Posts Tagged ‘Democratic Republic of Congo’

DR Congo should reopen inquiry into murder of Floribert Chebeya

February 12, 2021
A man wearing a T-shirt with portraits of Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana attends the trial in Kinshasa on April 30, 2013 of policemen accused of killing the two men in 2010.
A man wearing a T-shirt with portraits of Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana attends the trial in Kinshasa on April 30, 2013 of policemen accused of killing the two men in 2010. © 2013 Junior D. Kannah/AFP via Getty Images

On 11 February 2021 Human Rights Watch stated that The Democratic Republic of Congo government should reopen its investigation into the 2010 double murder of the leading human rights defender Floribert Chebeya and his driver, Fidèle Bazana, following new revelations about the case. Amid allegations reported by international media outlets that the murders were carried out on the orders of the police chief at that time, Gen. John Numbi, Human Rights Watch called for a credible, impartial, and independent inquiry.

On February 8, 2021, in radio interviews with Radio France Internationale (RFI) and Deutsche Welle, two Congolese police officers in exile admitted to taking part in the murders of Chebeya and Bazana on the premises of police headquarters on June 1, 2010 and provided a detailed account of the murder. At a meeting in April 2019, President Felix Tshisekedi personally told Chebeya’s wife and human rights groups that he was committed to conducting an impartial investigation into the murder.

President Tshisekedi should put his words about investigating the Chebeya murder into action,” said Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The latest revelations show the need for a new inquiry and present the best chance to see that justice is done.

On June 1, 2010, Chebeya received a telephone call asking him to attend a meeting at General Numbi’s office. The next day, the police said that Chebeya had been found dead in his car in the Mont Ngafula area of Kinshasa, the capital. The body of his driver, Bazana, is still missing.

Speaking to RFI and Deutsche Welle from an undisclosed location abroad, the former police drivers Hergil Ilunga and Alain Kayeye revealed details about the plan to kill Chebeya and how it was carried out. They alleged that police officers asphyxiated Chebeya and Bazana, one after the other, in different police vehicles at the police headquarters.

They admitted to taking part in the murders and covering them up on the orders of Col. Daniel Mukalay, then the police intelligence chief, and Christian Ngoy, then the commander of the feared Simba battalion. The two former drivers said that both senior officers were acting upon Numbi’s instructions.

Ilunga and Kayeye said they would be ready to face justice if their safety were guaranteed. They claimed to have fled Congo in late 2020 for fear of their lives as Numbi was allegedly looking to kill them.

Chebeya was among Congo’s most vocal human rights defenders, regularly exposing abuses by the country’s security services and successive governments over many years. He was threatened and intimidated repeatedly by Congolese authorities because of his work. He received the now defunct Reebok award: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/BA601D45-292F-61CB-530A-17FE52D5F974

Following a widely criticized trial by a military court – with a first verdict in June 2011 and an appeal decision in September 2015 – four police officers were found guilty of murdering Chebeya and Bazana. Ngoy, along with Paul Mwilambwe and Jacques Mugabo, were tried in absentia and sentenced to death. Mukalay, the highest-ranking officer on trial, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and is currently serving his sentence at Kinshasa’s central prison. The military court also found the Congolese government at fault and ordered it to pay damages to the families of both victims.

When the trial began in November 2010, Numbi, then police inspector general, was presented to the court as a witness even though he was widely suspected to be behind the murders. In 2014, one of the fugitives, Mwilambwe, resurfaced in Senegal, where he accused Numbi of orchestrating the murders. Senegalese authorities opened an investigation and Mwilambwe was indicted in January 2015. But the proceedings stalled, and the investigation is ongoing in Senegal. Mwilambwe, a presumed key witness, has since moved to Belgium and has also said he was ready to stand trial. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/01/13/indictment-in-senegal-a-breakthrough-in-the-congolese-chebeya-bazana-case/]

On September 3, 2020, Ngoy was arrested in Lubumbashi and immediately transferred to Ndolo military prison in Kinshasa for possession of illegal weapons. Following his arrest, Congolese human rights organizations said that the authorities should reopen the Chebeya case.

