Seoul Peace Prize

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Chairman of the Seoul Peace Prize Cultural Foundation,
Members of the Seoul Peace Prize Selection Committee,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentleman,
Friends of peace,

It is my pleasure to be with you today in Korea. Thank you for your warm welcome!

On behalf of my staff working each day, tirelessly, at Panzi Hospital and Foundations to treat, heal, and restore dignity to our patients who have faced evil and survived, I am humbled and honored to accept the Seoul Peace Prize.

To all survivors of rape and sexual violence around the world, I dedicate this Prize to you as an acknowledgement of your humanity and suffering, and our shared desire for peace.

I must also honor and recognize the resilience of Comfort Women, who suffered immeasurable pain, indignity, violence, and social stigmatization. In their memory, and in the memory of all victims of rape and sexual violence, I humbly re-dedicate myself to pursuing peace, seeking truth and reconciliation, standing up for the rights of all people, and healing for survivors around the world. We are one family and community, and in your honor, I accept this prestigious award with humility and with hope.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment.”

Dr. King then asked us, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”

I am doing my duty, as we all must. Each one of us facing the suffering of any fellow human being must show concern and compassion, and take action to help those in need. This what we do every day at Panzi.

And I have hope despite that for too long, the use of rape and sexual violence in times of war – and in peace – has been ignored or denied. This global issue affects humanity as a whole. Because of the tireless work of those in the medical community, advocates for justice, and strengthening civil society voices around the world, addressing rape and sexual violence is finally on the agenda of the international community.

By expressing your solidarity with victims of sexual violence in conflict, you have chosen to stand against the indifference which survivors too often endure. You are joining those who know and understand this scourge is not an inevitable part of war, and you are reaffirming that lasting peace and security can only be achieved when threats to women are seen as threats to all.

This prize is a message to survivors: you are valued and not forgotten; your cries and your voices are heard; we share in one humanity; and together we commit ourselves to building a healthier, more just, and peaceful world. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Friends of peace,

Today is October 6, and my heart is also heavy. I am compelled to share with you one of the most difficult memories of my life. This dates lives within me, in my work but also in my soul. Twenty years ago, in 1996, I was the medical director of the hospital in Lemera - a village in the beautiful hills of the South Kivu Province in Eastern Congo, near the borders with Burundi and Rwanda.

That day, an armed group attacked the hospital, killed 30 of my patients – sick and wounded people – and three members of my medical staff.

I miraculously survived.

This war crime was the first massacre of a long series still ravaging the region where I live and work.

Those who have command responsibility for this serious breach of international humanitarian law that marked the beginning of the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are well known, their crimes have been documented and listed in the “mapping” report of the United Nations (UN). Not one of them has been prosecuted nor brought to justice.

Twenty years after this crime, no one has ever been held accountable. Neither the families of the victims nor the community received any sort of redress. No memorial has been built on the site of the mass grave where the mortal remains of the innocent victims were buried with no names. There is no recognition of what happened.

No academic or history book is teaching to our children at school about the day that changed the course of the modern history in the Great Lakes region. No truth. No memory. No reparation. No justice for the perpetrators. No dignity for the innocents.

Friends of peace,

Officially, there has been peace in the DRC since 2002, but the harsh reality is one of violence and ongoing conflicts particularly in the unstable and volatile eastern Congo.

Despite various peace agreements, which are supposed to foster democratic transition under the watch of the UN largest peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, we live in neither war nor peace.

Human rights violations and violence against women occur regularly, if not daily. Serious crimes like sexual violence go unpunished in most cases. The rule of force prevails over the rule of law.

We live in a new form of conflict involving numerous militias and armed groups. Like criminal enterprises, they operate in the shadows, with the complicity of unscrupulous businessmen and corrupt leaders, who exploit our land and our people for personal interests, in an economy that is largely militarized and is based on the illegal exploitation and trade of minerals resources. Friends and colleagues, men and women of peace, It is in this context that we have been treating nearly 50 thousand survivors of sexual violence, and more than 35 thousand women and girls with complex gynecological injuries since the opening of Panzi Hospital, located in the suburbs of Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu Province.

In 1999, our aim was to build a hospital where women could receive good healthcare in order to reduce maternal mortality. But our first patient did not come for a C-section, she had been raped with extreme violence. It was the first time we had witnessed such an inhumane act. We thought the case must be an isolated one but it was only the beginning of a humanitarian disaster of tremendous proportions that plagues us to this day.

The bodies of women and girls are now the battlefields of a conflict that has killed and displaced millions of people, and in which rape has been used in a widespread and systematic manner as a weapon of war, as a deliberate political and military strategy. Many of these atrocities have been committed by child soldiers brainwashed by warlords and domestic and foreign armed forces to destroy communities and spoil the mineral resources of DRC. There is often a fine line between perpetrator and victim.

In this climate of impunity, trauma and gender discrimination, rape is becoming more and more prevalent among civilians, and is spreading and metastasizing across society.

