Press Release from Umeå University

Activists against rape and sexual violence in combat named honorary doctors

[2010-06-18] Two key individuals in the international effort to combat sexual violence against women, particularly in the civil war in Congo, including an accomplished DNA researcher, have been selected as this year's honorary doctors by the Faculty of Medicine of Umeå University.

Dr. Denis Mukwege, born in 1955 in Bukavu, Kongo-Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo), is a gynecologist and obstetrician who in recent years has become known worldwide as an advocate for peace and human rights, particularly in relation to the often overlooked civil war currently ongoing in eastern Congo. He has directed the spotlight on the planned and systematic use of violence against women (gang-rape and sexual torture) as a weapon to gain access to mineral-rich lands. Dr. Mukwege has taken the initiative to help build the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, which includes a large special unit for victims of violence, and where he has treated more than 30,000 women over the past ten years. He has been director of the hospital since its beginning, which is partly financed by Swedish International Development funds through the Pentecostal Mission, PMU InterLife.

Meetings with war victims have turned Denis Mukwege into a soft-spoken, yet totally committed human rights advocate, who has spoken on several occasions before the United Nations, United States Senate, European Union, and in many other contexts. He has received several international awards for his humanitarian work and has also mentioned as a strong candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. As recently as November 2009, he visited Umeå University and gave a lecture with the title "Violence against women as a war strategy.” No one in the crowded auditorium was left unaffected by his story about the terror he witnessed for a long time and at close range. He also visited the Women's Clinic at Norrlands University Hospital and held a seminar on his field of expertise, gynaecological fistula surgery.

Margot Wallström, the former EU Commissioner, is closely connected with Denis Mukwege and his work. In February this year, she was appointed by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and his special representative on sexual violence in conflict. More specific is Wallström's duty to implement UN Security Council resolution 1820 on sexual violence against civilians in conflict. In this role, she has recently been in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which she has declared "the world's rape leader.” This past April, she met Dr. Mukwege and visited the Panzi Hospital to see the work being done for women victims of sexual violence

Wallström, born in 1954 in Kåge, Skellefteå, is one of Sweden’s most internationally recognised politicians. She was a member of the EU Commission from 1999–2009, serving as vice president for the later five years. She is a bank account by profession and was a member of Swedish parliament for the Social Democratic Party from 1979-1986, and Minister of Civil Affairs (with responsibility for consumer affairs, women and youth) during 1988-1991. After the 1994 national election, she was appointed Minister for Culture, and in Prime Minister Göran Persson’s first government she acted as Minister for Social Affairs. She decided to depart from Swedish politics after the 1998 elections and rejected a move to succeed Göran Persson as party leader.

Professor Peter Burgers, born in 1948 in the Netherlands, is an internationally well-established researcher in the field of DNA replication, i.e., how copying genetic material happens when cells divide, and has published several fundamental discoveries. He is currently working Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, United States, and has an established collaboration with researchers in the same area at Umeå University since the 1990s. Two prominent professors of Umeå University have been postdoctoral researchers at the Burgers lab and he has visited Umeå two times, the most recent in 2009.

Peter Burgers earned a PhD in 1977 at Leyden University, Netherlands, and has his first postdoctoral position at Fritz Eckstein, Max-Planck Institute in Göttingen, Germany, and thereafter at the then-future Nobel laureate Arthur Kornberg of Stanford University in the United States. When he then, in the early 1980s, established his own research group, Burgers began his studies of the enzyme DNA polymerase delta, which is central to DNA replication and repairing damaged DNA. It then interacts with the closely related DNA polymerase epsilon, which is the focus of Professor Erik Johansson, a former postdoctoral fellow of Burgers, now working at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Umeå University. Research collaboration between the two was quite natural, and has continued since Johansson started his own research group in 2000. In 2009 Burgers also started collaboration with Associate Professor Andrei Chabas at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics.

For more information about Denis Mukwege, please contact:
Professor Ellinor Ädelroth, Dept. of Public Health and Clinical Medicine,
Phone: +46 (0)90-785 12 74
E-mail: ellinor.adelroth@lung.umu.se

For more information about Peter Burgers, please contact:
Professor Erik Johansson, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics Phone: +46 (0)90-786 66 38
E-mail: erik.johansson@medchem.umu.se

Portrait Photo 1, Denis Mukwege
Portrait Photo 2, Denis Mukwege
Portrait Photo Peter Burgers

Editor: Hans Fällman

Link to news:
http://www.medfak.umu.se/english/news//.cid134699


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Page Editor: Mattias Grundström Mitz
2010-06-21