Justin Bahirwe: a lawyer trying to reduce torture in the DRC

December 24, 2015


OMCT-LOGOOMCT did the following interview in its series “10 December, 10 Defenders” with Justin Bahirwe , a lawyer from the DRC.

When listening to a soft-spoken, articulate, impeccably dressed 34-year-old Justin, you would think he is promoting human rights in a peaceful, predictable, functioning State. You cannot tell he lives in Bukavu, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a desolate place where the world’s deadliest conflict since WW2 has not relented for over two decades, killing some 5.4 million people, where tens of thousands of children are recruited as soldiers – if they do not die of diarrhoea or malaria – political opponents are killed, corruption is rampant and deeply-rooted, the infrastructure nonexistent and extreme poverty pervasive.

In a place like that, it would be more than legitimate to simply give up on wanting to address an issue as complex as torture. What sustains Justin’s drive are the many thank-you letters he receives from survivors of torture or gender-based sexual violence he saw through their trials as Coordinator of SOS Information Juridique multisectorielle, or from members of poor communities in rural areas that he provided with free training about their rights.

A specialist in the rights of women and children, he contributes to building the legal instruments to combat torture by working with the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office on the development of national protection measures for human rights defenders in his country. The job can be disheartening, Justin admits. Several times, after speaking about his work on the radio for instance, he has had to flee his country to avoid government reprisals, leaving behind family and work.

To stay alive, Justin has developed personal security strategies such as working with a national network of lawyers to spread the risks of government retaliation, learning how to engage United Nations human rights protection mechanisms, reaching out to a prominent « godmother » such as Dutch politician Maria Martens, or collaborating with international partners such as OMCT, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, all of this to increase the « political cost » of any action against him …

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/drc/


– by Lori Brumat in Geneva

Source: Congo, Democratic Republic: Meet Justin Bahirwe: A lawyer trying to reduce Congolese’s exposure to the pervasive risk of torture / December 2, 2015 / Links / Human rights defenders / OMCT

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