Kavumu case: interview with “the man who mends women”
Doctor Mukwege founded Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in 1999. Since its inception, more than 50’000 women, including the young victims of Kavumu, have been able to receive treatment. He discusses this case that left such a strong mark.
How did you feel when minors from Kavumu, all victims of the same modus operandi, began to rush to receive treatment in your hospital?
The influx of these raped children came as a great shock for the whole medical team and myself. Impenetrable barriers had been breached: impunity had conceived the unspeakable.
The trauma was deep for all of us in the operating room. It was the first time that I saw the whole team burst into tears. Even those who ordinarily express their emotions with restraint could not resist. It was very painful to see these innocent children suffer as a result of human stupidity, in a context without protection, without justice, in brief: without recourse.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the work carried out by local experts in DRC and the role that they played?
Local actors played a very important role, starting with our paralegals who did not succumb to the threats stemming from the executioners and their accomplices. For each case, they would warn our legal clinic and our mobile team would then undertake dangerous trips in order to collect the victims and bring them to Panzi Hospital. They are the ones who gathered the first information pertaining to incidents, by documenting and collecting pieces of evidence.
How did you proceed at the hospital level?
The holistic care was meticulously undertaken. Practically, the hospital conducted: a general physical examination, a physical damage examination with scientific photographs, a psychological evaluation and the draft of a medical certificate. Frequently, as the children arrived within 72 hours, a prevention kit for HIV and sexual transmitted diseases was immediately administered. The surgical treatment would follow thereafter, according to the location of the injuries and their severity.
These cases were subject to two scientific publications from us on the international level as we were facing situations that had never been previously published*.
We continue the medical and psychological monitoring, considering that to this day, scientific literature does not tell us what the future will hold for these women, on the sexual, fertility and psychological levels. This follow-up work is crucial for the future of these children, even after the verdict.
What were the major difficulties throughout the course of this investigation which ultimately lead to a historical trial?
The executioners almost had an immunity status in society. They were untouchable. And anyone who resisted to this state of affairs risked paying for it with their life, with no consequence whatsoever for the executioners. We must not lose sight of the fact that there were murders, men’s deaths in this case.
As a consequence, members of V-Men**, my team and myself, went to Kavumu to sensitize men concerning this plague. So they would engage themselves against the omerta, the gossip, the corruption.
It was our duty to counter this general sense of fear felt by the population whenever they had to express themselves on the subject.
Did another case affect you in such a manner throughout the course of your career?
The assassination of my patients and staff at the Lemera Hospital in 1996.
They were harmless, like the children…
*Classification of rape-induced urogenital and lower gastrointestinal lesions among girls aged 5 years or younger. Published in the « Journal of Gynecology and Obstetric »
Treatment of rape-induced urogenital and lower gastrointestinal lesions among girls aged 5 years or younger. Published in the « Journal of Gynecology and Obstetric »
** Movement in favour of gender equality, launched 10 years ago in New York. Doctor Denis Mukwege sponsors the movement V-Men DR Congo