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Mr. President of the European Parliament,

Ladies and gentlemen representatives of the EU member countries,

Distinguished guests,

It is with great hope and humility that I receive today the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

This year you celebrated the First World War Centenary. It was thought that it would have been the last war and that finally the civilization would have triumphed. This did not happen. Thirty years after human folly manifested again. Afterwards you have chosen peace and coexistence in a society oriented toward freedom and prosperity.

In an increasingly insecure and unstable context in which the crisis hotspots are multiplying, especially in the EU’s neighbouring countries, I sincerely thank the European representatives for deciding to shed light on the tragedy that is being experienced by women victims of rape and sexual violence in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In a world where the scale of values seems to be upside down, and where violence is banalized while it is assuming increasingly dreadful forms, refusing to succumb to it means to be dissident. By drawing the world’s attention to the need to protect women during armed conflicts, you have refused to be indifferent to one of the worst catastrophes of modern times. So you have reaffirmed that the resolution of conflicts in the Great Lakes region along with the protection of human rights and democracy are and will always remain a priority in the framework of EU foreign policy. By awarding me this prize, you have decided to give visibility to the fight of Congolese women that has been continuing for more than 15 years e you have recognized the pain, the courage, and the dignity that they embody. […]


Women’s bodies have become a true battlefield and rape is being used as a fully-fledged weapon of war. The consequences are manifold and they have a profound impact on society: families tear apart, the social fabric is destroyed, civilian populations are reduced to slavery or forced into exile inside a heavily militarized economy where the law of the warlords continue to prevails to the detriment of the rule of law. It is an extraordinarily effective war strategy. […]

In every abused woman I see my wife. In every raped mother I see my mother. And in every abused child I see my children. […]

Even a single case of rape is serious and deserves a collective action. In my country, there are hundreds of thousands of raped women and other thousands of children born as a result of violence. Not to mention the thousands of deaths due to conflicts. In the rest of the world, this would rise up waves of indignation but in my country it’s nearly unnoticed: desolating sign of a society that is traumatized by too much violence, a society that suffers for the lack of political responsibility and the denial of our own humanity.

Mr. President, we have dedicated time and effort to remedy the consequences of violence. Now we must address its causes. Thousands of testimonies from victims tell us that Congolese people are thirsty for peace and justice and that they aspire to change. There is an extreme need for action. […]

There will be no peace nor any economic and social development without the respect for human rights, without justice for survivors and for victims of rape, without a real reorganization of the civil service and without the creation of concrete mechanisms to promote reconciliation.

Mr. President, human rights are not only the fundamental values for EU, but they are also the inspiring principles of its foreign policy through the promotion of peace and development as well as the strengthening of democracy and of the rule of law. In our humble opinion, this is exactly the value that distinguishes the EU from the other political partners. Yet the realpolitik often shows that geo-strategic and economic interests prevail over the respect of human rights. […]

Our country is sick, but along with our friends of the European Parliament we can treat it and will treat it.

I have decided to open the Women’s Days programme by talking about a man: Denis Mukwege is a Congolese doctor and activist who has dedicated his life to mending abused women, especially those victims of sexual assault. Doctor Mukwege clearly defines systematic rape as a weapon of a dirty war that -once again- is fought on women’s body and affects the most vulnerable part of any society. Yet, what he pointed out is shamefully close to each one of us. Just think about the thousands of women and children crammed into contemptible refugee camps and exposed -with our tacit consent – to any kind of abuse. Just think about this inhuman Europe that shows its worst face at the borders where entire families, the elderly and unaccompanied minors are treated as a single worthless pile of waste. When attempting to build a better world, we should think about people like Dr. Mukwege, about the brave women who struggle every day and about the 10,000 (TEN THOUSAND) minors entered in Europe and vanished into the thin air of our indifference.

Here the Video in French from which I transcribed those that in my opinion were the most salient excerpts. This speech was delivered during the awarding of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2014.

Here  the website of his hospital in Congo.

By Maria Grazia Patania

Translated by: Claudia Tanzi
Proofreader: Claudia Rapparelli