"Monarchs show humanity with visit to Bukavu"
On the last day of their state visit, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium travelled to the hospital of Nobel Prize winner Denis Mukwege in the troubled eastern Congo on Sunday. A visit that, according to Mukwege, bears witness to exceptional courage and humanity. "We are speechless by the testimonies of these women who were hurt to the core," the Queen said afterwards.
Mukwege won the Nobel Prize in 2018 for his fight against the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. In his Panzi hospital in Bukavu, he treats women and men who have been victims. They receive medical and psychological support and an attempt is made to get them accepted back into their communities. The latter is not always successful. "I was raped in Gabon and treated in the Panzi hospital", says a victim anonymously. "Afterwards, I did not want to return to my village and my country. Doctor Mukwege offered me training and I have been working in the hospital as a midwife for seven months now, so I can support my five children."
Mukwege attaches great importance to the visit of Filip and Mathilde. "It is a very strong signal. After their meetings in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, here the sovereigns come into contact with the people, with the suffering of the women. That shows humanity."
The hospital is now counting on Belgium to raise awareness among other countries and the United Nations and make it clear that eastern Congo is once again in an emergency situation. "Internationally, there are double standards," says the doctor. "The whole world reports on the violence in Ukraine, but hardly anything on what is happening here."
The hospital is obviously devastating to the M23 rebels and the foreign support they receive, but also to their own government. "The stream of victims is incessant and there is largely impunity for the perpetrators," says Neema Rhukunghu, a doctor at the hospital. "There are good laws, but they are not applied. We hope that this royal visit to the region can put pressure on the Congolese government to reform the justice system."
Together with the University of Liège, Rhukunghu is working to reintegrate victims into their communities. After all, women, and sometimes men, who have been raped are often ostracised. "Although they heal physically here, there is a lot of frustration and disillusionment among the victims. Together with scientists from Liège, we are working on recognition. We are trying to teach the local communities that the victims are not to blame for their rape," says Rhukunghu.
The cooperation with the university is not the only Belgian link. The hospital in Bukavu is a piece of state-of-the-art technology in an exceptionally poor region. Over the past two weeks, the Limburg company Glim Service has helped to complete the operating theatre where Filip and Mathilde were given a guided tour on Sunday. Manager Angelo Cruysberghs worked until late Saturday evening to get everything ready.
"Even by Belgian standards, this hospital is extremely advanced," he says. "Since he won the Nobel Prize and other awards, Dr Mukwege is invited all over the world and has no problems raising funds."
"We are extremely moved by being here," King Mathilde said after the tour. "The king and I will be interpreting your voice in Congo and beyond."
With the visit to the Panzi hospital, Filip and Mathilde's six-day visit to Congo is gradually coming to an end. On Sunday afternoon they will fly back to Lubumbashi for a final dinner. On Monday, the entire delegation will leave for Brussels again.
© BELGA PHOTO / Queen Mathilde of Belgium, DRC Congo doctor Denis Mukwege and King Philippe - Filip of Belgium pictured during a visit to the Panzi hospital, part of an official visit of the Belgian Royal couple to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sunday 12 June 2022, in Bukavu.