Posts Tagged ‘Democratic Republic of Congo’

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

Soraya Aziz Souleymane: a ‘business and human rights defender’ from the DRC

September 3, 2015

On 1 September 2015, the ISHR carried an interview with Soraya Aziz Souleymane, a business and human rights defender from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Soraya holds the role of Deputy Field Office Director in charge of The Carter Center’s Mining Governance Program in the DRC, part of a new generation of young activists and NGO workers dedicated to seeing their country reach its potential.

Soraya started managing grants to affected communities at a large mining company’s foundation. She described her frustrations with the limitations of working within the foundation; she had discovered that many of the decisions about where and how to disburse the funds had already been made as part of the initial negotiations with affected communities. She soon decided to move into the corporate structure itself.

[When I joined the corporation,] it was an exceptional time, because the company was just beginning work in a new area and there was a need for many people… so much so that I was able to create a whole community relations department from the ground up. 

Despite the positive experience of getting the first community relations department off the ground, Soraya said she still wasn’t satisfied. She described the realization of the limitations of working with projects, saying: My impact was limited just to this one small community. I couldn’t take those impacts and apply them to others. Also, all the policies had to be linked to production, to the generation of profit for stakeholders and investors. That’s how companies have always worked, and this was no different.

Feeling sidelined after production began at the mine, she joined The Carter Center’s office in 2014.

Soraya described her transition from private sector to civil society, highlighting both challenges and opportunities:

At the company, it was good – we had resources, support, the voice, we had almost immediate access to the ministries, no problem. A big challenge at The Carter Center is that we don’t have the same financial resources or the same level of influence. But other things are better, at least for me. My primary goal now at work is to change the situation of communities –  all communities – not simply to increase production or placate one group. 

Soraya also uses her new role to engage in direct advocacy with the DRC government.  As she said, the chance to influence the policies of the state is ultimately a great opportunity. She also emphasized the value of gaining perspective through exposure to different sectors, and dismissed the idea that working for a company was ‘treason’. Instead, she noted that this kind of movement back and forth, especially within a sector, can lead to a lot of evolution and changing perspectives. It can also lead to more cooperation. We’ve seen many times when civil society and companies have joined forced against the government to say, “No, that will not fly.” It’s a strategic alliance.

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And despite the challenges, Soraya has a passion to do this work, and an optimism about civil society. I think my background, the fact that I am Congolese and that I have worked in the sector means I have real interest in and capacity to influence what my country becomes – my children will grow up here. 

I am very optimistic because there are many young people who are innovators, who are open to new ideas, who are willing to sit down with a range of stakeholders. They are also willing to say to the international community, “No, we don’t need x, we need y.” 

And as for the government, the emphasis is also on frank discussion, even when there is a disagreement. As Soraya says, We must work with them for change – and we must be clear that this is not the same as working for them, as accepting the problem.

-See more at: Soraya Aziz Souleymane: Business and human rights defender from the DRC | ISHR

Human rights defenders in DRC get support from over 200 NGOs

June 18, 2015

On 15 June 2015, 0ver 200 human rights NGOs urge the Democratic Republic of Congo to show respect for freedom of expression and assembly by freeing the “Filimbi activists“.  Expression, Assembly The two activists were arrested three months ago, on 15 March during a pro-democracy youth workshop in the Democratic Republic of CongoFred Bauma and Yves Makwambala were arrested at the workshop organized to launch “Filimbi,” a platform to encourage Congolese youth to peacefully and responsibly perform their civic duties. Read the rest of this entry »

Lassana Koné: an environmental human rights defender in the DRC

May 25, 2015

Koné: We want to support forest dependent communities in the protection of their natural resources and put human rights issues at the heart of forest debates’.

Lassana Koné is a lawyer in Kinshasha, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), working for Forest Peoples Programme, an international NGO working to protect the rights of those who live in the world’s forests. The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) did an interview with him on 8 May 2015 in Banjul:

Lassana’s efforts in the DRC are focused on pushing for policy change regarding land reform and forest governance, seeking to secure community land titles.‘It’s a key moment because the Government is in the process of reforming the land tenure act. It is vital that the human rights of communities be enshrined in this process. It gives us an opportunity to ensure that the free prior and informed manner in which communities ought to be consulted according to international law, is finally ensured by national law’.

Lassana works with a number of local communities in advocating for such policies and, in doing so, shines a light on the abuses taking place around communal land and natural resources. He explains that, for the communities raising their voice can be dangerous.

They face a range of opponents to their demands, and these opponents can become threatening. For example many communities are being evicted for conservation projects and can be threatened by national park guards. Others find themselves face to face with powerful proponents of extractive industries. In both cases, foreign companies are usually working together with the government’.

Whist the majority of the organisation’s work in DRC is currently focused on advocacy and dialogue for policy change, they also monitor human rights abuses in forest communities and are litigating a case before the national court regarding the forced eviction of a community to make way for a national park in Kivu region.

