YO!Fest and the European Youth Event featured several high-profile guests, speaking at events both inside the European Parliament and just outside of it, in the YO!Village. Not least of these was Dr. Denis Mukwege, the Congolese gynecologist, who spoke inside the parliament at the ai???Heroes of our timeai??? event, which celebrated him and other winners of the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliamentai??i??s award for individuals who dedicate their lives to the defense of human rights andAi??freedom of thought.
Dr. Mukwege is indeed a champion of human rights and a hero of our time ai??i?? as his response to war crimes against women in his country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, demonstrates. He founded the Panzi hospital, which specialises in the treatment of women who are victims of wartime rape. He has personally treated thousands of women. As well as this, he has advocated for justice for the victims of wartime rape, often exposing himself to personal danger by doing so.
YO!Mag was fortunate to secure an interview with Dr. Mukwege after the event. We asked him about the underlying societal problems which lead to the terrible situation he works against, and how the world can work together to combat it going forward.
Dr. Mukwege is passionate on the theme of gender inequality. When YO!Mag asked if underlying gender inequality in society contributes to wartime rape, he agreed, and pointed out that gender inequality is a scourge across the world.
ai???Itai??i??s a situation we all live through. Many countries have come a long way and there have been veritable transformations, and in some areas it looks like gender inequality may be gradually disappearing. But when you look at conflict zones ai??i?? whether in Europe, Latin America, Iraq and Syria, or Africa ai??i?? anywhere ai??i?? you will be able to see the demon rearing its ugly head again and taking it out on women. Gender equality hasnai??i??t fully taken root yet and the effort must be continued everywhere.ai???
When YO!Mag asked Dr. Mukwege what can be done by the international community to help with his work, he pointed toward influence through trade, and what kind of trade other countries are willing to accept.
ai???The EU has taken a good initiative ai??i?? the European Parliament has adopted a law against the use of blood minerals, so itai??i??s compulsory for countries using minerals to have a fully traceable and transparent chain of supply. This is a very substantial law because it deters the use of rape as an economic weapon, for control of resources. But ultimately, the real power lies with consumers ai??i?? the best thing people around the world can do to help is to refuse to buy problematic products.ai???
Given the importance of Dr. Mukwegeai??i??s work, it is of course essential that others be able to continue it when he eventually retires. YO!Mag asked him if he was worried about finding successors, but his answer revealed a more complex set of concerns.
ai???Iai??i??ve trained a lot of people in physical therapy, and Iai??i??m sure young people can do better than I. What is also needed, and what Iai??i??m concerned about the absence of, is psychological care. Today, there are no studies on the lifelong effects of these traumas on people psychologically. For example, Iai??i??ve seen babies who have been raped. 20 years from now, how will that continue to affect that person?ai???
Lastly, when YO!Mag asked about the threats Dr. Mukwege received after his UN Speech which was critical of the Congolese government, and whether his relationship with the government had improved at all, he said:
ai???When you lose someone dear to you and you ask for a government inquiry and nothing is doneai??i?? when you have received threats and no protectionai??i?? and finally, when the government issue far from reassuring statementsai??i?? what can you do? What relationship? There is no relationship.
Many of the perpetrators who I speak against have friends in the government and never had to answer for actions in the past. They benefitted from amnesty, but this amnesty did not entail a change in behaviour. Asking for an end to impunity, for truth, for justice, is the only way to reconciliation. There is no reconciliation while the perpetrators are happy.ai???