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A Tribute to Professor Dr. Denis Mukwege

Preface to introduce Nobel Prize Professor Dr. Denis Mukwege

Guest of Honour at an international symposium on War Memories (June 2021, France), dedicated to violence and rape concerning women and girls
Renée Dickason

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“We all have the power to change the course of History.”
Denis Mukwege

1Special thanks is given here to Professor Dr. Denis Mukwege for his exceptional mission and unflagging combat and for his vibrant and inspiring intervention in our work reflexions on War Memories.

2Studying wars is a vast subject which allows a cross-fertilization of observations and points of view, theories and methodologies. It also entails making choices of angles of analysis, selection of themes and corpuses and creation of archives, critical distance and revisiting history with the presence of new testimonies, all conditioned by the particular context of an on-going conflict, whose reality/ies may be low-intensity warfare, terrorist action or total war.

3The compilation of archives is a long process and reflects a necessarily progressive construction of a memorial edifice buffeted by what can become a cacophony of testimonies, those from enemies, attackers, military corps at all hierarchical levels, but also those from the civilian population, the victims, and all this with or without the benefit of hindsight. In order to apprehend this enormous task, one needs to gradually highlight specific situations so as to complete the various components of a broad panorama of barbarity and evil destruction and devastation.

4In 2022, wars, aggressions, genocides and politicides, ethnic cleansing and organized tortures are still a shameful reality. The spectrum in this respect is wide: it is planetary. No place is safe from upheavals and their infinitely deleterious and cruel deviances. Civil wars, displacement and exile, totalitarian regimes’ atrocities, sometimes unknown or too discreetly mediatized, distant or not so distant but extremely severe massacres and oppressions (the mass murder of Chinese civilians in Nanjing, barbarity in the sprawling North Korean prison camps, the slaughters by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, the rapes and murders of Burma’s Rohingya population in Rakhine State, the atrocities committed against men, women and children during the genocide in Rwanda, etc.), wars of colonisation and liberation (Angola, India, Algeria, Kenya…), long-lasting wars with catastrophic human and material devastation (Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan… and most recently Ukraine) bring with them a heavy and unbearable toll of victims, of all horizons, regardless of sex or age.

5The status of victims needs clarification as it underpins several perceptions, nuanced by the acts involved and their consequences: segregation, discrimination, humiliation, terror, torture and systematic (verbal, psychological or physical) violence which can be epitomized in words and expressions, that are now commonplace in the understanding of wars and conflicts: sexual slavery, collective rape, sexual mutilation… and resulting contamination of all kinds (STIs, AIDS, etc.).

6Amassing evidence, giving a voice to victims, collecting and elaborating living archives are needed for the constitution of a memorial edifice to counter oblivion, the absence of proof and a blatant lack of visual or oral testimonies. It is a must to empower women, provide them with support and give them a voice so they can find their true and rightful place in international history, mainly written by men.

7Though men can also suffer the throes of (sexual) violence and the profound trauma of rape, the writing of (a) war history still tends to avoid some questions, in this case the rape of women as a weapon of war. In all their abject and abominable dimensions, these “weapons” are cheap. Bodies are easily “consumable” and horribly dismembered by men who have lost all self-respect, dignity and conscience. Torturers, some of them teenagers, others mature men, relentlessly delight in their bloody manoeuvres. They are animated by highly depraved instincts in the pursuit of an endless destructive mission that totally deprives them of any vestige of human respect and civilised goodness.

8All witnesses, whether observers, aggressed human beings, or even perpetuators, have a story to deliver, a story which needs time to unfold and requires adaptation to the various stages to be faced and attained from individual trauma to repair and reconstruction before finding a place in the social and community fabric. This phenomenon can be likened to collective reconstruction after a collective trauma.

  • 1 Denis Mukwege’s word of choice in La force des femmes (Paris: Gallimard, 2021) / The Power of Women (...)
  • 2 One can also view the testimony of Congolese refugee and survivor Esther Mayiza Kimpavita filmed by (...)
  • 3 Tatiana Mukanire Bandalire, Au-delà de nos larmes, Paris : des femmes-Antoinette Fouque, 2021.

9Survivors1 are encouraged by Denis Mukwege, his teams and an impressive network of “strong and leading women” to rebuild their self-esteem and occupy a non-humiliating, dignified place in their family, community and, more broadly, their country. Many projects have emerged like those of V-Day and the City of Joy (Cité de la Joie) to find ways to reintegrate women who have been severely molested. Many Congolese women have found the stamina and extreme courage to participate in documentaries (like SEMA)2 and to break the silence surrounding their survival. Some have opted for the publication of their stories, in order to go beyond self-censorship, stigmatisation and rejection of themselves, and others as a means to overcome their traumas, as witnessed by the poignant monograph by Tatiana Mukanire Bandalire, Beyond our Tears3.

  • 4 See Denis Peschanski and Brigitte Sion (eds.), La Vérité du Témoin, Mémoire et mémorialisation, vol (...)

