The Sakharov human rights prize was awarded to Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege on Tuesday. The latter has been dubbed "Doctor Miracle" for helping tens of thousands of gang rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mass rape has been used as a weapon of war during the decades of violence that has devastated the mineral-rich east of the country.
AdvertisementThe 59-year-old gynaecologist founded the General Referral Hospital of Panzi near Bukavu in South Kivu province, scene of some of the worst violence, to treat the often appalling injuries suffered by rape victims.
Their internal injuries are sometimes so severe he has to carry out major reconstructive surgery.
Mukwege 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.
"My first patient in 1999 had been raped, then they stuck a gun into her genitals and fired. Her whole pelvis was destroyed. I thought it was the work of a madman, but the same year I treated 45 similar cases," Mukwege said last year.
"For 15 years I have witnessed mass atrocities committed against women's bodies and I cannot remain with my arms crossed because our common humanity calls on us to care for each other," he added.
- Systematic rape -
Aid agencies have accused all sides in the conflicts raging in the eastern DRC regions of North Kivu and South Kivu of using "systematic rape" against women as a weapon of war.
Last year Mukwege defied threats and returned to the DRC after narrowly escaping an attempt on his life on October 25, 2012 in which his guard was killed.
The US pressed for a "thorough" investigation of the killing, hailing Mukwege's dogged efforts "not only for the health of women in the eastern DRC, but also for peace in a troubled region."
He sought refuge in Sweden and Belgium before being welcomed home by thousands of people and urging them to declare "no to sexual violence, no to war, and no to the Balkanisation of the DRC".
The 50,000-euro ($64,000) Sakharov Prize, named after the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, is given by the European Parliament to outstanding human rights advocates.
The 350-bed hospital Mukwege founded treats more than 3,500 women a year, providing free consultations and doing reconstructive surgery on women who have suffered serious internal injuries.
The doctor relates the horror suffered by rape victims with a steady and soft voice, praising the women's bravery and resilience.
Born on March 1, 1955 in Bukavu, the third of nine children, Mukwege's father was a pastor and the son was inspired to study medicine by father's visits to sick members of the parish.
After going to school in neighbouring Burundi, he returned to work in his hometown hospital in Lemera, where women often suffered serious genital injuries giving birth.
He then pursued specialist training in gynaecology in Angers, France with help from a Swedish Pentecostal mission, before returning to the DRC in 1989.
But Lemera hospital was destroyed during fighting in 1996 and Mukwege shared the tenuous existence of the hundreds of thousands of refugees displaced around him.
- Set up male feminist group -
Married with five children, including four daughters, Mukwege said "he can not imagine healing without God's help".
He has been honoured by the United Nations and has received many international awards, including the Olof Palme Prize in January 2009.
His work "provides an outstanding example of what courage, persistency and enduring hope may accomplish for human rights and dignity in times when these values seen the most distant," the Palme Memorial Fund said.
In September 2012, Mukwege took the global community to task in a speech at the UN for failing to act against rape in the DRC.
He now travels worldwide to call attention to the situation there, while continuing to administer the Panzi hospital.
Since the beginning of this year, he has launched a male feminist group called V-Men Congo, and has called for a "general mobilisation" against the new scourge of rapes of children and babies.
Last year, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai won the Sakharov prize for her campaign to ensure the right of all girls to an education. She was joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize this month.