Surgeon Denis Mukwege has treated thousands of women brutalised by rape in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and a new film now documents his efforts to restore their shattered lives.
Belgian film maker Thierry Michel’s movie, “The Man Who Mends Women — the Wrath of Hippocrates” follows Mukwege’s efforts to repair the physical and psychological injuries of rape victims, and denounces routine use of sexual violence by armed forces and militia groups in eastern DRC against women.
“These rapes are weapons of war,” Michel said on the eve of his film’s world-wide debut in the Hague on Sunday.
“As the months pass by, too much violence is accumulating,” he added, describing his film as a call to the world to take note of and react to the enormous human destruction inflicted by systematic sexual violence in DRC.
The film follows the activity of gynaecologist Mukwege in the Panzi Hospital he founded in 1999, and which he has run in the South Kivu city Bukavu while conducting several surgeries on rape victims each day.
Over the years, thousands of women have been treated for anatomical and psychological injuries from violent sexual assault suffered in DRC’s volatile eastern region, where the army has been fighting rival militia groups for over a decade.
The militants vying for control of the region’s mineral wealth use rape to terrorise the local population, though members of the army are also known to have undertaken regular waves of mass sexual assault.
– ‘Weapon of war’ –
This month Mukwege revealed children and even babies had been discovered among the victims of systematic rape.
Mukwege’s work and Michel’s film both seek to fight back against that by focusing on the ordeals of victims.
“Women’s bodies have become a true battlefield and rape is being used as a weapon of war,” Mukwege said last November in accepting the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
“In every raped woman, I see my wife. In every raped mother, I see my mother and in every raped child, my own children,” he continued. “We have spent too much time and energy fixing the consequences of violence. It is time to take care of the causes.”
The film, which Michel co-wrote with Belgian journalist Colette Braeckman, also denounces the impunity with which perpetrators of rape destroy lives, and how unchecked violence has become a point of pride among rebels and armed forces alike.
“You must kill 1,000 people to become a general in Congo,” a priest tells Michel, maker of the 1999 film “Mobutu, King of Zaire.”
Following its Sunday preview in the Hague — significantly, home to the International Court of Justice — “The Man Who Mends Women” will be shown in Brussels on March 25 and Paris March 31, before screenings in Montreal, New York, Washington and Geneva.