BUKAVU, Congo — If the West imposes sanctions against Russia over its invasion in Ukraine, it should also act against violence in Congo, renowned gynecologist and Nobel laureate Denis Mukwege told reporters during a visit by the Belgian king and queen to the Panzi hospital in the east of the country.
Mukwege won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 over his fight against sexual violence in conflict areas.
With Congo engaged in heightened fighting with the rebel group M23 in the east, his hospital is receiving increasing numbers of victims. “Women of barely 20 years of age are arriving here, whose mothers and grandmothers have also been taken care of,” Mukwege said.
He accused the West of a double standard. “The suffering of people here is no different than people in other wars. In the Ukraine crisis, the West has responded. It pumped billions into Ukraine and it imposed sanctions on Russia. How do you turn a blind eye to the suffering elsewhere? I don’t see a difference.”
What’s worse, the war in Ukraine is diverting the world’s attention away from the violence in Congo, Mukwege said. “Rwanda is hoping that everyone will look at the Ukraine war and that it will be left alone here.”
Officials in Congo accuse Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels, but Rwanda denies this.
Mukwege stressed sexual violence is being used as a weapon. “It is an efficient weapon, because it destroys women not only physically but also psychologically. Because of the stigma, it also destroys family ties and thus entire communities.”
He called on the Belgians present to take the lead in the EU and the U.N. to condemn the violence in eastern Congo.
During the visit to the former Belgian colony, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Belgium was ready to take up a role. De Croo’s message was echoed by the King, who said that “there is no development without peace” and that Belgium will carry out this message at the EU and the U.N.