By Christina Okello
Hundreds of people have rallied in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern city of Bukavu in support of Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Denis Mukwege, who has been the target of death threats believed to be linked to his outspoken criticism of violence against women and other human rights abuses.
Holding signs expressing “grave concern” at the mounting death threats against Mukwege, hundreds of Congolese civil society actors took to the streets of Bukavu on Thursday to urge the government to protect him.
Some protesters held messages such as: “Mukwege is a national institution, threatening him with death is tantamount to burying the hope of the Congolese people.”
Since receiving his Nobel prize in 2018, the Congolese gynaecologist has been more outspoken in his condemnation of human rights abuses in eastern DRC, committed between 1993 and 2003.
In a message on his Twitter account, Mukwege wrote “these are the same ones who are still killing in the DRC”, referring to a massacre in the east.
He went further, calling for an international court to be set up to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Another massacre in #Ituri ! Enough is enough! Criminals must answer for their actions before an independent & impartial tribunal! We call for an International Criminal Court for #DRC and/or mixed specialized chambers. #nojusticenopeace #mappingreport@UNHumanRights – – Denis Mukwege (@DenisMukwege) August 11, 2020
Observers reckon his advocacy may be the reason behind the death threats against him and his family.
Slow government response
On 21 August, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi vowed to protect the Nobel peace laureate and launch an investigation.
Some experts said that Tshisekedi’s announcement, more than a month after the first signs of intimidation against Mukwege, was too little, too late.
Protesters on Thursday demanded the government act quickly, joining growing calls for his protection.
The protection of Mukwege and other human rights defenders is “a matter of urgency”, they said in a statement, urging Congolese authorities to swiftly identify the authors responsible for the death threats.
Life of service
Mukwege, 65, is best known for helping thousands of women victims of sexual violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
He set up the Panzi hospital in the provincial city of Bukavu nearly 20 years ago, shortly after his first experience treating a woman who had been raped and mutilated by armed men.
For decades, he has called for perpetrators to be brought to justice and advocated against the use of rape as a weapon of war.
He survived an assassination attempt at his home in 2012.