Following these new revelations, over 100 Congolese human rights groups called for the immediate arrest of Gen. Numbi and the reopening of Chebeya’s case. Ambassadors in Congo from the EU, Belgium, and the US have also all publicly backed reopening the inquiry. The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office said it was “available to assist the judiciary in shedding light on the despicable murder of Chebeya and Bazana.”

“The Chebeya and Bazana families have yet to learn the full truth and obtain justice for the gruesome killings of their loved ones,” Fessy said. “With these new revelations, the Congolese government needs to act. The judiciary should provide safe conditions to hear those who have come forward while General Numbi and other senior officials implicated in the murders should be fully and fairly investigated.”

Note the latest: https://www.theafricareport.com/74437/drc-general-john-numbi-implicated-in-the-chebeya-case-has-fled-the-country/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/02/11/dr-congo-reopen-inquiry-prominent-activists-murder

3 Women human rights defenders shortlisted for Václav Havel human rights award

January 11, 2021
Vaclav Havel banner above National Museum Prague, VitVit via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0
Vaclav Havel banner above National Museum Prague, VitVit via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

This year’s Václav Havel Human Rights Award has shortlisted three female finalists, The panel nominated Saudi women’s rights defender Loujain al-Hathloul, a group of young Buddhist nuns from a monastery in Nepal and Julienne Lusenge, who documents cases of wartime sexual violence in the Congo.

The winner will be announced at the spring session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on April 19. For more on this award see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/7A8B4A4A-0521-AA58-2BF0-DD1B71A25C8D.

Al-Hathloul heads the opposition to the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. She has been imprisoned since 2018. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/29/loujain-al-hathloul-sentenced-to-over-5-years-prison-by-saudi-terror-court/]

The nuns from the monastery called Amitabha Drukpa constitute a group who promotes gender equality, environmental sustainability, and intercultural tolerance in the Himalayan villages. They gained fame by transporting material help to outlying villages after an earthquake near Kathmandu in 2015. They also teach women’s self-defense and they have biked over 20,000 kilometers in protest against trading in women and girls.

Lusenge is a human rights activist who documents cases of sexual abuse and violence against women in Congo. She has contributed to the conviction of hundreds of perpetrators of acts of sexual violence against women nationwide. She was often threatened for her work.

Michael Žantovský, director of the Václav Havel Library, said: “Last year, we dedicated the autumn Prague conference, which usually takes place on the occasion of the Václav Havel Prize, to women’s rights. We are glad that the jury followed a similar point.”.

https://www.expats.cz/czech-news/article/vaclav-havel-human-rights-prize-to-celebrate-international-female-activists

University of Oslo Human Rights Award 2020 goes to the Congolese agronomist Marcelline Budza.

December 14, 2020

Using coffee to secure women´s rights

The University of Oslo Human Rights Award 2020 [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest] goes to the Congolese agronomist Marcelline Budza. Mrs. Budza is awarded the prize for her work in securing women’s financial rights and increasing their participation in society through the coffee cooperative Rebuild Women’s Hope.

Rebuild Women’s Hope (RWH) is an initiative that ensures financial independence and security for women in eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The women receive training and the opportunity to become financially self-reliant coffee producers.

– In addition to enabling women to take control of their own lives, Mrs. Budza works to provide clean water and health services. We know this is crucial for both women’s and children’s health, and her commitment creates enormous positive ripple effects, said Stølen.

Marcelline is a trained agronomist, and she herself experienced how her mother as a single parent had to struggle to ensure necessary livelihood for the family.

Congo’s Hip-Hop artist Moses Kabaseke Defender of the Month for DefendDefenders

October 23, 2019
Human Rights Defender of the Month (September 2019): Moses Kabaseke 

Moses Kabaseke, a talented hip-hop artist and activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was forced to flee to Uganda in 2013 only 16 years old. Kabaseke, known by his stage name Belidor, has produced music since he was a child. “I use music as a weapon – music has power. I use music to promote human rights.

Moses Kabaseke refers to DRC as the rich country with the poor people. “Back home a life means nothing. In Congo, life is something that can be taken from human beings easily – there’s no justice,” he states. “It’s difficult for people that have not experienced atrocities to understand how that feels like. With my music, I try to capture the trauma and injustices experienced by so many.” When he was only seven years old, his father was killed. “Every night when my mother was crying, I felt so bad. Since that age, I decided to fight for what was right.” In 2012, history repeated itself when his stepfather was killed before his eyes. At that point his mother had to make the difficult decision to leave home. In a quest to find safety, she brought her four children to Uganda.

