In the Democratic Republic of Congo, rape has become a weapon of war. For over a dozen years, gynaecologist Denis Mukwege has operated on more than 30,000 raped and mutilated women. With his help, they have begun to put their ordeal behind them and rebuild their lives. The doctor, who is considered a hero, is continuing his fight despite an attempt on his life. Our reporters Marc Perelman and Johan Bodin met him.
For several years, I had been hearing about Denis Mukwege, a gynaecologist who heals raped women in the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In late October, I learned that there had been an attempt on his life and that he had fled his hometown of Bukavu.
After a few weeks, I eventually managed to get in touch with him. I asked him if he would be willing to grant me an interview during a visit to Paris, one of a number of Western capitals he was touring during his forced exile to alert world leaders about the tragic fate of the raped and tortured women of the Congo. He agreed and told me that he was going back to Bukavu in mid-January - and offered me to come along.
After I interviewed him and heard him tell his story, especially how the women of Bukavu had collected money to pay for his flight ticket, I was convinced. I pitched a report on his journey home to my editors, who immediately agreed. And so a few days later, with Johan Bodin, we started following the Congolese doctor from Paris to his brother’s home in Belgium, then on to Burundi and finally Bukavu where he was welcomed as a hero.
Before and during his return trip, he told us he was worried about his safety and he had to work the phones to ensure that the local police and UN troops would protect him. Once there, he was quickly reassured, although he didn't like being followed around the clock by armed guards. While we inquired about the murder attempt against him and focused on his fierce denunciations of armed groups who use rape to instil fear and seize control of the many riches of Eastern Congo, he insisted that our priority should be to listen to the women.
From his surgery to the kindergarten, from the police prison cells to the safe houses, we were confronted with sometimes unbearable stories. But those stories need to be told and heard.