Solidarity in fighting against violence

18.10.2018
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The Nobel Peace Prize this year will be awarded to Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege. On December 10, 2018 they will deliver speeches that are certainly worth listening to for everybody. Everybody, including those who did not listen before, did not want to hear, did not consider it important to listen to them in the past, although for many years we all had the opportunity not only to learn their names, but also to pay attention to the cause of life of Murad and Mukwege, who were fighting against sexual violence in the Middle East and Africa. And this is not only about recognizing the merits of these undoubtedly heroic persons. The matter here is to recognize the existence of the problem, of the fact that the world had suffered from unacceptable evil for all these decades, more precisely it was the women of Africa, Iraq and Syria who suffered from this evil, but the world tolerated it and indifferently turned away.

As Dr. Denis Mukwege already said six years ago, speaking at the United Nations: “I would like to say that I have the honor of being part of the world community represented here – but I cannot say this to you, representing the world community, which has been showing cowardice for 16 years (disasters) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo … The achievements of our civilization are being destroyed, they are being destroyed because of barbarism in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria, but also because of the silence and lack of courage on the part of the international community”.

Mukwege called on the world to act, demanded that immediate measures be taken to stop the violence, to arrest the perpetrators of crimes, to stop the cruelty and savagery of the demonstrative group sexual violence that thousands of women in Congo were subjected to. But Dr. Mukwege not only demanded and reproved, he used his hands to operate hundreds of women dying from the effects of brutal rape, he treated them in his field clinic, he engaged in psychological rehabilitation, helped them to continue their lives and protected their rights in court. Realizing that the monstrous crimes against women in Congo were not simply the arbitrariness and cruelty of the warring clans, but a deliberate tactic to intimidate the population of the country, Mukwege knew about the serious danger that he brought onto himself by making his accusatory speeches. After his sharp speech at the United Nations in 2012, Mukwege was attacked near his home in Congo, he was shot at, his daughters were taken hostage – they all managed to escape and then left the country by miracle. But Mukwege could not help returning to his patients. As he said in the same speech at the UN: “No, I do not have the honour, nor the privilege to be here today. My heart is heavy. My honour, it is to be with these courageous women victims of violence, these women who resist, these women who despite all remain standing”.

The women he had rescued and defended expressed their readiness to defend him themselves, and this was the most touching, but also the most important part of the story of solidarity. Mukwege was right: the world was inactive while he had been fighting to save women, but these women themselves were ready to act and defend their defender, being armed only with their determination against the machine guns in the hands of gangs of rapists and murderers. And in the light of this real story isn’t it outrageous to hear the purely theoretical question of some “feminist separatists”: is it possible to accept help from a man in protecting a woman from discrimination and male violence?

This was not a question for those women in Congo, as their defender, now a Nobel prize winner, had no doubt himself about accepting help from women, who had been raped by inhuman creatures and it was an honour for him.

I remember how back in 2012, when Mukwege blamed the world for inaction, when he risked his own life and the lives of his children, we also discussed with our colleagues a profoundly theoretical question: does the problem of mass sexual violence in Congo concern us, Russian human rights activists? Are we also responsible for this horror? I was shocked then by an interview of a woman, who had been brutally raped by the “participants of the conflict” in Congo, her husband having been killed before her eyes, her daughter having been raped in front of her. That woman then dedicated her life to saving the children of those women, who had died from rape, she wandered through the jungle, where she found babies in remote homes and abandoned villages, crawling over the bodies of mothers raped to death, and she took these children to her home. These dangerous campaigns more than once led to herself being raped. But for some reason I especially remember how simply she said: “I thought that I could not bear it the fourth time, I wanted to commit suicide”.

It was painful and shameful to listen to her speaking and to know that at the same time we live in peace and do nothing, not even being aware and not wanting to know about her misfortunes. To my surprise, many of my respected colleagues, lawyers and human rights activists, did not consider that this was something to do with us in the Russian Federation at all.

Do the sufferings of Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar have anything to do with us, the sufferings of persons, who had been abducted, raped and tortured by the ISIS fighters in Iraq? Is the present-day Russian civil society ready to sympathize in some way not only with the victims of the war in Syria (of the same war, in fact), in which the Russian Federation is involved directly?

Receiving the Sakharov Prize in 2016, awarded by the European Parliament for their contribution to the fight for human rights, Nadia Murad also urged the world not to remain indifferent to the tragedy of Yazidi women: “We would like to prosecute the perpetrators of this massacre in the International criminal court and defend small ethnic communities such as the Yazidis and Christians who live in Iraq and Syria”.

It seems to me that separatism in matters of solidarity and even simple compassion — be it the division of people, who are ready to help others, onto men and women, or divisions of the countries into “areas of our ​​responsibility” and “not ours”, of people onto our compatriots and all the others — is a deeply flawed approach.

People are divided only onto those, who like Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege are active in their solidarity and consider this to be the main thing in their lives, and the others, who know how to give the peace prizes, and even this is done some 10-20 years later than it was necessary.

Stefania Kulayeva

First published in the blog of Radio Liberty