Congolese authorities illegally seize bank accounts of Panzi Hospital that treats rape victims

Congolese authorities have seized the bank accounts of Panzi Hospital. The hospital in Bukavu, was founded by Dr Denis Mukwege, this year’s Sakharov Prize laureate. The hospital treats survivors of sexual violence.

Dr Denis Mukwege, this year’s Sakharov Prize laureate

The bank accounts of the Panzi Hospital were seized by the Congolese authorities earlier this month: “This means that we can no longer make withdrawals. This has a major impact on the operations of the hospital and the care of the sick,” said Norbert Nkuna, Human Resources Manager for the hospital. “Already this month, 500 staff employed by the hospital have not received their salaries.”

The UK based TG Foundation said it “was shocked and appalled to learn that the Congolese Government had seized the bank accounts of the Panzi Hospital.”

“The hospital has treated approximately 30,000 victims of sexual violence since the occupation of Congo by Rwandan rebel groups began almost 20 years ago,” said the TG Foundation.

Patient Bashombe, the Panzi Hospital Legal Counsel said the seizure of the hospital’s accounts was illegal. “Panzi Hospital is a general referral hospital. This implies that it is a State hospital. By law public hospitals do not pay taxes in Congo, so legally, seizing the hospital’s accounts is an illegal act.”

For over 10 years, Mr Mukwege has been denouncing the sexual violence that is taking place in DR Congo. He has also addressed some of the causes at the root of the violence including poor governance, lack of state authority, as well as miscarriages of justice.

Panzi staff are baffled by the recent seizure of accounts. “We do not understand this singling out, which aims to stifle the Panzi Hospital,” said Dr Désiré Alumeti of Panzi Hospital. “We need a viable explanation from the authorities. It is abnormal that Panzi Hospital is the only public hospital in Congo to have its accounts seized by the Government.”

Meanwhile, staff from the Panzi Hospital have been demonstrating outside the offices of the Directorate General of Revenue (DGI) since Monday 29th December. “We have informed the mayor and other authorities on the progress of the sit in. We plan to organize other civil society activities to express our discontent and get this barbaric seizure on the hospital’s accounts lifted. We demand that the authorities cease with these discriminatory measures against the only hospital in Panzi,” said Dr Grace Muhima, President of the General Assembly of Panzi.

It seems the hospital’s accounts have been seized so as to force it to pay taxes. The Congolese authorities want to impose of $50,000 monthly tax on the hospital, yet in the country public hospitals do not pay taxes, the TG Foundation said.