Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Democratic Republic of Congo

Political context

The period of political transition initiated by the 2002 Global and All-Inclusive Pretoria Agreement ended with the achievement of one of its goals: the holding of presidential elections. On December 6, 2006, the elected President Joseph Kabila took oath. On February 5, 2007, the new Government, led by Mr. Antoine Gizenga, was officially announced, and on February 24, 2007, his programme was adopted by the National Assembly. The elections were vigorously supported by the international community, in particular the European Union, at the expense of the other commitments specified in the Agreement that were necessary for the peace and security of the country, i.e. the reinforcement of the rule of law, measures to counter impunity for the most serious crimes, and the reunification of the armed groups within a national army. "Elections at all costs" thus marked the stop of a transition that ended up by being no more than a name.

Insecurity is still rampant in Kinshasa, and in the east of the country, in the Ituri district, South Kivu and North Katanga. And furthermore, since 2007, there is a violent conflict in North Kivu between General Laurent Nkunda's dissident troops and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Armed Forces (Forces armées de RDC – FARDC). Interference of neighbouring countries and the fight for the control of natural resources also contribute to the war in the area.

The civilian populations are the first victims of such violence, as they are exposed to executions, enforced disappearances, acts of torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, looting, etc.1 In addition, acts of rape and sexual violence, made commonplace by years of war, are committed massively and systematically, especially in the conflict zones. These violations are perpetrated with total impunity as much by Government personnel, mainly members of the FARDC and the Congolese national police, as by the militia and armed groups, in particular the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda), the Mai-Mai and General Nkunda's troops.2

Moreover, the judicial system suffers from a total absence of independence and impartiality. This is constantly denounced by local NGOs, which stress the need to rebuild the judicial system, to guarantee its independence, and to introduce legal reforms to ensure that perpetrators of crimes, particularly the most serious crimes, are effectively prosecuted and brought to trial. In that respect, it is worth noting that on October 19, 2007, following an enquiry, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Germain Katanga, head of the rebel troops, who committed serious human rights violations in Ituri in 2002 and 2003.

In such a context, the task of human rights defenders is particularly difficult. The Congolese authorities are extremely sensitive to activities that could adversely affect their credibility and image abroad, and denunciation of human rights violations is carried out in an environment that is exceedingly dangerous for defenders. This year again, they have paid a heavy toll: assassinations, clandestinity, exile and persecution. In 2007, the Special Rapporteur of the ACHPR on human rights defenders in Africa published four press releases on the situation of defenders in the DRC, out of a total of seven for 2007, which shows how precarious their situation is.

Assimilation of defenders to political opponents and accusations of tarnishing the image of the country

Human rights defenders who denounce violations of fundamental freedoms and international humanitarian law are often considered to be sympathisers of one of the existing forces, and are repeatedly subjected to threats, harassment and intimidation from the national authorities and members of armed groups. Such for instance was the case of Mr. Dismas Kitenge Senga, President of the Lotus Group (Groupe Lotus) based in Kitangi, who was attacked on October 18, 2007 by a group of students, after he had made statements to the media calling for peace talks between the Government and General Laurent Nkunda's rebels. The students, echoing the militaristic positions of the Chief of State, accused him of supporting General Nkunda and therefore of being a "traitor to the nation". In addition, on October 5, 2007 several members of Solidarity for Katanga (Solidarité katangaise), an organisation presided over by the Minister for Humanitarian affairs, gathered in front of the offices of the Katanga section of the African Association for the Defence of Human Rights (Association africaine de défense des droits de l'Homme – ASADHO), chanting hostile songs.

Moreover, defenders continue to be systematically questioned by Government agents, such as those belonging to the General Directorate for Migrations (Direction générale des migrations – DGM), following travels abroad for human rights activities, and accused of tarnishing the image of the national institutions. For instance, Mr. Kabala Mushiya, former Senior Official of the National Observatory for Human Rights (Observatoire national des droits de l'Homme – ONDH) and Secretary General of the Committee for Democracy and Human Rights (Comité pour la démocratie et les droits de l'Homme – CDDH), was detained on September 2, 2007 at his arrival at Kinshasa airport by six DGM agents, who questioned him on the human rights activities that he had recently engaged in during a stay in Europe. During the interrogation, Mr. Kabala Mushiya was accused of having deteriorated the national image abroad and of having criticised the DRC institutions. Likewise, the Minister for the Press and Information publicly called Journalists In Danger (Journalistes en danger – JED) "antipatriotic", after it had denounced, during a press conference, alterations to two bills restricting the freedom of the press.

Threats against defenders fighting impunity and the shortcomings of the judicial system

In 2007, as in the past, defenders taking part in ICC investigations, or more generally in the fight against the impunity enjoyed by warlords and heads of militia, were subjected to smear campaigns and threats. One of the leaders of Justice Plus, for instance, left the country, and the other members of the organisation continued to receive threats following their criticism of the conditions under which the Kisangani trial of the former warlords was conducted.

Also, several NGOs, including JED, received threats for having denounced the failings of military justice, and particularly the haste with which it operated, the contradictory statements of the suspected murderers, and the absence of material proof and of motive in connexion with the enquiry into the murder, on June 13, 2007, of Mr. Serge Maheshe, a radio journalist working for the Radio Okapi, sponsored by the UN. Members of JED also continued to be harassed following the publication, in 2006, of an enquiry on those presumed to be responsible for the assassination of the journalist Franck Ngyeke, in November 2005.

Harassment of defenders denouncing the bad management of natural resources

On several occasions the United Nations Independent Expert on the DRC called on the Government to accentuate the fight against trafficking in natural resources and their illegal exploitation.3 The matter remains extremely sensitive and, as before, the defenders who denounced the bad management of natural resources by the Congolese authorities, and in particular the contracts signed with foreign mining companies, had problems with the authorities. For instance, Mr. Willy Loyombo, a member of the Lotus Group in Opala and President of the Organisation for the Settling, Literacy and Promotion of Pygmies (Organisation pour la sédentarisation, l'alphabétisation et la promotion des Pygmées – OSAPY), an NGO based in Kisangani, and also a member of the Civil Society Network in Charge of Monitoring and Managing Natural Resources (Réseau de la société civile en charge de la surveillance et de la gestion des ressources naturelles), is actively engaged in promoting the revision of the unfair contracts signed by local companies, which violate the rights of local communities and environmental rights. As a consequence he is constantly harassed and threatened by the local authorities, who accuse him of stirring up the population against the companies. Likewise, Mr. Georges Ningo, a member of the Coordination of Associations Promoting and Defending Human Rights in Isangi (Coordination des associations de promotion et de défense des droits de l'Homme à Isangi), was threatened on several occasions by the local authorities and the police. Late 2007, he was wanted by the Prosecutor's office of the Kisangani Court for "inciting the local population to rebellion", whereas he was defending the right of the communities to reap some benefit from the operations of the Imbolo-based timber company SAFBOIS.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 The scope of acts of sexual violence was denounced by all the observers who went to DRC during the year, among them the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences (See Report on a mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo, United Nations document A/HRC/7/6/Add.4, February 28, 2008). The Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also referred to the situation in its concluding observations (See United Nations document CERD/C/COD/CO/15, August 17, 2007).

2 See the monthly reports of the United Nations Mission in DRC (Mission de l'Organisation des Nations unies en RDC – MONUC), www.monuc.org.

3 See Report by the Independent Expert on the human rights situation in the DRC, United Nations document A/HRC/4/7, February 21, 2007.


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