“We don’t want to be here, but we are forced to be here,” he stresses, pointing out that life in exile is difficult. Being away from home, without external support and regular income, they face many challenges. “We need to look for ways to pay our bills. However, my siblings and I all have the blood of our father, so the thing we know how to do is music; so, we perform.”

In Uganda, Kabaseke continued his human rights promotion by composing music. After five years of hard work, often performing in Kampala’s bars, restaurants, and churches to finance his music, he recently finished his first autobiographical album. The album, ‘Les Mille Cris’ (Thousands of Cries), which contains ten songs written and produced by himself, conveys messages about human rights violations and injustices in DRC, and life as a refugee, among others. “Les Mille Cris is about breaking down the truth, sensitising Africans and victims of violations, and giving a voice to the voiceless.”

Through his music, he encourages people to tell their story, and moreover, urges the world to listen. Speaking the truth can come at a high cost. “As the number of my followers increase, my personal insecurity increase. Personal safety is essential as an artist talking about human rights,” he says. When asked what inspires him to continue despite the many challenges he is faced with, he states that “I promote human rights because I have been a victim of the system […] we are the main actors in the process of change. We have to stand for our rights.” Moses Kabaseke has partaken in several trainings organised by DefendDefenders, and performed at DefendDefenders’ events.

Check out Moses Kabaseke’s music:

Human Rights Defender of the Month (September 2019): Moses Kabaseke

Breaking news: Five Front Line award winners 2018 announced

May 18, 2018

Front Line Defenders today – 18 May 2018 – announced the five winners of its 2018 Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk, naming Soni Sori (India), Nurcan Baysal (Turkey), the LUCHA movement (Democratic Republic of Congo), La Resistencia Pacífica de la Microregión de Ixquisis (Guatemala), and Hassan Bouras (Algeria) as the Regional Winners. Nurcan Baysal was also named the Global Laureate for 2018, and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore presented her with the Award during a ceremony at Dublin’s City Hall. 2018 marks an important change in format: instead of one winner Front Line Defenders now recognises defenders from five different countries as Regional Winners. [for 2017: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/26/lawyer-wins-front-lines-2017-human-rights-award-for-helping-crimean-tartars/]

The defenders we’re honouring today work in some of the most dangerous areas of the world, sacrificing their own security to peacefully demand justice and human rights for their communities,” said Andrew Anderson, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders, as he announced the winners in Dublin.

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Nurcan Baysal, Turkey – Regional Winner for Europe & Central Asia & Global Laureate

Nurcan is a Kurdish journalist and human rights defender based in Diyarbakir. When the government launched a military offensive in the south-east in 2016, Nurcan spent months visiting Kurdish villages under bombardment, documenting human rights violations, and stopping to help families who’d lost everything in the conflict. Her writings are known for their critical focus on voice women living under the bombardment. When the authorities launched a military operation in Afrin, Nurcan took to social media to demand peace and condemn the violent assault. She was detained for speaking against the violence, and although later released she now faces up to 3 years in jail in a separate case related to her writing. Nurcan, according to authorities’ absurd claims, had “spread propaganda for armed terrorist organizations … and a call for provocative actions.” In addition to her reporting, Nurcan has also co-founded several NGOs, set up a camp to help Yazidi women fleeing the Islamic State, and been a key voice in countless reconciliation programs in the region. [see also: http://bianet.org/english/human-rights/197288-kurdish-journalist-baysal-wins-frontline-defenders-human-rights-prize]

 

