Panzi Hospital’s inspirational founder and medical director, Dr. Denis Mukwege, has been nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, with the results to be announced tomorrow, October 11 in Oslo.
Dr. Mukwege has been a leading advocate for women’s rights in eastern Congo for decades, and has provided treatment to over 30,000 Congolese women who have been raped or attacked.
As a result of his outspoken stand on women’s rights, Dr. Mukwege was the target of an assassination attempt in late 2012. He has bravely stayed in eastern Congo despite the attack, determined to fulfill his mission to support vulnerable women. ECI is delighted that Dr. Mukwege and Panzi have been recognized for their incredible work supporting the victims of sexual violence in DRC.
Created in 1998, the Bukavu-based Panzi Hospital has become known worldwide for its treatment of victims of gender-based violence. Dr. Mukwege oversaw the development of the Panzi Foundation in 2008, with legal clinics in the rural territories of Kabare and Kalehe, South Kivu province. Panzi’s team of paralegals and lawyers provide legal services to victims of sexual and gender-based violence free of charge, helping to prosecute their attackers and to challenge the culture of impunity surrounding sexual violence in the DRC.
ECI has partnered with Dr. Mukwege and Panzi Foundation since 2011, supporting the establishment of these rural legal clinics, training for community leaders as paralegals, and the establishment of a ‘safe house’ in Bukavu for victims of sexual violence who need a place to stay while the case against their attacker is being heard in court.
Under traditional justice mechanisms in the DRC, sexual violence is considered as a crime against the family of the victim and not just the individual woman. Justice for rape is traditionally served by the gift of a goat to the family of the victim. These traditional justice mechanisms remain pervasive in rural areas of eastern Congo. Panzi Foundation works with local communities to challenge these norms and promote formal justice mechanisms, raising public awareness of women’s rights through regular radio broadcasts and community forum events.
A United Nations report released in July 2013 raise concern over an alarming rise in cases of sexual and gender-based violence in eastern Congo. 705 attacks were recorded between the months of January and July in the province of North Kivu alone, with a great many other cases going unrecorded. The perpetrators seldom face punishment or legal justice as a consequence of their crimes, and the women are stigmatized and left highly vulnerable in the wake of the attack.
You can read more about the incredible work of Dr. Denis Mukwege, Panzi Hospital and the Panzi Foundation here.