Sexual Violence Reparations

Denis Mukwege

UNITED NATIONS — The Nobel Peace Prize-winning surgeon whose hospital in war-torn Congo has treated over 50,000 victims of sexual violence has launched a fund with the goal of providing reparations for survivors of conflicts around the world.

Dr. Denis Mukwege said in an interview last weekend that he and his team at Panzi Hospital in eastern Bukavu province could physically and mentally help victims of rape and other abuse, but that the only way to really heal survivors is for society to accept the wrong that was done to them through reparations.

Legal action can be taken against an alleged perpetrator, he said, but even in cases in which women win, “there is no reparation.”

Mukwege said reparations can be individual or collective, symbolic or financial, depending on the victim, the case and the context.

“In some cases, women are just asking us to ask the leaders to ... say, ‘I apologize for what just happened to you because I was maybe the leader in this place and I didn’t protect you,’” Mukwege said. “Then maybe for the women, this can be enough.”

But in other cases, women might want financial reparations to support them, to pay for school, or to return to previous activities or start new ones, he said, “so this fund really works in different ways, depending with the conflicts.”

“For 10 years I was fighting to get a global fund,” Mukwege said, “because ... what is happening in Congo is happening everywhere where we have conflict.”

The fund is trying to get governments and the private sector to give money, he said, but its board will also include victims of sexual violence and civil society representatives.

France is the first country to commit to the fund, pledging $2 million a year for three years in an important show of support, Mukwege said.

Mukwege was in New York on a tour organized by Doctors of the World, a longtime funder of the Panzi Hospital. It will also take him to California and Washington state to talk to foundations about the fund.

Mukwege also planned to meet several world leaders at the annual gathering of presidents, prime ministers and monarchs at the U.N. General Assembly.

Female victims around the world face similar challenges, Mukwege said, and he has recently seen how sexual violence survivors from the Bosnian war have overcome their problems, “and how they can help Congolese women to help face this big problem.”

He also traveled to South Korea to see the “comfort women” used as sex slaves by Japanese soldiers in World War II and visited Colombia and victims of that country’s long civil war. He plans to start programs for victims of sexual violence in the Central African Republic and Burundi. — (AP)

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