“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Martin Luther King, Jr

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dr. Denis Mukwege-Story of a Hero

In my last post, I wondered where the heroes for this generation are. Where are the unsung heroes who saved lives with unselfish acts of courage and wisdom? Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, even men like Schindler, and Valkyrie who risked their own lives to save others?  I look at women like Aung Suu Chi, who could not see her beloved husband because she knew she could not fight for her people in Myanmar from afar. I know they are there, countless people who risked their own safety and lives to save the lives of others. I wanted to find those and share their stories here with you; if you know of any heroes and would like to share, please let me know in the comments. I would love to read about them. Perhaps I can write that others may take hope that even amidst the chaos in the world, there are those who care about their fellow man.

This is the story of a man who brings hope to thousands of women who have been tortured, maimed, raped, with many left for dead; Dr. Denis Mukwege who works in the Democratic Republic of Congo to restore the lives and dignity of women who have been tortured and raped as a tool of war. Read on about this wondrous man and the lives he touches.

"The Africa which the world needs is a continent able to stand up, to walk on its own feet...It is an Africa conscious of its own past and able to keep on reinvesting this past into its present and future."
Joseph Ki-Zerbo

Dr. Denis Mukwege
Together with his colleagues, this wonderful gynecologist has treated close to 30,000 victims of rape and has acquired great proficiency in the handling of severe sexual damages. He tells his story including distressing stories of rape as a weapon of war.
When the war broke out in Eastern DR Congo, 35 of my patients in Lemara were killed in their hospital beds.
Fleeing to Bukavu, 60 miles to the north, I again started a hospital erected from tents. I also built a maternity ward with an operating room. In 1988, war again destroyed everything, so in 1999, I started again.
That first year the first rape victim was brought to the hospital. She had been shot in her genitals and thighs...after being raped. I thought this was a brutal act of war, until three months later, to my shock women came telling the same stories; "People came into my village and raped me, tortured me”

Other women came with genital burns, and said that after they had been raped, they had had chemicals poured on their genitals.
I asked myself what was happening here. These were not only violent acts of war, but also a strategy. There were circumstances where people were raped publicly, all at the same time; sometimes an entire village was raped overnight. By doing this, I could see the victims were not the only ones hurt; the entire community was in anguish as they were forced to watch. The strategy resulted in people forced to flee their villages, desert their fields, their possessions, everything. This is very effective as a strategy in war.

System of Care
We have a system of stages of victim care and before I commence a large operation, we begin with a psychological evaluation. It is important to know if the victim has the strength to go through surgery.
The next stage may be an operation or it may just be medical care. The next stage is socio-economic care. The majority of these patients come to us with nothing, not even clothes. Feeding them, caring for them, and helping them develop new skills; even putting them back into school is the help they need to recover after these tragedies.

The fourth stage is to help them on a legal level. Many times the victims know who their rapists are and with an attorney’s help, their cases are brought to court.
By 2011 we were seeing a decline in the number of cases and our thought was maybe we were coming to an end of the horrible circumstances for women in the Congo. However, since last year, the war has resumed and the cases have increased once again. It is an experience, which can be linked exclusively to the war.
The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo is not a religious war, nor even a skirmish between states, but a conflict caused by economic interests, with Congolese women bearing the brunt of this war.

The Second Congo War
Thought to be Africa’s most deadly war, it began in 1998 and unambiguously involved eight nations, and 25 armed groups and the battle was the rich natural resources of the Congo. Both the Congolese army and the militia have been accused of the violent rape against the men and women of Africa. Officially ending in 2003, the fighting has still continues in the of DR Congo, and the numbers of have risen dramatically.

(Excerpt) Speech to the UN (Sept 2012)
Denis Mukwege
"I would have liked to also say; 'I have the honor of being part of the international community that you represent here,' but I cannot say that. How can I say this to you - representatives of the international community - when the international community has shown fear and a lack of courage during these 16 years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?"

I was returning home from a trip outside the country when I found five people waiting for me. Four of them had AK-47’s while the fifth held a pistol.
They opened the gate and got into my car and pointed their weapons at me. They forced me out of my car, and one of my guards tried to rescue me but they shot him and killed him. I fell down as my attackers continued to fire their weapons. I have no idea how I survived. They then left my car without taking anything.
It was only later that I found out that my two daughters and their cousin were at home. They were forced into the living room with their attackers were waiting for me. All this time the attackers had their weapons pointed at my daughters. It was terrible.
I only saw my attackers for a few seconds and I could not tell who they were. I also do not know why they attacked me, only they know.

