A Congolese doctor who specializes in the treatment of rape victims has been presented the Sakharov Prize for his work. The award is one of Europe's most prestigious human rights accolades.
Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege received the Sakharov Prize on Wednesday during an award ceremony at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
"Instead of looking and turning away, you have become a fearless man in the face of atrocious violence, a man who takes care of the most neglected victims of war," parliament President Martin Schulz said during the presentation.
"You have allayed the suffering of countless women and girls, you offered shelter to the survivors and extended a helping hand to heal their injured bodies and broken souls," he added.
The presentation follows a unanimous decision by European lawmakers in October to recognize the 59-year-old physician for his tireless work to campaign against sexual violence targeting women in war, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mukwege founded the Panzi Hospital near Bukavu in DRC's South Kivu province in 1998, the same year the Second Congo War began. Since then, he has continued to work there, performing thousands of reconstructive surgeries on women who have been seriously injured in violent sexual attacks.
Mass rape has been used as a weapon by militias in the mineral-rich east of the country, which has been devastated by decades of conflict.
Mukwege, who has been dubbed "Doctor Miracle," says he had "no choice" but to help gang-raped women.
"How could I keep quiet when, for more than 15 years, we see things that even a surgeon's eye cannot get used to seeing? How could I keep quiet when we know that these crimes against humanity are planned?" Mukwege told the parliament.
"Women's bodies have become a real battlefield and rape is used as a weapon of war," he added.
Mukwege has received death threats for the work he does, including a 2012 assassination attempt in which his guard was killed.
The third of nine children, Mukwege was born in Bukavu in 1955, and went on to work in his local hospital, before pursuing specialist training in in Angers, France. He returned to DRC in 1989.
Human rights defenders
The 50,000-euro ($64,200) Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded annually to honor defenders of human rights and freedom of expression. It was established in December 1988 by the European Parliament in honor of the nuclear physicist and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.
This year's other finalists were Ukraine's pro-Western Euromaidan movement and Azerbaijani rights defender Leyla Yunus. Both were present at the award ceremony.
Previous prizewinners include Nobel Peace Prize laureates Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai.
nm/ksb (AFP, AP, dpa)