2018 Nobel Peace Prize Dr. Denis Mukwege’s Speech in Oslo

Dr. Denis Mukwege of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC shared the Nobel Peace Prize of 2018 with Nadia Murad of Iraq. Photo from WHO

Dr. Denis Mukwege spoke on December 10, 2018 in Oslo, Norway on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. What follows is an edited version of his speech.

“In the tragic night of 6 October 1996, rebels attacked our hospital in Lemera, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (RDC). More than thirty people were killed. Patients were slaughtered in their beds point blank. Unable to flee, the staff were killed in cold blood.

I could not have imagined that it was only the beginning.

Forced to leave Lemera in 1999, we set up the Panzi hospital in Bukavu where I still work as an obstetrician-gynaecologist today.
The first patient admitted was a rape victim who had been shot in her genitals.

The macabre violence knew no limit.

Sadly, this violence has never stopped.

One day like any other, the hospital received a phone call.

At the other end of the line, a colleague in tears implored: “Please send us an ambulance fast. Please hurry”
So we sent an ambulance, as we normally do.
Two hours later, the ambulance returned.

Inside was a little girl about eighteen months old. She was bleeding profusely and was immediately taken to the operating room.
When I arrived, all the nurses were sobbing. The baby’s bladder, genitals and rectum were severely injured.

By the penetration of an adult.

Rape survivors learn practical skills while recovering at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in eastern Congo in 2009. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

We prayed in silence: my God, tell us what we are seeing isn’t true.
Tell us it’s a bad dream.
Tell us when we wake up, everything will be alright.

But it was not a bad dream.
It was the reality.
It has become our new reality in the DRC.

When another baby arrived, I realized that the problem could not be solved in the operating room, but that we had to combat the root causes of these atrocities.

I decided to travel to the village of Kavumu to talk to the men: why don’t you protect your babies, your daughters, your wives? And where are the authorities?

To my surprise, the villagers knew the suspect. Everyone was afraid of him, since he was a member of the provincial Parliament and enjoyed absolute power over the population.

For several months, his militia has been terrorising the whole village. It had instilled fear by killing a human rights defender who had had the courage to report the facts. The deputy got away with no consequences. His parliamentary immunity enabled him to abuse with impunity.

The two babies were followed by several dozens of other raped children.

When the forty-eighth victim arrived, we were desperate.

With other human rights defenders, we went to a military court. At last, the rapes were prosecuted and judged as crimes against humanity.

The rapes of babies in Kavumu stopped.
And so did the calls to Panzi hospital.
But these babies’ psychological, sexual and reproductive health is severely impaired.

What happened in Kavumu and what is still going on in many other places in Congo, such as the rapes and massacres in Béni and Kasaï, was made possible by the absence of the rule of law, the collapse of traditional values and the reign of impunity, particularly for those in power.

Rape, massacres, torture, widespread insecurity and a flagrant lack of education create a spiral of unprecedented violence.
The human cost of this perverted, organized chaos has been hundreds of thousands of women raped, over 4 million people displaced within the country and the loss of 6 million human lives. Imagine, the equivalent of the entire population of Denmark decimated.

United Nations peacekeepers and experts have not been spared, either. Several of them have been killed on duty. Today, the United Nations Mission is still in the DRC to prevent the situation from degenerating further.

We are grateful to them.

However, despite their efforts, this human tragedy will continue if those responsible are not prosecuted. Only the fight against impunity can break the spiral of violence.

We all have the power to change the course of history when the beliefs we are fighting for are right………..

My name is Denis Mukwege. I come from one of the richest countries on the planet. Yet the people of my country are among the poorest of the world.

The troubling reality is that the abundance of our natural resources – gold, coltan, cobalt and other strategic minerals – is the root cause of war, extreme violence and abject poverty.

We love nice cars, jewellery and gadgets. I have a smartphone myself. These items contain minerals found in our country. Often mined in inhuman conditions by young children, victims of intimidation and sexual violence.

When you drive your electric car; when you use your smart phone or admire your jewellery, take a minute to reflect on the human cost of manufacturing these objects.

As consumers, let us at least insist that these products are manufactured with respect for human dignity.

Turning a blind eye to this tragedy is being complicit.
It’s not just perpetrators of violence who are responsible for their crimes, it is also those who choose to look the other way.

My country is being systematically looted with the complicity of people claiming to be our leaders. Looted for their power, their wealth and their glory. Looted at the expense of millions of innocent men, women and children abandoned in extreme poverty. While the profits from our minerals end up in the pockets of a predatory oligarchy.

For twenty years now, day after day, at Panzi hospital, I have seen the harrowing consequences of the country’s gross mismanagement.
Babies, girls, young women, mothers, grandmothers, and also men and boys, cruelly raped, often publicly and collectively, by inserting
burning plastic or sharp objects in their genitals.
I’ll spare you the details.

The Netflix documentary “City of Joy” tells the story of Dr. Mukwege and Panzi Hospital.

The Congolese people have been humiliated, abused and massacred for more than two decades in plain sight of the international community.
Today, with access to the most powerful communication technology ever, no one can say: “I didn’t know”………………..

With this Nobel Peace Prize, I call on the world to be a witness and I urge you to join us in order to put an end to this suffering that shames our common humanity.

The people of my country desperately need peace…………………

Finally, after twenty years of bloodshed, rape and massive population displacements, the Congolese people are desperately awaiting implementation of the responsibility to protect the civilian population when their government cannot or does not want to do so. The people are waiting to explore the path to a lasting peace.

To achieve peace, there has to be adherence to the principle of free, transparent, credible and peaceful elections.
“People of the Congo, let us get to work!” Let’s build a State at the heart of Africa where the government serves its people. A State under the rule of law, capable of bringing lasting and harmonious development not just of the DRC but of the whole of Africa, where all political, economic and social actions will be based on a people-centred approach to restore human dignity of all citizens.

Your Majesties, Distinguished Members of the Nobel Committee, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends of peace,

The challenge is clear. It is within our reach.

For all Sarahs, for all women, for all men and children of Congo, I call upon you not only to award this Nobel Peace Prize to my country’s people, but to stand up and together say loudly: “The violence in the DRC, it’s enough! Enough is enough! Peace, now!”
Thank you.”

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