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Boston-Based Program Works With Nobel Peace Laureate

Local Organization Has Ties To Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Congo Nobel Peace Prize
Denis Mukwege, center, celebrates with his staff after learning he has been awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, at the Panzi hospital in Bukavu, eastern Congo, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. Mukwege, 63, founded the hospital and has treated thousands of women, many of whom were victims of gang rape. Armed men tried to kill him in 2012, forcing him to temporarily leave the country. "The importance of Dr. Mukwege's enduring, dedicated and selfless efforts in this field cannot be overstated. He has repeatedly condemned impunity for mass rape and criticized the Congolese government and other countries for not doing enough to stop the use of sexual violence against women as a strategy and weapon of war," the Nobel committee said in its citation Friday.
AP/Norwegian Church Aid
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Boston-Based Program Works With Nobel Peace Laureate

The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize was announced Friday, and it's been awarded to two people honored for working to fight sexual violence as a weapon of war. Prize recipients are former ISIS captive Nadia Murad. She survived sexual slavery at the hands of the Islamic State to become an outspoken advocate. The other winner was Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege. Mukwege treats and works to shed light on women and girls who've been raped and otherwise abused in the course of conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mukwege has close ties to Physicians for Human Rights. The organization's Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones is based here in Boston. Karen Naimer is director of the program. She's worked with Dr. Mukwege, and she spoke with WGBH's All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Barbara Howard: We should note that we are going to be covering some subject matter that could be upsetting to some of our listeners. Dr. Mukwege, he runs a hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Concretely, what kinds of cases has he seen?

Karen Naimer: So Dr. Mukwege is an obstetrician and gynecologist. In the mid-90’s, he opened this hospital in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and he started to see case after case after case of women and girls being brought to his hospital with profound injuries to their reproductive organs. He has these stories that are so chilling, where he speaks about putting women back together again through surgery, and then again a few years later, and then again, and then sometimes even their children as well. And that's really what motivated him to become an activist. He has said on many occasions that providing that kind of medical care and treatment wasn't enough. That wasn't stemming the flow of the violence.

Howard: When you say girls, how young are we talking?

Naimer: Very small, young children — the youngest being 18 months old.

Howard: How does that work as a weapon of war? What are these men, I imagine, trying to get out of this?

Naimer: These men are using sexual violence as a tool to literally destroy communities. It's to break down resistance in these communities.

Howard: What kind of methods are in place to try to reduce the incidence of these occurrences?

Naimer: So Dr. Mukwege has been incredibly courageous at speaking out against these violations. In fact, he has been very outspoken against the government of Congo. And there's a very well-known incident where Dr. Mukwege spoke at the United Nations in September 2012, and he spoke about the impunity for sexual violence in Congo. He called the Congolese government out for failing to act to pursue meaningful investigations and prosecutions for these crimes, and for failing to hold the perpetrators to account.

A month later, Dr. Mukwege and his family were attacked at gunpoin, and thankfully he managed to survive, and his family members survived, but a trusted confidante, a security guard at his home, was killed. It's not really clear who was responsible, but it is clear that Dr. Mukwege’s outspokenness has been the bane of the Congolese government.

Howard: Tell me about the work you've done with Dr. Mukwege?

Naimer: So we work very closely with Dr. Mukwege and his team of clinicians. We have been training them to collect and document and preserve forensic medical evidence of sexual violence to help support local prosecutions of these crimes. A capstone moment occurred in December 2017, where a military court in Congo convicted 11 men of committing crimes against humanity by raping 42 young children. These cases were documented with Dr. Mukwege and his team of clinicians, and they provided comprehensive medical evidence that allowed the court to come to this landmark judgment.

Howard: So you've worked directly with Dr. Mukwege. What kind of man is he?

Naimer: He is kind, and he has enormous integrity. He is a true partner. He is open. He's flexible. He's incredibly generous.


Karen Naimer, from Physicians for Human Rights, directs the organization's Program on Sexual violence in Conflict Zones,. She has worked with Dr. Mukwege. Mukwege is one of this year's recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. The other, Nadia Morad, is a sexual slavery survivor who's turned advocate. This is WGBH’s All Things Considered.

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