We hope to bring a communication before the ACHPR regarding the Sengwer indigenous people of Kenya, who have suffered a massive forced eviction last year from their ancestral lands, when many thousands of families were evicted, with houses and possessions burned, by the Kenyan Government’s Forest Service. There have been some successful complaints with the World Bank and also statements by UN special procedures, but hope for a response at the regional level.’ But Lassana also sees other opportunities for actions from the ACHPR, particularly around the free prior and informed consultations of communities regarding the development and conservation projects. ‘This is something which the ACHPR Working Group on Extractives and the Environment is working on. We hope they will produce guidelines on this issue. But we are also engaging with the regional system in other ways: for this session we produced a shadow report on the situation facing indigenous Batwa people in Uganda, whilst we are also contemplating how to work with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders regarding the threats towards communities demanding their rights’.

We believe that local initiatives backed up by international support can ensure that forest peoples have their rights protected too’.

Lassana Koné can be contacted at lassana@forestpeoples.org

Cet article existe également en français .

Lassana Koné: Land and environmental rights defender in the DRC | ISHR.

Indictment in Senegal a breakthrough in the Congolese Chebeya-Bazana case?

January 13, 2015

Paul Mwilambwe, a major suspect in the Congolese Chebeya-Bazana case was indicted by a Senegalese court and placed under judicial supervision in Dakar on 8 January 2015. This decision was taken following a criminal complaint based on universal jurisdiction filed on 2 June 2014 by lawyers of the FIDH Litigation Action Group (LAG) and the families of Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana, the two Congolese human rights defenders who were assassinated in June 2010. FIDH hopes that these efforts of the Senegalese judicial authorities contribute to identifying the persons responsible for these assassinations and the disappearance of these two human rights defenders.logo FIDH_seul

That Paul Mwilanbwe has been indicted and heard by an independent investigative judge is a fundamental step on the road to truth and, we hope, to the justice which has not been available to the victims’ families in DRC” , said Patrick Baudouin, FIDH Honorary President. “This is the first time since the Hissène Habré case that a case based on extra-territorial jurisdiction is being tried in Senegal, a step which sends a strong, positive signal showing that the Senegalese judiciary intends to play an active role in the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes committed in Africa”.

Since the Democratic Republic of Congo did not provide for equitable judicial proceedings, we initiated the proceedings in Senegal to ensure that an impartial and independent investigation would be carried out and that full information would be obtained on the murder and the enforced disappearance of the victims, Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana. We wanted an independent judge to hear Paul Mwilambe, an actor in this tragedy, and this has happened today,” said Assane Dioma Ndiaye, a lawyer for the FIDH LAG and for the Chebeya and Bazana families.

Paul Mwilambwe, a major in the Congolese National Police force (PNC), was in charge of security for the office of General John Numbi, Head of the PNC at the time of the events, in the premises where Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana were killed. Shortly after these killings, Paul Mwilambwe fled to a country somewhere in Africa before going to Senegal. In a filmed interview with France 24 (in French), whilst still on the run, Mwilambwe testified and denounced his own participation and the role and involvement of senior members of the Congolese police, including General John Numbi in the enforced disappearance and murder of the two human rights defenders.

“For us, this indictment gives us great hope to obtain the truth and justice that was refused to us in Congo where the justice system is bogged down. I want to know where my husband was buried. I want someone to tell me where he is. And I want to be able to bury him with dignity” , said Marie-José Bazana, the wife of Fidèle Bazana whose body has still not been found.

https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/death-of-floribert-chebeya-and-fidele-bazana-in-drc-still-unresolved-after-3-years/

[Background: On 2 June 2010, Floribert Chebeya, Executive Director of the NGO Voix des sans Voix (Voice of the Voiceless – VSV), was found dead in his car in a suburb of Kinshasa. His close associate Fidele Bazana was reported missing. The day before, the two human rights defenders had shown up at PNC headquarters to meet with its Director, the Inspector-General, and General John Numbi. They did not emerge from this meeting alive. Faced with the public outcry triggered by the murder of Mr. Chebeya and disappearance of Mr. Bazana, the Congolese authorities were obliged to open an investigation. This investigation culminated in the precautionary suspension of General John Numbi and the imposition of murder indictments for eight police officers, including Paul Mwilambwe, who fled.

On 23 June 2011, following a trial marked by numerous incidents the military court on 23 June 2011 in Kinshasa acknowledged the civil responsibility of the Congolese state for the murder of Mr. Chebeya, as well as in the abduction and illegal detention of Mr. Bazana by several of its officers. The court convicted five of the eight police officers accused. Four were sentenced to death and one to life imprisonment. Three of those condemned to death are still on the run, and three of the police officers found to have played a role in the disappearance of Mr. Bazana, have since been acquitted. On 7 May 2013, the Military High Court, sitting as a court of appeal, declared itself incompetent to investigate the procedural issues in the case and decided to turn the proceedings over to the Supreme Court, operating as a constitutional court. In practice, this decision suspended the appeal proceedings, which remain deadlocked in DRC to date. In addition, Congolese authorities have never instituted proceedings to investigate the role played by General John Numbi, who has since been replaced as Head of the PNC, despite evidence and the complaints filed by the families of the two human rights defenders.]

The Chebeya-Bazana case: indictment of Paul Mwilambwe in (…).