Congo Nobel Doctor Threatened
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Death threats against a Nobel Peace Prize-winning Congolese doctor have alarmed his supporters who are urging the United Nations to reinstate protection by its peacekeepers, but it likely won’t return.
A U.N. official told The Associated Press that the peacekeepers, who were withdrawn from Dr. Denis Mukwege’s hospital earlier this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, have trained Congolese security forces for such work instead.
Congo’s government “has been very vocal about being committed to Dr. Mukwege’s and his hospital’s security and we will not be able to provide international protection indefinitely, especially with all the other challenges” and the U.N. mission’s expected reduction in Congo, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss it. “That is why we need to work toward a greater involvement of national security forces.”
Separately, the spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters Tuesday that “the personal security of Congolese personalities is a responsibility of the national authorities.”
The death threats against Mukwege, famous for his work with survivors of sexual assault at Panzi Hospital in eastern Congo, have drawn condemnation from U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, Amnesty International and others. Hundreds of people reportedly marched in support of Mukwege in recent days in Bukavu, where his hospital is located.
Mukwege has had U.N. protection over the years since he survived an assassination attempt in 2012 while returning to his home.
Those denouncing the latest death threats have not said where they originated, but a statement from Physicians for Human Rights last month said Mukwege has been the target of an “intimidation campaign” after a security adviser to the president in neighboring Rwanda, Gen. James Kabarebe, “denounced Dr. Mukwege on Rwandan state television.”
Mukwege has received death threats via text message, and he and his family have received threats on social media, the statement said.
“I have received various hate mail and members of my family have been intimidated and threatened,” Mukwege said in a separate statement posted by the Panzi Foundation.
Mukwege has long been outspoken about the need for accountability for the years of attacks by armed groups in eastern Congo that have killed thousands of people, and he seeks the implementation of recommendations in a years-old U.N. human rights report mapping abuses in the region between 1993 and 2003.
Eastern Congo remains one of the world’s most unstable regions, with millions of civilians displaced or living under the threat of attack.
In his Nobel speech in 2018, Mukwege repeated his call to act on the U.N. report, asking, “What is the world waiting for? … Let us have the courage to reveal the names of the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity to prevent them from continuing to plague the region.”
In late July he tweeted about a new massacre in eastern Congo, saying that as long as the U.N. mapping report is “ignored” such killings will continue.
Rwanda’s government in the past has objected to suggestions that its forces had any involvement in the unrest in eastern Congo shortly before and after the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 in which some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame in a nationally televised interview on Sunday said of the U.N. mapping report, “I don’t know what that nonsense is about.” He asserted that “people are starting the narrative at the time of their choosing.” He didn’t mention Mukwege in the interview.
Rwanda’s state-run newspaper, The New Times, on Sunday published an unsigned commentary criticizing Mukwege and the U.N. report and dismissing suggestions that Rwanda or Kabarebe was behind the death threats as “unfounded allegations.”
The commentary alleged a “defamation campaign” against Kabarebe and suggested that Mukwege and his allies had “staged” the threats themselves, asserting that they see the instability in eastern Congo as “the essential milk cow on which to build careers and get rich.”
In a statement to the AP, the director of policy for Physicians for Human Rights, Susannah Sirkin, said the organization is “dismayed by the inadequate, slow, and bureaucratic response to date by the United Nations in light of the serious threats against our esteemed colleague … The U.N. needs to step up now by restoring the presence of a permanent and around-the-clock (peacekeeping) unit on-site at Panzi Hospital.”
Amnesty International in a statement this month also called on Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi to follow up on his pledges of protection for Mukwege and investigations into the threats.
In comments to European Union lawmakers late last month, Mukwege called for assistance for other human rights defenders who do not benefit from the same public profile that he has.
“It’s very important to create an alert system so that even those human rights defenders hidden in the farthest corners of the country, doing marvellous work ensuring that their people do not suffer atrocities, can be protected as well,” he said.