Dr. Denis Mukwege, co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, is a world-renowned gynecological surgeon who is the founder and medical director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He founded the hospital in 1999 as a clinic for gynecological and obstetric care, and he expected to be working on issues of maternal health. Since 1999, however, Dr. Mukwege and his staff have helped to care for more than 30,000 survivors of sexual violence. The hospital not only treats survivors with physical wounds, but also provides legal, and psycho-social services to its patients.
Dr. Mukwege has been fearless in his efforts to increase protections for women and to advocate that those responsible for sexual violence be brought to justice, including the Congolese government and militia groups laying siege to eastern DRC. When dozens of little girls were raped in the village of Kavumu over a three-year period beginning in 2013, PHR worked side-by-side with Dr. Mukwege and clinicians at Panzi hospital to document the injuries of survivors and ensure that evidence was properly collected. That evidence was a critical element of a landmark ruling in 2017, in which a powerful regional lawmaker and 10 members of his militia were sent to prison for life for crimes against humanity by rape and murder.
In awarding the Peace Prize to Dr. Mukwege and co-laureate Nadia Murad, a Yazidi activist and survivor of sexual violence, the Norwegian Nobel Committe praised the recipients “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict…. Both laureates have made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and combating, war crimes. Denis Mukwege is the helper who has devoted his life to defending these victims.”
Dr. Mukwege’s work and advocacy have made him a target. In October 2012, he was violently attacked and his family was held at gunpoint at his home in an assassination attempt. Joseph Bizimana, his trusted friend and security guard, was killed. The attack came several weeks after Dr. Mukwege denounced the country’s 16-year-long conflict and called for those responsible to be brought to justice during a speech at the United Nations.
After this attack, Dr. Mukwege and his family fled the country, but his many Congolese patients and colleagues urged him to resume his life-saving work at Panzi Hospital. He returned to the hospital in January 2013 and was celebrated by crowds of people ecstatic to have him home. During this difficult period, PHR worked in close coordination with Dr. Mukwege and other colleagues who felt at risk in DRC to mobilize a global campaign to advocate for, and protect, individuals working on the front lines helping survivors of mass atrocities and prosecuting perpetrators of these mass crimes.
“Like any human being, my dearest wish would be to not have to talk about these heinous crimes, of which my people are victims, anymore. But how can one stay silent when, for over 15 years, I have seen things that even a surgeon cannot get used to seeing?”
Dr. Denis Mukwege
Dr. Mukwege has been PHR’s close colleague for more than a decade, and he and his staff at Panzi Hospital have partnered with PHR’s Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones since 2011. Our partnership works to help strengthen the capacity of local doctors, nurses, police, lawyers, and judges to improve evidence of sexual violence in order to support prosecutions of these crimes. Together with Panzi clinicians, we have been training and mentoring doctors and nurses at Panzi Hospital, as well as at other clinics in South Kivu, to more effectively document and preserve court-admissible evidence and to improve medical care and treatment for survivors. Dr. Mukwege’s leadership and willingness to pilot the training of documentation techniques at Panzi Hospital have been invaluable for developing this initiative in eastern DRC.
PHR’s deep partnership with Dr. Mukwege and his staff at Panzi Hospital has been instrumental to the success of the emerging local networks of collaboration among the health and legal communities to fight to end impunity for sexual violence and to support meaningful access to justice for survivors of these crimes.
Dr. Mukwege is also on the advisory committee for the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict. He has been the recipient of numerous awards worldwide for his advocacy against sexual violence as a weapon of war and for his outstanding services to survivors of rape. Dr. Mukwege was the laureate of the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2014. PHR also honored him at our gala in New York in April 2015.
Learn More About Dr. Mukwege and Panzi Hospital
Blog Posts and Op-Eds:
Changing the Narrative on Sexual Violence in the DRC
Recognizing Dr. Denis Mukwege and His Inspirational Fight against Sexual Violence
Why You Should Join This International Campaign
A Congolese Hero is Welcome Home
Standing in Solidarity with Medical Colleagues and the People of South Kivu
Standing With Our Courageous and Visionary Colleagues in the DRC
International Campaign to Stop Rape in Conflict Holds DRC Launch
Bending the Arc of the Moral Universe toward Justice: Prosecuting Mass Rape in the DRC
PHR Press Releases:
PHR Congratulates Dr. Denis Mukwege and Ms. Nadia Murad on Nobel Peace Prize
Dr. Mukwege’s Return to DRC Offers Opportunity to Support Courageous Champion of Human Rights
Dr. Mukwege’s Planned Return to DRC Shows Extraordinary Courage and Commitment
PHR Urges DRC Government to Protect Hospital Director after Violent Attack
Banning of Film in DRC Represents Attempt to Silence Survivors of Sexual Violence
PHR Endorses Statement of International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict on the Attack Against Dr. Denis Mukwege