Often referred to as the “rape capital of the world,” the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has yet to break free of its human rights crisis. In March of this year, our team of eight graduate students from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University traveled to the DRC to research access to justice for survivors of sexual violence.
In October, 2012, Dr. Denis Mukwege, founder and medical director of Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and renowned gynecological surgeon who has treated thousands of victims of sexual assault and brutal rape, was the target of an assassination attempt in his home in Bukavu. His family was terrorized, and his trusted aide and guard, Joseph Bizimana, was murdered while defending Dr. Mukwege. After the attack, the Mukwege family left the DRC and took refuge in Belgium, and then in the US for several weeks. His absence from Panzi was keenly felt, and his return the cause of much joy. PHR’s DRC Coordinator, Caroline Dauber, describes his homecoming.
It has been less than two weeks since our return from Bukavu, DRC, and now Dr. Denis Mukwege and his family have been the targets of armed violence while defending the rights of victims of sexual violence in the region.
I entered the Congo for the first time via the border that separates it from Burundi. We had taken a paved road to the border crossing in Burundi. The asphalt turned to dust, and then we were on the Congo side.
As a first time visitor to Bukavu, I fell in love with the region’s natural beauty and its people. Being able to converse in Swahili with people I met in town and at PHR’s forensic training workshop allowed me to feel right at home and made the cultural interchange very rich.