Congo-Kinshasa: Military Officers Decry Rape Doctor Documentary

Dr Denis Mukwege, fondateur de l'Hôpital Panzi à Bukavu (RDC)
8 March 2016

A documentary featuring a renowned Congolese doctor who assists rape victims in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo has drawn the ire of the military with several high-ranking officers accusing it of dishonouring the armed forces.

Dr Denis Mukwege, 61, has helped thousands of raped women through surgery and psychological therapy since he opened his Panzi hospital in 1999 in the eastern town of Bukavu. Many suffered brutal sexual assault, including gang rape by soldiers and militias.

The two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee was profiled in the award-winning documentary The Man Who Mends Women, which initially was banned in the Democratic Republic of Congo last year.

An army general - who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorised to talk to the press - denounced the film for making the military look like "a militia made up of rapists".

"A lot of officers think that the government stamped on their honour [by allowing the film]," he told Al Jazeera.

The general said he was "in shock" and "upset" because the documentary "sullies innocent people".

An army commander who operated in the DRC's restive east said the film had caused concern among the military's rank-and-file.

"The movie is really not liked in the east, soldiers think that they are being unfairly accused of being bandits," he told Al Jazeera, also on condition of anonymity.

The documentary's director, Thierry Michel, said "clean soldiers don't have to feel targeted". He noted many rapists have never been brought to justice in the DRC.

"They have never been punished and victims got no compensation. Impunity fuels resentment, hatred, and a feeling of injustice not compatible with a peaceful society," Michel told Al Jazeera.

Eastern DRC has suffered decades of conflict involving many local and foreign armed groups. In 2010, Margot Wallström - now Sweden's foreign affairs minister, but then UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict - described the DRC as the "world capital of rape".

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Mukwege said sexual violence in the DRC must be addressed as it is used as a "weapon of war" to destroy entire communities.

"We shouldn't avoid talking about it ... because it brings a disgrace on us and leaves women in total dishonour all their lives - instead of creating a mechanism to stop barbarity," he said.

In September 2015, DRC banned The Man Who Mends Women saying it portrayed the army negatively, but the decision was reversed a month later.

"We decided that the part testifying to the suffering of Congolese women was interesting enough to forget about the negative aspects," Communications Minister Lambert Mende told Al Jazeera.

The general gave another reason for removing the ban on the film. "This decision was made to avoid troubles with the West," he said.

Mende said the government understands the army's frustration with the documentary, because it did not sufficiently show "the difference between the soldiers professionnally trained and the rebels the international community forced us to integrate into the army".

Mukwege expressed concern over the soldiers' anger at the film. In 2012, he escaped an assassination attempt by unidentified gunmen and was forced into exile. Months later he returned for the women, he said, who relentlessly pressed him to come back.

He has since been living under the protection of UN peacekeepers.

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