working on medical issues, he is someone who pushes for holistic assistance to victims of violence, who has taken the initiative to start a research center to address the causes of sexual violence to inform policy, and who dares to speak up against authorities in his own country even when it could potentially put him in great risk of attacks. By awarding a Nobel Prize to local individuals and organizations that have displayed the courage and persistence to continue doing good work and on-the-ground actions despite the hardships and risks involved, the Nobel committee has a golden opportunity to reward those who focus on women in conflict, and to strengthen the visibility of sexual violence – whether committed against women or men – as a global problem.
As Dr. Mukwege himself puts it: “If the prize can lead to a change for Congolese women, I am happy. But the prize is not worth anything if it does not lead to a change”. We believe that a Peace Prize to Denis Mukwege can indeed make a difference.