For Immediate Release
PHR notes that today’s jubilant return by Dr. Denis Mukwege to the Democratic Republic of the Congo nearly 12 weeks after an assassination attempt at his home in Bukavu has given Congolese leaders and citizens the opportunity to show their support for this courageous and beloved advocate for victims of sexual violence.
Thousands of people, many wearing T-shirts of welcome, were on hand to greet Dr. Mukwege at the airport, where he arrived, accompanied by several Belgian physicians and PHR’s DRC coordinator, to an emotional outpouring of support.
“In my life, I have started to dream again,” Dr. Mukwege said in a subsequent phone call with PHR. “When the population stands up to say they support what we do, it is so positive. I was crying. It was beautiful. I have hope.”
“The tremendous welcome Dr. Mukwege received today in Bukavu is a clear sign of the admiration, respect, and love so many Congolese have for this champion of women’s rights and peace in his country,” said Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of PHR. “As a distinguished doctor, he’s put himself in harm’s way to stand up for these women and ensure that they receive not just medical care, but justice.”
Dr. Mukwege and his family initially flew to Europe following the assault on their home, which claimed the life of their household guard who had intervened to defend the doctor from attack. They later flew on to Belgium and then spent six weeks in the US, where PHR helped to facilitate visits by Dr. Mukwege to the White House; with Senator John Kerry, the presumptive next secretary of state; with former President Clinton at the Clinton Foundation in New York City; and with diplomats from the US, UN, and other countries in New York and Washington.
At a press conference in Bujumbura, Burundi, today organized by PHR before he flew to the DRC, Dr. Mukwege thanked all those who had helped him and his family safely leave the DRC and travel to Europe. But he noted how touched he has been by the pleas from Congolese women begging him to return to resume his work at Panzi Hospital, where as founder and medical director he has helped treat more than 30,000 women and girls, including thousands of survivors of rape and other sexual violence.
“These women for a long time have been mistreated and raped, their rights have been violated, but they have remained courageous,” Dr. Mukwege observed. “Thus, I am comfortable staying at their side to help heal them, no matter what the consequences.”
Hospitals in the DRC are not sanctuaries during armed conflict, said Dr. Mukwege, pointing out that more than 30 patients, physicians, and other medical personnel at Panzi Hospital have been killed in the past 16 years. He called on the Congolese government to provide security for the hospital and its patients and staff. But he noted that local women had also committed themselves to help provide security.
“I am so filled with emotion,” said Dr. Mukwege. “I do not have the words to thank you.”
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.