Recently we have been confronted to an even more troubling and shocking side of violence and destruction: the use of rape with torture on children and infants. The wards at Panzi hospital are increasingly filled with young innocent faces.

No one shall in any way accept what is not acceptable. Red lines must not be crossed without serious action and accountability. Our children’s lives matter.

But we never give up. Turning away is never an option when you face human suffering and injustice. And for the last 15 years, we have developed a five-pillar holistic healing model which includes physical care, including reconstructive gynecological surgery, psychosocial support, community reintegration services, legal assistance, and education and advocacy at all levels to address the root issues of sexual violence and conflict in Congo.

Ladies and gentleman,

Panzi Foundation is also increasingly involved in prevention work. We cannot accept to continue to repair the damage done on our wives, daughters and sisters. We need to act to prevent the violence from occurring in the first place. Time has come to change mentalities, combat harmful practices and patriarchal discrimination. Hence our projects address structural issues such as gender inequality, engaging men and boys in the fight against sexual violence and promoting women’s leadership.

We find our inspiration in the fierce determination of survivors who become actors for social change in their communities and are rising for their rights and for peace. We strongly believe those who have endured violence in conflict times have the capacity to act as agents for peace and security and have the right to participate at all stages of peace processes and deserve a place at the negotiation table in peace talks.

Friends of peace,

We will never give up as we know that the solutions exist. Everything is, at its essence, a question of political will – which is dramatically lacking in the DRC where the regime persists in a narrative of denial.

We are convinced that investing in access to education and healthcare for women and girls is not only a way for governments to fulfill their legal obligations, but is the smartest way to support social and economic development and prosperity.

We cannot continue to deny the humanity of more than half of the world’s population.

We will never give up. With you and other advocates around the world at our side, we can end rape as a weapon of war.

This weapon is as sinister and evil as any weapon of mass destruction. It must be eradicated.

Why, when the international community has been able to draw a red line for the use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, is there no red line with regard to rape as a weapon of war? There is legal precedent for seeking justice and winning convictions.

It is crucial the international community, the diplomatic world, donors and international criminal justice mechanisms do not allow this red line to be crossed again and again without reacting.

The survival of our humanity is at stake.

As long as there is no accountability and complete impunity for the perpetrators, the cycle of violence will continue. When we unite and show that we will no longer tolerate this behavior - when we no longer allow it to persist - justice for women and all of us will be within our grasp.

Friends of peace, We never give up as we believe it is possible to end violence and build sustainable peace in the Great Lakes region. We strongly believe there will be no lasting peace nor sustainable development without having access to all the tools of transitional justice – prosecution, truth and reintegration mechanisms, vetting and reparation.

We are convinced the promotion and enjoyment of human rights for all, economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights are both our means and our goal to consolidate the path to lasting peace and democracy in the heart of Africa and worldwide.
In the absence of a functioning judiciary that is able and willing to address the most serious crimes, including rape and other forms of sexualized crimes, we are calling for the establishment of an International Tribunal for Congo to end impunity, one of the main drivers of violence. We must transfer the stigma from the victims to the shoulders and the conscience of their aggressors. My friends and colleagues,
Human dignity must be at the heart of ethical governance, and in our shared economic and financial interests.
We must break the existing links between armed conflicts and illegal exploitation of natural resources. Often called “conflict minerals” or “blood minerals.”
These resources are abundant in the region where I live, and they continue to power our cell phones, tablet, laptops and other electronic devices. This industry in Congo is partially driven by modern slavery, of women and men, but also of exploited children who work in inhumane conditions and are victims of all forms of abuse.
In a globalized market, responsible consumers must be made aware that even though we may not be directly associated with these illegal activities and human rights abuses – our purchases, can and do contribute to these types of odious crimes.
We must be aware of the links between our mobile phones and other devices and the instability in the DRC. We have a responsibility to advocate for transparency in the upstream and downstream supply chains for these precious minerals if we want to bring stability, prosperity and peace to the people of Congo.
Finally, my dear friends and partners in peace,
The DRC stands on the precipice. The constitutional mandate requires the current President to step down at the end of his second and last term in December. The regime is currently in an authoritarian drift, and is persecuting opposition and civil society, human rights defenders, journalists and youth movements, all of whom who are eager to witness and support the first democratic transition of power in Congo’s history.
But there are grave concerns that those in power are eager to retain power.
In this climate of fear and terror, the message of a strengthening Congolese civil society is simple and clear: we need to respect the provisions enshrined in the 2006 Constitution, which is the result of a referendum and the fruit a peace agreement.
If we want to stop seeing the blood of our Congolese sisters and brothers flowing, the international community must urgently act to prevent a new cycle of violence and repression. Sanctions must be on the table to discourage constitutional violations that risk jeopardizing democracy.
As you have lifted your voice in support of survivors of sexual violence, I ask you now to stand with all the innocent people engaging in the defense and promotion of human rights, the rule of law, and seeking a path to peace.
It is my honor to be with you here,
Thank you for your attention and support,

Dr Mukwege, MD, PhD Seoul, October 6, 2016