The Sakharov Prize is intended to honour exceptional individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression. Dr Denis Mukwege was rewarded by the Sakharov prize at the European Parliament last week. This Congolese doctor has devoted his life to fix women in his country. Women who are regularly widly raped, attacked publicly by armed men who want to destroy communities. Dr Denis Mukwege stood up and brought the world’s lights on a human tragedy.
Previous winners include Nelson Mandela; Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general; and Malala Yousafzai, one of the recipients of this year’s Nobel Prize, for which Dr Mukwege was a front-runner. The Sakharov Prize has a double aim: to support the cause of the winner by giving him or her money, but also get the public attention on a particular issue. It is always difficult to talk about exactions in some parts of Africa. Especially when women are concerned. After all, mass rape are today considered as a weapon of war.
It all started in Rwanda in the mid 90’s. Genocide was not enough, the « soldiers » started to attack women savagely, in front of the rest of the village. Raped, humiliated, deeply wounded, physically and emotionnaly, the community is destroyed, the villagers are scattered. By attacking the key point of the community, their pillars, the warriors are making sure that whole families and communities are over. Rape as a weapon of war has become a real strategy with long term consequences.
Dr Denis Mukwege, as gynecological surgeon, became specialised in fixing women, when they could actually make it to the hospital. He has been working for years and became an expert in this field. The Sakharov Prize has aknowledeged that fact, with Nelson Mandela or Malala before him, Dr Denis Mukwege is fighting for human rights.
And like any battle, the freedom fighters are taking risks, big risks. Like Malala who was almost killed by angry Talibans, Dr Mukwege did not make only friends in his campaign to defend women. He was also almost killed by the warriors who can’t stand that a doctor could stand in their way. He escaped from death, had to hide away for two years but then came back to his beloved country. The courage that he showed is probably what partly helped him to win the Sakharov Prize.
The expertise recognised through that prize is a big step for the Doctor’s activities. More than the funding that he got with the prize, it is likely that his cause will be supported by different NGO’s or fundations worldwide. Even the corrupted government will have to help defending its own people more efficiently, as the whole world is now watching. Dr Mukwege has done more for Congo than any of the politicians in the past decades. His convictions and fight for women’s rights, for human rights, is probably merely a drop in the ocean of problems the country has to face. But this is a major drop because Dr Mukwege understood the key part that women are playing in the Congolese society, and why there are especially targeted.