2014-10-22 07:47:00

EU awards Sakharov Prize to DRC doctor Denis Mukwege

(Vatican Radio) The 2014 Sakharov Prize, one of Europe's most prestigious human rights accolades, will go to the Congolese physician Denis Mukwege for his treatment of the victims of gang rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Emer McCarthy reports Listen:

59 year old Dr. Denis Mukwege has treated tens of thousands of women in his Panzi hospital on the Rwandan border since the outbreak of the Second Congo War in 2008. It is a war in which rape has become one of the most brutal weapons to destroy families, communities and entire generations.

The hospital was originally set up to treat women during pregnancy, but soon Dr. Mukwege was faced with the reality of women and little girls arriving at his hospital after being subjected to vicious violence in need of help. He has treated some of them more than once, performing up to 10 surgeries a day during his 18-hour working days.

In September 2012, Mukwege made a strong speech condemning impunity for mass rape in the D.R. Congo, openly criticizing the shameful 16 years of inaction by the International Community and the Congolese government about the massacres in the Kivu region of the D.R.C.

For this he was attacked, his bodyguard killed and he and his family forced to flee to Europe.  But the women of Congo would not give up. His patients – the desperately poor women he had helped – raised the funds for a plane ticket for him to return.  When he returned to Bukavu on January 14, 2013, they lined the streets for over 20 kilometers from the airport to the city.

Nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Mukwege continues his work in healing these women and girls while the war for control over DRCongo’s vast mineral resources wages on.  Receiving the 2013 Human Rights First Award, Dr. Mukwege said : “The government and rebels think metal and minerals are Congo’s most valued resource, this is not true.  The women of Congo are Congo’s greatest resource”.

The Sakharov Prize is intended to honour exceptional individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression. Like Andrei Sakharov himself, all the winners of the prize have shown how much courage it takes to defend human rights and freedom of expression.

Background to the Sakharov Prize

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded each year by the European Parliament. The prize was set up in 1988 to honour individuals or organisations for their efforts on behalf of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Parliament awards the human rights prize, endowed with 50,000, at a formal sitting held in Strasbourg on or around 10 December, the day on which the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948.

Who was Andrei Sakharov?

The Russian physicist Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov (1921-1989), who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, first came to prominence as the father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb.

Concerned at the implications his work had for the future of humankind, he sought to raise awareness of the dangers of the nuclear arms race. His efforts proved partially successful with the signing of the 1963 nuclear test ban treaty.

In the USSR, Sakharov was seen as a subversive dissident. In 1970, he founded a committee to defend human rights and victims of political trials. In 1975 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts.

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