Dr. Mukwege took his family and fled to Sweden and then Brussels, but was persuaded to return to the Congo.

The determination of the Congolese women inspired me to return to fight these atrocities.
These women had the courage to protest about the attack on me to the authorities and they even put their money together to pay for my ticket home. These are women who have nothing; they live on less than a dollar a day.

I myself am determined to fight these atrocities and after this gesture by these Congolese women I could not say no.
“My life has had to change, since returning. I now live at the hospital and I take a number of security precautions, so I have lost some of my freedom”.

When the women welcomed me back, they told me they would make sure I was kept safe by taking turns to guard me. Groups of 20 women volunteer to work in shifts, day and night. They have no weapons they do not have anything. Feeling so close to the people you are working with is a form of security. Their enthusiasm gives me the confidence to continue with my work.

With 350 beds in Denis Mukwege’s hospital, they are often filled with rape victims. Funded by Unicef and other donors, it also runs a mobile clinic and a microfinance initiative.

Dr. Mukwege has received many international awards, including the 2008 UN Human Rights Prize. In 2009 he was named African of the Year.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Justice Served, but is it Enough for Rwanda?

Ten Year Sentence, but Will Deportation be the Answer?

Through 2 trials and three years since her indictment in 2010, a mistrial in 2012 and three years of being without her children, justice has been served on 43-year old Rwanda native Beatrice Munyenyezi. She was convicted in February of entering the United States and obtaining citizenship by false claims regarding her role as a commander of one of the infamous roadblocks where Tutsis were singled out for slaughter. She also denied association with any political party, even though her husband had a leadership role in the extremist Hutu militia party.

On Monday, a federal judge sentenced her to the maximum ten years in prison for lying about her involvement in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. The judge made it clear that the United States cannot be a safe haven for those who slaughtered out of hatred and ignorance. She did not take advantage of her right to address the court after U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe handed down her sentence.
"She was not a mere spectator," McAuliffe said. "I find this defendant was actively involved, actively participated, in the mass killing of men, women, and children simply because they were Tutsis."
He also acknowledged the fact that since entering the U.S. she has lived a crime free life since her arrival in New Hampshire in 1998 but said it was a life lived as a lie.
Midway through the hearing, Munyenyezi started crying. There was no visible reaction from her adult daughters during the preceding.
"It's very, very traumatic," defense attorney David Ruoff said afterward. "She's been anxious about this. Regardless of what happened in Rwanda in 1994, it's traumatic for any person to face their kids under these circumstances."

McAuliffe said she essentially stole a citizenship opening away from a deserving refugee, perhaps one who also had daughters and was a victim of cruelty and persecution.  Ironically, Munyenyezi took the oath of citizenship a decade ago in the exact courthouse where she was sentenced. McAuliffe stripped her of that citizenship when she was found guilty. Her lawyers will appeal her conviction with the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. This appeal will be expected to delay deportation proceedings.
Federal prosecutors had looked for the maximum prison sentence, saying she's as guilty as if she brandished the machete herself.
In April of 1994, Hutus began slaughtering the Tutsis in the African country of Rwanda. Lasting 100 days, the Rwanda genocide left approximately 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu partisans dead.
At the end of her ten-year prison sentence, she could face deportation, which her lawyers say will be a death sentence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty said prosecutors knew the case would be a challenge, and that no case similar to this link to the Rwanda genocide had ever been prosecuted in the United States. "But tolerating genocide was not an option," he said.

Munyenyezi's husband, Arsene Shalom Ntahobali and his mother were both convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes of violence and are serving life sentences. They were regarded to be high-ranking members of the Hutu militia party that coordinated the brutal attacks on the Tutsis.
Munyenyezi's sister, Prudence Kantengwa, was found guilty and convicted last summer in Boston, on charges of fraudulently obtaining a visa to enter the United States by lying about her own Hutu political party associations. She was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison.

I wonder how many are still in hiding, living a good life with no worries about being slaughtered for who they are. I have no sympathy for these people: Do I understand it? Possibly, but killing innocent people is wrong for any reason.


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