Nobel Peace Laureate Denis Mukwege gives speech in Hiroshima, calling for support in stopping sexual violence in Congo

(by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer)

On October 6, Denis Mukwege, 64, an obstetrician-gynecologist who supports victims of sexual violence amidst armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo recently gave a lecture at Peace Memorial Hall in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Museum. Mukwege, who himself hails from the central African nation is a 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. In his speech, he pointed out the problem in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo, formerly Zaire) is linked directly with the looting of in-demand mineral resources used by many countries throughout the world. His clarion call: “I would like Japan and the international community to be interested in the problem as your own.”

It is said that to date, six million lives in Congo have been lost due to armed conflicts, which began in the 1990’s. Especially in recent years, both governmental and anti-government militia groups have repeatedly conducted a systematic rape in the eastern part of the country where Doctor Mukwege lives, controlling the residents through terror. Their land is rich in mineral resources essential in the making of smartphones.

Doctor Mukwege explained, “Women who are raped and their families, who often witness the atrocity, are all victims. They have no choice but to become internally displaced persons or to have been controlled. The community is strategically destroyed.” He stressed, “In addition to the Congolese government, international society is also responsible for not doing enough to punish perpetrators. We must fight against indifference.”

Referring to his meeting with A-bomb survivors and the Peace Memorial Museum tour on October 5, he said, “I will bring the message of ‘no more Hiroshimas’ home. Let’s act together for a world free of sexual violence and nuclear weapons.”

His lecture was organized by ANT-Hiroshima, Peace Boat (a non-governmental organization based in Tokyo), and the Association on Sexual Violence and Conflict in DR Congo (based in Tokyo). Approximately 300 in attendance listened to his speech.

Interview with Denis Mukwege

Education concerning “human rights of women” is the key

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

Denis Mukwege, a Congolese obstetrician-gynecologist, granted an exclusive interview to the Chugoku Shimbun on October 6 in Naka Ward, Hiroshima. We asked Doctor Mukwege about the current situation within the country—not completely unrelated to Hiroshima. The atomic bomb development project pursued by the United States in the 1940’s used uranium from the Belgian Congo for the Hiroshima bomb, and lately tantalum, a rare metal mined for its use in smartphones, is one of the funding sources for militia groups.

What do you do as a doctor?
Sine 1999, I have treated more than 50,000 rape victims at Panzi Hospital, the hospital I founded in eastern DR Congo. The condition of the victims varies. Some were even shot in their genitals after being raped. The victims range in age from six months old to eighty. I can tell which militia group assaulted the victim by looking at her wounds at the time of any operation I have to perform.

I understand you were the target of an assassination attempt, but continue acting and appealing without yielding to threats.
Twenty-three years ago on October 6, when the conflict broke out, rebels attacked our hospital, killing more than 30 patients and the hospital staff. And, in 2012 my home was attacked. The security guard was shot to death right in front of me. However, police did nothing to investigate the case. I fled from the country after the incident, but returned home in response to strong requests by victimized women.

What is happening in DR Congo is so cruel. Is there sexual violence in other parts of the world?
My study on the situation of other areas of conflict shows that rape is widespread in many parts of the world. For example, in Columbia in South America, it is the battle of rights and interests over cocaine. This is not a problem only for DR Congo. Besides, sexual assault exists within society even during times of peace. I believe Japan is no exception. Suffering victims are forced to be silent while assailants escape punishment. When war breaks out under such conditions, legal systems are paralyzed and rape becomes rampant.

So, this is also the issue of securing human rights of women.
It is male-dominated society that tolerates rape. Education is very important. We have to teach that “men and women are equal” all over the world. A sense of value that humanity must be equally guaranteed for men and women needs to be nurtured through education.


Denis Mukwege
Denis Mukwege was born in 1955 in Bukavu, in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He studied medicine at a university in Burundi, a neighboring county, and in 1999, founded Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. In 2008, he received the United Nations Human Rights Prize, and in 2018, he won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Nadia Murad, an Iraqi woman captured by the militant “Islamic State” (IS) and held as a sex slave. Ms. Murad later managed to escape, and is now working to eradicate sexual violence.

(Originally published on October 7, 2019)