Doctor Denis Mukwege received the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov human rights prize on Wednesday for his work in helping thousands of gang rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
European Parliament president Martin Schulz, who presented the 59-year-old with the award at a ceremony in Strasbourg, said Mukwege “fought for the dignity of women, justice and peace in his country”.
“You have eased the pain of countless women and girls and offered them a helping hand so that their injured bodies and broken bodies may be healed,” said Schulz.
A Congolese delegation sang for joy and waved flags from the parliamentary gallery as Schulz handed Mukwege a plaque to mark the award, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.
Mukwege — who was named as recipient of the award in October for his work in treating the appalling injuries inflicted on the victims — said he hoped the prize would help to bring the plight of women in his country to an end.
“By this prize you have decided to raise the visibility of the struggle of Congolese women,” he said to repeated standing ovations from European MPs in the huge parliament chamber.
“In every raped woman I see my wife, in every raped grandmother I see my mother, in every raped child I see my children,” added Mukwege, whose spouse attended the ceremony with him.
He has previously been tipped as a possible Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Members of the pro-Western Ukraine democracy and rights group EuroMaidan, which led the popular revolt against deposed president Viktor Yanukovych, were invited to the ceremony as runners up for the prize.
The third candidate was prominent Azerbaijani rights activist Leyla Yunus.
Rival forces fighting for control of the vast mineral riches in eastern DR Congo have used mass rape for decades to terrorise the local population into submission.
Mukwege trained as a gynaecologist, going on to found the General Referral Hospital of Panzi near Bukavu in South Kivu province which has seen some of the worst violence.
He survived an assassination attempt two years ago after speaking out about the continued use of rape in the conflict and accused the world of failing to act.
Last year, however, he defied threats and returned home to a warm welcome from thousands of people.
The Sakharov prize in 2013 was won by Pakistani education campaigner Malala Yousafzai, while previous winners since the award was founded in 1988 include late South African rights icon Nelson Mandela and Myanmar activist Aung San Suu Kyi.