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Gynecologist Monika Hauser Receives Right Livelihood for Work on Behalf of Victims of Sexual Violence in War

StoryDecember 08, 2008
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We speak with Right Livelihood laureate, Monika Hauser, a gynecologist and founder of “medica mondiale,” a German-based non-governmental organization that works to prevent and punish sexual violence against women and girls in wartime. They have helped over 70,000 traumatized women and girls in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Afghanistan. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Stockholm, Sweden, and after the show today we’ll head to the Swedish parliament. And on Democracy Now!

’s website,, we will live stream the Right Livelihood ceremony from noon, Eastern Standard Time, to 3:00 p.m. We hope you go to our website. It’s also being live-streamed on the website of the Swedish parliament. That’s

As we turn now to Monika Hauser, gynecologist and founder of “medica mondiale,” a German-based non-governmental organization that works to prevent and punish sexual violence against women and girls. They have helped over 70,000 traumatized women and girls in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Afghanistan. Monika Hauser received the Right Livelihood Award this year, according to the jury, for “her tireless commitment to working with women who have experienced the most horrific sexual violence in some of the most dangerous countries in the world, and campaigning for them to receive social recognition and compensation.” She joins me here in the studio in Sweden.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

MONIKA HAUSER: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, congratulations, and tell us about your organization. What is medica mondiale? What prompted you to start this?

MONIKA HAUSER: I founded medica mondiale in the end of ’92, because I realized what happened in Bosnia, because in the war there, many, many women got raped. And as a young gynecologist who has worked already with raped women before in Germany and other places in Europe, I was aware about that these women need a holistic approach of support. They need medical support, they need psychosocial support.

When I read the media reports, I got very angry, angry about that what happened to the women and angry about that how the medias reported about the women. They scandalized that what happened to them. And instead of looking to them as survivors of grave human rights violations, they abused, misused them again by their media reports. So I said to myself I have to support these women, as a gynecologist, as a feminist and as a European.

I went there to central Bosnia, and I found very fast twenty professional Bosnian women, gynecologists, nurses, psychologists, who were very eager to start with me this women’s therapy center there.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did you go from that to working in countries around the world?

MONIKA HAUSER: So, this was the first step, and now Medica Zenica is fifteen years old, the project there, still working and still helping traumatized women. And the staff there is very experienced.

And then we started new programs in Kosovo, because we saw after the end of the war there in ’99 that to Kosovo women, the same happened again. Rape as a tool of war was happening, and they were exposed to so much violence. So we decided to set up there our second project. And Bosnian therapists, Bosnian professionals supported us to build up this new project. They trained their new colleagues.

And the same with Afghanistan. This is our main project since 2002. We have there now, in the meantime, over seventy local female staff members, and we had again the Bosnian therapists with their huge experience coming over to Kabul to train doctors, midwives, nurses, psychologists, lawyers, in order to help traumatized Afghan women.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m so sorry Asha Hagi is not also here, also the Right Livelihood Award winner from Somalia. But the issue of women being involved in negotiations in the peace process that we see so rarely around the world?

MONIKA HAUSER: Yes, this is a big problem, since — I see, since we started this work. Women have to be included in peace talks, because if they are not, their reality will not exist in these peace talks. And Asha Hagi made a wonderful model for all of us. She — when in 2001 we had the peace negotiations in Somalia, Scandinavian organizations supported it as women could take place there. And the male head of the talks asked, or let’s say demanded, from the Somali women who could take place there to divide themselves into ethnic clans which were performing these talks. And they said no. They refused. They just formed their own sixth clan. And I think this is so important, an important message to Bosnia —-

AMY GOODMAN: Explain sixth clan.

MONIKA HAUSER: The sixth clan means that we had women from all five ethnic clans who just said, “We don’t want to divide and to separate in our male ethnical clans. We just stay together.” And the women together formed this sixth clan. And it means that women have other ideas for forming peace.

And we could see this also in Kosovo, where Serbian and Kosovo Albanian women spoke together. They had other ideas than the black-and-white recommendations of the Kosovo male politicians. But, of course, they were not included in the peace talks in Vienna, and the delegation of these Serbian and Kosovo Albanian women came to the UN special envoy for the peace talks in Kosovo, Mr. Ahtisaari, and asked him why -—

AMY GOODMAN: Who is winning the Nobel Peace Prize on Wednesday.