Soni Sori, India – Regional Winner for Asia

Soni Sori is an indigenous and women’s rights defender in the militarised Bastar region of Chattisghar, India, where state-backed paramilitary forces are waging a violent campaign against local Adivasi tribes in the name of combating an armed Maoist insurgency. Soni documents and advocates against violence perpetrated by the paramilitary and police forces, which includes razing villages, burning homes, raping local women, and torturing and sexually assaulting tribes people detained without cause. Soni has also defended a number of educational centres from destruction by Maoist groups. In retaliation for her work, security forces detained and tortured Soni, pushing stones inside of her body and assaulting her for hours. Years later, men attacked her with acid and threatened to do the same to her daughter if she did not cease her advocacy on behalf of tribeswomen raped by the security forces. She has refused to stop her work, and continues to travel into the Maoist regions to speak with survivors of the ongoing conflict. [see also: https://feminisminindia.com/2018/05/18/soni-sori-wins-front-line-defenders-award/and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/23/human-rights-defenders-in-india-democracy-is-not-enough/

Peaceful Resistance of the Micro-Region of Ixquisis, Guatemala – Regional Winner for the Americas

La Resistencia Pacífica de la Microregión de Ixquisis formed in response to grave rights violations committed in the name of economic advancement in Guatemala. The government has authorised destructive mining and hydroelectric mega-projects in the region despite the widespread opposite from the 59 villages and 7 communities in the municipality. HRDs in the Peaceful Resistance risk their lives to defend the territory. In 2016 alone, there were more than 75 reported attacks against HRDs in the Peaceful Resistance including killings, shootings, harassment, and defamation campaigns.

 

LUCHA, DRC – Regional Winner for Africa

LUCHA is a non-partisan youth movement formed in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo that struggles against chronic corruption and impunity in the DRC. Initially focused on

local issues like access to drinking water, electricity, and youth unemployment, in just 6 years the movement has developed into an extensive national-level network of powerful social organisers. Peaceful protests and demonstrations led by LUCHA are routinely attacked by authorities. In October 2017, 5 young protests were killed during a LUCHA-organised demonstration, and many of their members and leaders having been arrested and detained during peaceful assemblies. The Congolese national intelligence agency has detained several members, who have endured physical and psychological abuse in detention.

Hassan Bouras – Regional Winner for the Middle East & North Africa

Hassan Bouras is a journalist, blogger, leading member of the Algerian League of Human Rights, and founding member of the Rejection Front, a coalition against fracking to extract shale gas in Algeria. His reporting on both corruption and torture in Algeria spans more than two decades and because of this work he has been repeatedly targeted by Algerian authorities. He has continued his writing and advocacy despite years of judicial harassment, arbitrary detentions, violent raids on his home, and imprisonment.

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https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/front-line-defenders-award

Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty 2016 to Janvier Murairi Bakihanaye of the DRC

December 15, 2016

On 13 December 2016 Human Rights First convened its annual Human Rights Summit: American ideals. Universal values, at the Newseum in Washington D.C. in the context of International  Human Rights Day. During the Summit Human Rights First awarded the 2016 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty to anti-slavery activist Janvier Murairi Bakihanaye of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Murairi was selected for his work on behalf of vulnerable rural populations to combat contemporary forms of slavery in the mining sector in the DRC. (The Roger Baldwin Medal  is given in alternating years by the ACLU to US citizens). HRF logo

It also presented the 2016 Beacon Prize, awarded annually to an individual or organization whose work embodies the best in the tradition of American leadership on human rights, to Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former CEO of Carlson Inc., in recognition of her pioneering leadership in the fight to end modern slavery.

Source: Human Rights First Hosts Annual Human Rights Summit | Human Rights First

AI’s Ambassador of Conscience Award 2016 shared by Angelique Kidjo and African youth groups

May 7, 2016

Every year, the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award celebrates individuals and groups who speak out for justice. The 2016, award will be shared between world-renowned musician Angélique Kidjo from Benin and three African youth activist groups: Y’en a marre from Senegal, Le Balai Citoyen from Burkina Faso and LUCHA from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Angélique Kidjo. Credit: Pierre Marie Ziimmerman.Angélique Kidjo. Credit: Pierre Marie Ziimmerman.

Grammy-winning artist Kidjo fled her homeland Benin in the 1980s after being pressured to perform for the country’s repressive regime. In a 40-year-career spawning 12 albums, she has been a prominent campaigner for freedom of expression and for the education of girls in Africa, as well as against female genital mutilation.

LUCHA, DRC. Credit: Private.
LUCHA, DRC. Credit: Private.

