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editorial | SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN AFRICA

A doctor takes on militias

Despite an attempt on his life, Dr. Denis Mukwege (left) has returned to Congo.

AFP/Getty Images

Despite an attempt on his life, Dr. Denis Mukwege (left) has returned to Congo.

IF THERE is any hope for healing in the war-ravaged eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it lies in activists like Dr. Denis Mukwege. A world-renowned gynecological surgeon, Mukwege founded a hospital that has treated tens of thousands of survivors of sexual violence, many of whom were raped during the armed conflict that has raged, off and on, for the past 16 years.

In addition to being a skilled doctor in a country with few medical supplies, he is also a relentless advocate for women. He has traveled the world speaking out against the use of rape as a weapon in war, and outlining steps that must be taken to end it.

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Mukwege’s message of ending impunity for rape — and bringing perpetrators to justice — has earned him enemies, particularly among the warring militias who have treated the people and minerals of eastern Congo as their personal property.

Four months ago, Mukwege survived an assassination attempt in which armed gunmen broke into his home. Other men of his stature and education might have left Congo for a more comfortable life in Europe or America. Not Mukwege. He briefly took refuge in Massachusetts with the Cambridge-based Physicians for Human Rights. But two weeks ago, he returned to Congo. Thousands of people poured into the street to welcome him home. In a land with few heroes, Mukwege’s return offers hope to countless victims of Congo’s brutal civil wars. The international community, including the UN peacekeeping force in Congo, must do all it can to keep this hero alive.

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