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Where repairing rape damage is an expertise Add to ...

The doctor, 53, is the third of nine children of a gentle Pentecostal minister and his wife. As a boy he travelled with his father to pray for the sick, but soon decided that wasn't enough, that God had given him the ability to do more to help people than simply pray for them. He studied medicine and was working in a rural hospital when he noticed the stream of women arriving with hideous complications of childbirth because they had no access to obstetric services. So he headed to France for specialized training in gynecology, and then promptly returned to the bush hospital.

But it was destroyed at the start of the war, and he moved to Bukavu. Here, too, there were streams of women arriving at the point of death from obstructed labour, so he and colleagues set out to build Panzi Hospital. His original vision was a maternity ward with surgical capabilities, but from the start, survivors of sexual violence arrived seeking help - sometimes naked, often bleeding, almost always leaking urine and feces from their torn vaginas. Soon rape survivors filled 250 of 350 beds. Thus Dr. Mukwege, then the only gynecologist in a province of 65,000 square kilometres, developed his grim expertise. He is likely the world's leading expert on repairing injuries of rape.

And yet he determinedly eschews any sort of recognition.

"I get more from these women than I give them, these women, blessées dans leur intimités. When I see them smile, when they come up to me and say, ' Papa, ça va,' I wonder, 'What have I done to be in good health, to be well?' "

Dr. Mukwege is a married father of five, but feels constantly torn from his family, putting in 18-hour days at the hospital. While in the past few years he has trained a new cadre of young doctors to repair fistula, he still does up to 10 surgeries a day himself.

Organizations such as Ms. Ensler's V-Day also call him away from Panzi to try to raise awareness about the epidemic of rape, and he is diplomatic if blunt about the lack of intervention to end it.

"The problem is known, but the government is inaudible," he said. "We would have liked to have seen a much stronger engagement by the government. It doesn't need money to condemn the rape - they would need only a microphone and the will."

While he waits for an effort - Congolese and international - to help end the violence, Dr. Mukwege goes on trying to restore its victims, and he is constantly awed by them. "They have no reason to be happy, but they have a certain strength, and I don't have it - not their strength or their joy."

*****

CONFLICT AND VIOLENCE

A horrific tactic seen again and again

During wars and most forms of civil conflict throughout history, women and children have been targeted for rape and sexual violence, a tactic intended to destabilize and dehumanize the enemy.

Some of the most brutal violence against women was documented in the early part of the 20th century: the rape of Nanking, the Nazi genocide, the Japanese enslavement and rape of "comfort women" during the Second World War.

But most cases that have been publicized and widely condemned have been in the past decade. Rhonda Copelon, a professor of law in New York and an expert on women's rights issues, has said that until a decade ago, whether rape was a war crime was a matter of debate. It was June of this year before the United Nations Security Council affirmed that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, and called for measures to combat such attacks.

At least part of the motivation was the shock felt around the world by the systematic and widespread rape, torture and murder of women and girls in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda in the 1990s.

While men and boys have also been victims of war, these particular forms of violence against unarmed non-combatants have been used primarily on women and girls.

And the end of conflict is not necessarily the end of rape and sexual slavery. The World Health Organization noted in 2002 that "in many countries that have suffered violent conflict, the rates of interpersonal violence remain high even after cessation of hostilities, among other reasons because of the way violence has become more socially acceptable ... ." In countries such as Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which are officially in a "postconflict" state, for instance, violence against the female population continues.

Source: UN Office for the

Co-ordination of Humanitarian

Affairs

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