MONIKA HAUSER: — and asked him, “Why do you not involve us in these important peace talks?” And he answered, “I did not want to disturb your culture.” “But this is the culture of the men,” they answered. “This is not our culture.” And so, we have to see that these women, like Asha Hagi or other Kosovo and Serbian women, they have competencies which are really important and necessary for building up new democracies, new countries. And therefore, I think it’s very important that international politics ask the peace Nobel Prize winner of this year’s that they really think about to include the female part of the population in their talks.

AMY GOODMAN: On December 9th — that’s tomorrow, Tuesday — it’s the anniversary of the day to celebrate human rights defenders.

MONIKA HAUSER: Yeah, it’s a very sad chapter, because we have now the ninth anniversary of this human rights defenders convention, and we only can say that we see that activists all over the world are not protected. They do a very brave work. In fact, I can say they do it for us also. And looking, for example, to my Congolese colleague Immaculée Birhaheka, who does very brave work every day in Goma, where just war has started again, and they try to free the women from the camps. They go just to the military camps to bring women out, and these women — where they’re imprisoned for days and weeks and months and got raped each day. And when international politicians and MONUC soldiers tell me, “This is not possible. We have no chance,” then I tell them, “Why does our brave Congolese colleague have the chance to take the women out? Why can’t you do that?”

AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean to go into a camp to get a woman who is being raped? Describe a scene.

MONIKA HAUSER: Just recently, the grandfather of a forty-years-old woman came to the organization PAIF, our partner in Goma, to Immaculée, and told her that this woman was abducted by governmental soldiers in Goma. And he told her that he knew where she was brought to. And Immaculée tried to call all international responsible persons. She tried to call the local police. Nobody wanted to help her. So she took one of her colleagues and went to this camp and knocked at the door and asked for the colonel to speak with him. And, of course, he came, and she said, “I know about that this woman is in your camp, and I can imagine what happens to her here. You have to bring her out. I have to care for her.” And, of course, first he refused her, but then she just insisted. And she stayed brave, nevertheless she could be herself in danger. And she reached to have the possibility to come in. She found her, and he brought her to hospital. And she was — this woman was raped the whole night.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think has to be done now? What can be done to protect women and girls?

MONIKA HAUSER: We have wonderful resolutions. We have the UN Resolution 1325 for women, peace and security. We have now recently from this June the UN Resolution 8020, which clearly condemns war rapes as a war crime and gives us preventive measures to protect women.


MONIKA HAUSER: But these measures are not implemented, because the international politicians are just not interested. If the perpetrators are caught and brought to justice, impunity would finally end, and this would give a clear message to the other perpetrators that they have to fear justice. But as long as MONUC or other UN missions are not catching these perpetrators, the message is clear: you can do whatever you want. And therefore, we really have to bring into practice these resolutions and to force our politicians. And this is a huge task. What we do with, of course, especially the European politicians, to tell them each time, if you call with the government in Kinshasa, you have to take this topic of rape as priority topic number one. And, of course, they also have to support these peace talks now, for example, in Nairobi, that women have to be there in order to represent their own reality.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ve heard of conflict diamonds, of blood diamonds. Now — I went to a seminar of yours yesterday — you’re talking about rape diamonds.

MONIKA HAUSER: Many women are abducted for being slaves in these minefields, minefields for gold, for diamonds, for coltan, which we all use in our handies, you know, in our mobiles.

AMY GOODMAN: In our cell phones.

MONIKA HAUSER: In our cell phones. And these women there are used as slaves. And after some weeks, they die, because it’s such a hard work. And, of course, they are not only working slaves; they are slaves also and getting raped each day and each night. So these diamonds or this coltan and this gold, these women pay a very high price for it.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will link to your website, medica mondiale, at Dr. Monika Hauser, I want to thank you very much for being with us.

MONIKA HAUSER: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: And tonight, we will broadcast the live ceremony of the Right Livelihood Award. It’s tonight in Sweden, but it’s today in the United States from noon, Eastern Standard Time, to 3:00. You can go to our website at, and if there’s any problem there, you can also go to the Swedish parliament website. They will also be live streaming the ceremony.

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