Mukwege, who had been a top contender for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, accepted the prize on Tuesday for his work at the Panzi Hospital, a pioneering clinic for rape victims in the eastern Congo.
According to the United Nations, the Congolese army and various armed groups, including M23 rebels, have been involved in rapes of civilians.
“Meeting these women completely changed my life,” Mukwege said. “My profession as a medical doctor led me to become a direct witness to a mass crime that is hard to fully understand. This is because sexual violence targets our most precious resource: our mothers, our wives and our daughters.”
Mukwege said that rape is probably “history’s oldest and least condemned crime”.
“There is nothing inevitable about this situation,” he said. “We can bring positive change to the Congo.”
The M23 rebels and several other armed groups are active in the eastern Congo and are fighting for control of the country’s vast mineral resources, such as gold, the main tin ore cassiterite, and coltan (columbite-tantalite), which is used to make many electronic devices, including cell phones.
Since early May 2012, nearly three million people have fled their homes in eastern Congo. About 2.5 million have resettled in Congo, but about 500,000 have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on since 1998 and left over 5.5 million people dead.