Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege, the co-winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, has said the international community has a duty to tackle wartime sexual violence.
"We have the responsibility to fight against sexual violence as a weapon of war," Mukwege told Kyodo News at his hospital in Bukavu in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Saturday, a day after winning the prize for his work to treat victims of sexual violence in the war-torn African country.
Mukwege, 63, said the cause of the conflict in Congo and the resulting sexual violence against women lies in the contest to control rare metals, which are sought by countries and companies around the world.
"There is a way that international community can use these natural resources without killing, raping, destroying the local population and...there is a responsibility of the international community," he said.
Mukwege set up the hospital in 1999, and he and his staff have treated more than 50,000 victims of sexual violence. He recalled that his youngest patient was an 18-month girl who was raped and had her genitals mutilated, and the oldest was a woman over 80 years old who was also raped.
"I found it very terrible and it made me very sad," he said. "To treat (the girl) was a trauma for all the team."
(In front of Mukwege's office at his hospital in Bukavu)
Just two weeks ago, there was a mass rape by soldiers in villages in Congo, according to Mukwege.
Mukwege called for "political will" on the part of the Congolese government to resolve sexual violence against women, suggesting it educate soldiers before they go into the battlefield so they "understand that they have to respect all the people, children and women."
Mukwege said the Nobel prize he won along with Nadia Murad, a Yazidi human rights activist from Iraq, shows the "recognition of the world about the sufferings of women victims of sexual violence and it gives hope that all the survivors can get reparation."
He said that compared to decades ago, there is a growing awareness of sexual harassment and sexual assault, citing the recent #MeToo movement on social media.
"I think that this is really a very positive evolution of the fighting for the right of women and this is a global movement. Here we are working a lot to break silence because we know that the perpetrators are using silence so that they can go on raping and destroying women," he said.
On his future plans after winning the award, Mukwege said, "My plan is to stay here of course and...support victims of sexual violence as I used to do."
"The girls, women and children who are coming here are my daughters, my own granddaughters," he said. "I am really very impressed by how the women have the capacity to restart their lives. I think they need really to be supported."