10These examples of living anthologies and primary sources bring together testimonies which contribute to the composition of collective war memory and foreground deliberately concealed atrocities, dissembled traces and secretly endured humiliations. Now is the time for healing, for reconstruction, for the building of a durable peace based on the solid pillars of women’s resilience, strength and united power. These survivors are not only resilient women: in revealing their Truths4, they have reached the phenomenal status of being actresses in the construction of their individual stories and fundamental to the understanding of their national and collective histories.

11These exemplary women, who have been the targets of rape and mutilation indelibly engraved in their bodies and souls, are facing the future with bravery but also with hope for justice to be done and hope for a durable peace.

12Discordance in the perception and interpretation of their war experiences should give way to a harmonious and serene polyphony of intertwined survivors’ testimonies to counteract the dissonant notes of male aggressors and to rehabilitate a tangible truth and promote free expression and transitional justice.

13In this spirit, the following speech delivered by Professor Dr. Denis Mukwege conveys a personal testimony of what his life has become as an obstetrician-gynaecologist in South Kivu Province. After briefly recalling the general context over the last 25 years or so in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Professor Dr. Denis Mukwege explains in his plenary lecture, transcribed here, the “phenomenon of rape as a strategy of war” and the holistic responses that have been devised to help survivors, from health-care to transitional justice.

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BANDALIRE Tatiana Mukanire, Au-delà de nos larmes, Paris : des femmes-Antoinette Fouque, 2021.

MUKWEGE Denis, La force des femmes, Paris: Gallimard, 2021.

MUKWEGE Denis, The Power of Women Doctor’s Journey of Hope and Healing, New York: Flatiron Books: An Oprah Book, 2021.

PESCHANSKI Denis and Brigitte Sion (eds.), La Vérité du Témoin, Mémoire et mémorialisation, vol. 2, Paris: Herman/INA, coll. Mémoire(s), 2018.

WIEVIORKA Annette, L’Ère du témoin, Paris: Plon, 1998.

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1 Denis Mukwege’s word of choice in La force des femmes (Paris: Gallimard, 2021) / The Power of Women Doctor’s Journey of Hope and Healing (New York: Flatiron Books: An Oprah Book, Nov. 2021).

2 One can also view the testimony of Congolese refugee and survivor Esther Mayiza Kimpavita filmed by Rebecca Dickason in the context of the War Memory Symposium in June 2021 <>.

3 Tatiana Mukanire Bandalire, Au-delà de nos larmes, Paris : des femmes-Antoinette Fouque, 2021.

4 See Denis Peschanski and Brigitte Sion (eds.), La Vérité du Témoin, Mémoire et mémorialisation, vol. 2, Paris: Herman/INA, coll. Mémoire(s), 2018; and Annette Wieviorka, L’Ère du témoin, Paris: Plon, 1998.

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Renée Dickason, « Preface to introduce Nobel Prize Professor Dr. Denis Mukwege »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. 20-n°53 | 2022, mis en ligne le 09 juin 2022, consulté le 25 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Renée Dickason

Renée Dickason, who obtained her professorship in 2001, began her career over thirty years ago, at Rennes 2 University where she currently works, having taught for nine great and happy years at the University of Caen-Basse-Normandie. After enjoying fruitful and stimulating times, in cultural, linguistic, historical and human terms, in the British Isles, she took the decisive step of pursuing studies on the ‘unfathomable and perfidious’ Albion, a challenge, in constant renewal, as she chose a field of research related to contemporary history, more specifically immediate history, amid the historical realities inherited from the past and animated by present-day mutations, in a world at war or at peace. She has favoured local immersive experiences and media approaches, mainly through visual and filmic prisms. Her observations and publications deal with social and political communication, the representation of the ‘real’, in electoral periods and during conflicts, such as the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland and wars in the Gulf and in the Falklands. At the University of Caen-Basse-Normandie, she initiated, with the Maison de la Recherche en Sciences Humaines (CNRS), the Mémorial de Caen Museum, the Royal Military College of Canada (Kingston, Ontario), the International Committee of the Red Cross (Geneva) and researchers from various disciplinary and geographical horizons, a research network on War Memories (WARMEM Project) which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2020. Since her early childhood, Renée Dickason has travelled widely, untiringly seeking to discover new cultures and spaces; she likes to think of herself as an anthropologist of the living moment. Her objectives: to contribute to widening research in Human Sciences, transcending disciplinary frontiers so as to heighten awareness, to educate, to act and to give a profoundly human and humanist meaning to ongoing and forthcoming academic and scientific missions. Her aspirations: to pursue and enrich reflections on war crimes, abuses and human aggression which colour, through significant examples, the memorial construction of war phenomena in order to fight against barbarity, to reveal and confront atrocities committed in wartime with the hope of establishing and maintaining peace, wherever it is imperilled. Her professional curriculum vitae can be found at:

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