Supporters fear for Nobel laureate’s safety after UN withdraws protection


Congolese Nobel Prize laureate Dr. Denis Mukwege, who received death threats for condemning the violent incidents in DR Congo is at risk of assassination after the United Nations withdrew the peacekeepers guarding his hospital and residence, his friends and supporters said.

Doctor Mukwege, a surgeon and gynaecologist, is best known for helping thousands of women victims of sexual violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

He has received death threats in recent weeks after making a series of statements deploring recent violent incidents and calling for justice for perpetrators of possible war crimes committed in eastern DRC by militia, foreign troops and rebels.

His comments appear to have angered influential individuals in Rwanda, whose troops and proxies have been accused of involvement in some of the worst of the violence described in a 2010 UN investigation.

The investigation covers the two major wars in DRC from 1996 to 2003, which killed millions and left a legacy of conflict.

Last month Rwanda’s former defence minister James Kabarebe, who commanded Rwandan-led forces in the DRC between 1996 and 1998, dismissed the UN investigation as “propaganda” and said Mukwege was “a tool being used by families of those who lost the war”.

Following the broadcast of Kabarebe’s remarks on local TV networks, Mukwege received death threats by phone and on social media. The globally respected gynaecologist has also been criticised recently in pro-government Rwandan media.

Mukwege has escaped several assassination attempts in the past and had been guarded by UN peacekeepers almost continually since unidentified gunmen shot dead a member of his domestic staff in 2012. But supporters say the UN withdrew protection of the doctor and his hospital several months ago.

The UN peacekeeping force in the DRC – one of the biggest and most expensive in the world – had deployed troops at Panzi, near the hospital compound near Mukwege lives and works. A unit of about a dozen soldiers provided round-the-clock protection, and peacekeepers escorted Mukwege whenever he travelled.

However, the peacekeepers were withdrawn in May after an outbreak of COVID-19 and have not been replaced. A small detachment of local police, who are poorly trained, badly armed and often corrupt, remain at the hospital.

Last week hundreds rallied in the capital, Kinshasa, to ask the DRC government to protect Mukwege, while others demonstrated in the doctor’s home town of Bukavu.

A protester held up a placard saying: “Hands off our Nobel laureate!”

A spokesperson for the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC, known as Monusco, said it was committed to the security of Mukwege and his hospital.

All UN operations in the DRC have faced a chronic lack of funding, and the shortfall in donations is likely to have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report that Mukwege has highlighted, the UN’s 2010 Mapping Report, documented 617 serious violent incidents between 1993 and 2003, saying they could amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide if investigated and tried in a competent court.

Mukwege has advocated for its implementation for many years, including in his Nobel speech in Oslo and at the United Nations general assembly.

Rwanda has always rejected allegations that its forces committed war crimes in Congo.

“General Kabarebe has not uttered a single threat. He finds that there are too many far-fetched accusations in this report,” Rwanda’s ambassador to Kinshasa, Vincent Karega, told Agence France-Presse. (Source: The Guardian)