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Profile of Denis Mukwege from the Democratic Republic of Congo: an amazingly courageous doctor

April 12, 2016

Dr Denis Mukwege is a surgeon and the most prominent human rights defender from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He won several international awards as detailed in earlier posts [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/10/22/congolese-gynecologist-wins-europes-sakharov-prize-in-2014/https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/human-rights-first-honors-doctor-denis-mukwege-in-washington-on-21-october/]. He was in Geneva on the occasion of the 2016 International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights for the screening of the documentary film The Man Who Mends Women. The ISHR met with Mukwege on 31 March 2016 and published the following profile with details of his grassroots activities to defend women’s dignity and of the threats he faces due to his work: Dr. Denis Mukwege

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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. Read the rest of this entry »

Human Right Defender Jean-Pierre Okenda, Democratic Republic of Congo

November 29, 2015

On 26 October 2015, the ISHR published a profile of human rights defender Jean-Pierre Okenda, Democratic Republic of Congo. It was conducted on the margins of a meeting of the African Commission. ISHR-logo-colour-high

Jean-Pierre Okenda has taken his own route toward improving human rights impacts of extractives projects in his country. His role, as coordinator for a platform of civil society organisations in the mining sector, involves a great deal of immersion in books and texts, but also with people.

In the context of the DRC, it was absolutely critical that I redirect my work to make clear the connection between human rights and the extractive sector, and that meant research. It means understanding the global stakes of the issue. It meant explaining how bilateral relations and investment treaties really impact ordinary citizens and their rights.” Research for research’s sake is not Mr Okenda’s goal. He aims to develop networks, training, and tools to empower affected communities and other organisations to better document, understand, and evaluate the human rights impacts of a project.  He also emphasises the role of research in strengthening peoples’ understanding of the links between human rights, extractives industries, and taxation, incomes, and other ‘technical’ issues. He also urged legal reforms to help protects human rights at the local level.

Building relationships with the government and enterprises is a challenge – but it is possible, if one understands where they start from. I sent a questionnaire on human rights to local and national authorities, and you know what? There was, aside from a small amount of general familiarity at the central level, a total gap in terms of human rights knowledge. This made it clear that – sometimes – violations arise because of this lack of awareness or training. And yet, they are still responsible for protecting and realising these rights!” It is important,’ he added, ‘that they know what we are looking for when we come and ask for such and such a document’.

With corporations, it is the same. They limit themselves to two things: to the legal framework, and to the business’s internal priorities and policies. If they don’t have an internal policy, it’s likely that they don’t know a thing about human rights. To get them to think about human rights, it is critical to use another language they will understand, the language of professionalism.To further insist on empowering local communities and civil society to act, Mr Okenda noted the critical importance of having decentralized human rights institutions, so that even communities far from Kinshasa could seek resources and assistance to combat violations and abuses. ‘There is a growing global move toward more participation of civil society, in decisions related the politics and planning, in addition to the implementation. We need to see this apply in the area of extractives as well.’ The participation at the global level of local communities in the conversation about human rights and businesses is important. But the ability to participate is limited, says Mr Okenda, and so while human rights are central to the resolution of the issue, they will always be limited by governments’ hypocrisy, by neoliberalism, the financial crisis, and other geostrategic concerns.

Mr Okenda is clear: risks do exist, for all human rights defenders, including intimidation, violent attacks, denunciation, and abusive prosecutions. For those working on investment and extractives issues, the problem is that these might sometimes be the very same individuals or institutions (e.g., government agencies) that are meant to be protecting the people.So, according to Mr Okenda, defenders face every day a personal dilemma – to do what they think is right and defend a community’s interests, or to protect their property and the lives of themselves and their families.  In addition to overt risks, some defenders face pressure from their families themselves, who worry about the impact of rights defence work on safety and security. ‘When the family becomes vulnerable, you are really weakened, too.’ Nonetheless, concludes Mr Okenda: Even if there are risks, even if we human rights defenders face failure or lose patience, it is essential to keep speaking out. Silence is the biggest threat.Mr Okenda remains optimistic in his work. Efforts to encourage the government to recognize human rights defenders, and – along with corporate actors – see defenders as partners as opposed to adversaries, will be key.

Source: Defender Profile: Jean-Pierre Okenda, Democratic Republic of Congo | ISHR