Nobel Peace Prize 2018, gynecologist Denis Mukwege is known around the world as the man who repairs women victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). For the past month, his Panzi hospital, in the city of Bukavu, in the province of South Kivu, in the east of the country, has been under protection. After denouncing yet another massacre in Kipupu in July, the die-hard human rights activist and Christian preacher faces death threats once again.
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In October, the Human Rights Council in Geneva extended the mandate of the group of international experts on the situation in Kasai by one year. A few weeks earlier, the European Parliament invited the member states of the United Nations Security Council to request the establishment of an international criminal court in the DRC. Interview.
For a month, you have been under protection, as has your hospital in Panzi, in the province of South Kivu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). What is the reason?
My denunciation of the massacre committed in Kipupu last July was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Calls for violence have been made against me. My family and I have lived through a time of bullying and insults. It had become very difficult to continue to treat the sick under these conditions. These death threats are not empty words. Some of my relatives have already been murdered in the past. For three weeks now, the Panzi hospital, where I have lived since 2013, has been under the protection of United Nations agents. Thanks to national and international mobilization in particular. I am protected, as well as the sick and the nursing staff.
In denouncing the Kipupu massacre, you are not on your first try.
We are experiencing atrocities. War crimes, crimes against humanity, have been committed in eastern DRC for almost a quarter of a century. Sadly, there is a deafening indifference to the situation in this part of the world, where women’s bodies are used as a battleground. In Panzi, we have already treated more than 50,000 female people, ranging from babies to the elderly. They are subjected to extremely violent rape and mutilation, and their genitals are even burned. We denounced this situation twenty years ago, but have never found a solution that allows the local population to live in peace.
You keep calling for international justice in the face of the crimes committed in the DRC. Are you heard?
The response from the international community is timid. Even if the call from the European Parliament launched a few days ago to the member states of the United Nations Security Council for the creation of an international criminal court in the DRC is encouraging.
We ask that other countries follow suit, that the Church play her prophetic role and make the world aware of this suffering, that she be our spokesperson, the voice of the voiceless so that finally a tribunal is installed, allowing the population of the east of the country to live in peace. For without justice there can be no peace.
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For more than twenty years, we have had the largest UN force deployed in several conflict zones. And yet the crimes continue, women are still raped. We are talking about millions of dead and hundreds of thousands of raped women. We are therefore in a major humanitarian crisis. The world must be able to demand that the sponsors and perpetrators of these crimes, criminals some of whom are still in uniform, can answer for their acts before the competent courts.
Do you think that Switzerland, which denounced the threats against you before the Human Rights Council, could play a role in this emergence of justice for the DRC?
Switzerland is known for its neutrality. Neutrality does not mean indifference, but the absence of bias. To be neutral is to speak the truth and nothing but the truth. We need such a voice. Today we are waiting for countries like Switzerland to stand up and say that these atrocities cannot be tolerated.
What are the major obstacles preventing the international community from moving?
The DRC is a country very rich in natural resources. The technological development of the 21st century will not be possible without the DRC. Today, it is impossible to talk about electric cars or electronic equipment without mentioning the cobalt, coltan or even lithium produced in the DRC.
However, we observe activities of looting of these natural resources. And those who sponsor them have powerful backers outside the country, which stifle voices trying to stand up for peace, as the looting takes place in utter chaos. And without this chaos, looting is not possible. The big obstacle today comes from those who profit from this war, who buy these minerals from the armed gangs.
What is the solution?
We want to call for awareness: when you own a smartphone, drive an electric car, think of the millions of people killed and women raped in the DRC. It’s not about getting rid of these things because we need them, it’s about reporting. We can extract these minerals without killing, raping or exploiting children. These ores may be clean, but today they are stained with Congolese blood.
Isn’t there solidarity between African states?
Several presidents on the continent claim to be Pan-Africanism. But what is Pan-Africanism if we allow certain states to invade others and participate in the dismemberment of the DRC? We need this African solidarity. Africa will not be built by violence, looting and conspiracies between Africans, but in unity, and the pooling of our know-how, to use our natural resources and put an end to exports raw materials, before they are partially processed on site.
This would prevent our children from continuing to die in the Mediterranean Sea trying to track these minerals, perishing on their journey to the promised lands. I think it is still possible to keep our brains, to create wealth in Africa, so that our youth do not continue to wander in deserts and die in seas.
Ten years ago, the UN “Mapping” report came out which pinpoints violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed in the DRC between 1993 and 2003. How can you explain that nothing is moving, what you denounce? ‘elsewhere?
This report shames the UN. To produce such a report and put it in a drawer, under the threat of the States responsible for the crimes, is a weakness. It has to be put on the table, the credibility of the UN is at stake. To turn a blind eye to war crimes, crimes against humanity, is to accept that they are repeated. But after 1945, the world had said “never again”. The greatest shame is still trying to hide the truth. If we had taken the measure of this in 2010, when it was published, the Congolese would not have had to endure another decade of violence.
What are you asking for today?
The “Mapping” report is a tool for creating justice. It lists 617 war crimes and crimes against humanity and proposes to create courts to deal with them. When we analyze it, we see that they cannot be purely national: far too many foreigners have participated in these crimes. It is also noted that an international body such as the International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction over crimes committed before 2002, when it was created.
It is necessary to put in place different mechanisms allowing the truth to be told, in order to create a memory so that these crimes do not happen again. We also need mechanisms that allow reparations for the victims, and the entry into a phase of reconciliation in the DRC, but also with neighboring countries. There is no point in living with daggers drawn for generations.
You’re a Christian, Pentecostal Protestant. Do you make a connection between your faith and your activism for human rights?
I can’t say that what I’m doing isn’t inspired by my faith. I am a Christian, therefore a disciple of Jesus Christ. Jesus came for the excluded, the crippled, the blind, the lepers. And I believe that today we close our eyes when we have a lot of lepers, cripples and excluded in our society. When I speak in churches, I make them aware that if they are there for successful people and they do not see what is happening in society, especially for the poorest, the most vulnerable , rejected people, they have lost their great mission, their prophetic role. The Church must not only bear its name and forget its mission.
So I am inspired by my faith, but also by humanism. If God has given me talents, it is so that they can be useful to others. I believe that my faith helps me to see others as my own and to be a human rights activist.
The DRC is currently ruled by President Félix Tshisekedi, who is not involved in the country’s wars, what do you expect?
The President of the Republic of the DRC does not have dirty hands. He was not involved in the crimes mentioned. I believe that today he has a unique chance to make a difference. It would be unfortunate if he missed this opportunity, as a Congolese, to lift the Congolese people out of subjugation. Women are enslaved in this country today. On my way to Kinshasa, where we are setting up a clinic for victims of sexual violence, I saw children under the age of 10 prostituting themselves, and people were closing their eyes. There is no worse enslavement. If he misses this opportunity to free the Congolese from this incredible suffering that has lasted for a quarter of a century, to put an end to these crimes, he will have missed his prophetic mission.