Assassination attempt on anti-rape doctor raises fears for aid workers in Congo

Dr. Dennis Mukwege recently spoke out at the United Nations General Assembly about the prevalence of rape in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.

Scott Baldauf/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Dr. Denis Mukwege in 2008 with a rape victim.

A Congolese doctor praised for aiding female rape victims survived an assassination attempt and on Saturday was evacuated amid growing safety concerns for aid workers and rights activists in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Four gunmen had entered Dr. Dennis Mukwege’s house in Bukavu on Thursday evening and forced his two daughters and their friend to sit silently on the floor, at gun point, until he returned home, according to the PMU, a Swedish religious organization which works with a hospital founded by the doctor.

The men forced the gynecologist out of his car on arrival and shot dead a security guard who tried to intervene. The doctor ducked when the armed men fired at him, before driving off in his car, which was found abandoned soon after.

“We believe it was an assassination attempt directly related to Dr. Mukwege’s advocacy work highlighting violence and rape in Eastern Congo. Only last month Dr. Mukwege was at the UN to give a speech outlining the increasing levels of rape and called for perpetrators to be brought to justice ,” says Zuzia Danielski of the  International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict.

With more than 500,000 women raped and 6 million killed in 16 years of violence, the international community is increasing pressure on armed groups to end violence in the mineral rich North and South Kivu Provinces. In the latest round of violence, more than 100,000 have been displaced in the fighting between government troops and the March 23 Movement (M23), led by Bosco Ntaganda, also known as “The Terminator.”

Cellphone minerals

The war is centered on mineral wealth with armed groups using profits from minerals sales to companies in the UK, US, and Canada to buy arms, according to reports. The firms buy minerals such as Coltan used to make mobile phones. Rights advocates and churches have begun a campaign to cut off the funds flow, and analysts say the militias are fighting back.

Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International deputy director for Africa, said in a news release on Friday the attack on Mukwege was one in a number targeting humanitarian workers and human rights defenders.

“The Congolese authorities must immediately open investigations and ensure that those responsible are held to account. Killing, abductions, and attacks on humanitarian staff impede on the delivery of basic services, as civilian bear the brunt of escalating violence in DRC,” said Ms. Jackson.

“Thousands of Congolese women and girls put at risk following incidents of sexual violence have depended on Dr. Mukwege for their lives and well-being,” said Susannah Sirkin, Physicians for Human Rights’deputy director, in a statement. She urged the Congolese government to make the doctor’s safety the utmost priority.

In September, Mukwege told the UN General Assembly he had seen elderly women, young girls, mothers, and babies raped. Others were sexual slaves and others used as weapon of war.

“Their organs are exposed to the most abhorrent ill-treatment,” said Mukwege, who has won several awards for his work.

After the attack, he told the media that rape perpetrators wanted to kill him because his denunciations upset them.

In Nairobi, Fred Nyabera, a regional peace building and conflict analyst, said the violence in eastern DRC was mutating.

“The armed militias are running out of options. They are trying to remain relevant by targeting civilians,” he says. “But unless institutions including those of government are professionalized, equipped, and strengthened we have not seen the end of it.”

Pastor Josué Bulambo Lembe-Lembe, a Congolese human rights defender, says the Congelese people want the mandate of the UN troops in DRC stepped up, such that they “can do all that is necessary to protect civilians.” 

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